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Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers/how to address the absent father issue to a 5 year old son

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Question
Hello,
I am a single mother of a 5 year old boy. The last time his father visited my son was when my son was one year old. My son knows his dad through pictures of when I was pregnant and right after he was born. His dad did not recognize him legally and my son does not even has his last name. After the last time his dad visited him, his dad made no attempt to see, call or visit him whatsoever. His dad has a history of violence and alcoholism. Eventually, the court granted me full custody of my son and he has no visitation rights at all. My son's address and location is confidential as protection to my son's safety. My son, since he started talking, right after he turned 1 year old,started asking me for his daddy. When he turned three, he started asking me what I did to his dad that he does not comes and sees him. i explained to him that I did not know where he was. My son asked me to call him. i did not, for my son's safety. I told him one day his daddy got mad and left (my mistake of saying he got mad). My son asked me why, what I did to his daddy, why i do not like his daddy. I eventually told him that his daddy knew where we lived at the house and never went back,, but that he loved him so much as he could see in the pictures with his daddy. Eventually, my son asked me what he (my son) did wrong that his daddy left him. i explained to him that he did nothing wrong, but that his daddy just made a bad choice and now he cannot see him, and how i love him so much. My son is only 5 years old. I do not want to lie to him but I do not want him to be hurt. I never have spoken bad about his dad to him. My son fantasizes stories about what he did with his dad at the park, or the time that his dad taught him how to ride the scooter. once he admits he is just saying a pretend story, i ask him not to pretend any more. then, days pass and he does it again. he tells kids at school about stories with his dad that never occurred. what would you suggest? I do not believe in lies. i never thought that my son would miss something he never had. I do not want my son to idealize his dad and then grow up and be very dissapointed. how would he handle it then? when he asks questions, i tell him the least possible. My son immediately grows an attachment to about any man that talks or smiles to him, even at the store. my son has never seen me with another man because of this. i do not want to confuse him. he comes across as too needy with men. sometimes at the day care he wants to leave with other daddies that go and pick up his friends. people i do not know and he does not know, just happen to be someone's daddy! my son has asked me if i will always take care of him and i reassure him I always always will and how much I love him. I am open for suggestions, Thank you in advance.

Answer
Hello Ana,
I believe in telling children the truth. But I also believe that children usually can only understand and deal with little bits of the truth; truth that is geared to their level of understanding.
At age five, he sees that other children have daddies and he wants one, too. If he doesn't have a daddy around, he wants to know why his daddy is not there. You can tell him some parts of the truth as you have done ("He got mad at me and went away"#. But you also have to recognize that at ages four and five children will have lots of "why?" questions. So you will have to go over the answers again and again as he will respond to any answer with "But why?"
 I would suggest that you not hide things from him as this will only increase his curiosity. Give him as full an explanation as possible when he asks questions. As he gets older, you can provide him more details and facts.
I would agree that you should not purposely say negative things about his father, however, again, in the interest of giving him explanations for the disappearance of his father, that you should couch his negative behavior in terms of what effect his daddy's behavior had on you #rather than on your son#.
Let him maintain his fantasies about his father; there's nothing you can do to stop these anyway. Whether he tells you about his fantasies or not, he will have them. In his fantasies, his father will be a wonderful person who will someday return and they will have a wonderful father-son relationship. You and I might agree that this would be strictly a fantasy, however, this is something he may one day have to figure out on his own.
In the meantime, he needs a father figure in his life. Whether you acquire a boyfriend or a husband, or he finds a teacher or a coach or some other positive male, he needs one. Hopefully, some positive male figure will help him to have a substitute father relationship that will help him to grow up in a healthy way.
Best,
James  

Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers

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James Windell

Expertise

I can answer questions related to normal child development, disturbed behavior and how to provide appropriate guidance and discipline.

Experience

I've been a clinical psychologist in a juvenile court, worked in school settings, been a child psychotherapist in a private psychiatric clinic and consulted with schools, courts, hospitals and daycare centers.

Organizations
American Psychological Association
Michigan Psychological Association

Publications
I have been a columnist with the Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI) for 21 years writing a weekly column called Coping With Kids, which is also published weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been a mental health columnist with the Detroit Free Press and a columnist for Working Mother Magazine. In addition, I have published articles in professional journals. I have published 16 books, among them are "8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child" (IDG Books), "Discipline: A Sourcebook of 50 Failsafe Techniques for Parents" (IDG Books); "Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes" (IDG Books), "What You Need to Know About Ritalin" (Bantam Books) "6 Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" (John Wiley & Sons), "The Fatherstyle Advantage" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and "Defusing High Conflict Divorce" (Impact Publishers). My latest parenting book (2012) is "The Everything Child Psychology and Development Book." Articles about my work with parents has appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. My website at Jimwindell.com includes more information about me, my books and includes many columns I've written.

Education/Credentials
B.A. in Psychology from Wayne State University
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University

Awards and Honors
Best Educational Program by Juvenile and Family Court Judges Association (National award for the development of a parent training program for parents of delinquent teenagers. Beth Clark Service Award from the Michigan Psychological Association.

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