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nebule's avatar

How do you answer this question: Are you Daddy?

Asked by nebule (16452points) November 12th, 2009

Ok, so I deliberated about asking this question on Fluther because it’s very close to my heart and I think I probably know the answer anyway, the answer for me and my particular situation specifically that is, but I wanted your thoughts too…

For those who don’t know, I’m a single mum of a three year old boy, who has only seen his Daddy 3 times in his life and not at all in the past 18 months. I am surrounded by a very close family, which consists of my mum and dad and both my sisters, who are both married with three children each. We all live in the same small town and spend a lot of time together.

My son was in the bath last night and I’m sat there playing with him and he says, “you mummy”, then “you lynne” and I’m obviously saying “yes darling that’s right…clever boy…” bla bla bla and then he says…“Are you Daddy?”

my heart broke

I’ve always known that the questions would begin to come at some point but didn’t envisage them happening so young and whilst I know that he is probably too young to create the complex concepts that he would need to understand this situation, I just think…how does one begin to explain to a 3 year old about this stuff, without scarring them for life.

My philosophy, as such, is to tell him the truth in the long term but integrating that with what a child needs to know and what’s best for them at each and every stage isn’t quite as straight forward as it might seem…perhaps?

Your thoughts would be most welcome

Thank you x

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37 Answers

ninjacolin's avatar

he asked you if you were mummy and daddy?
hmm.. what do you think would have been the harm in saying “yes”?

nebule's avatar

(after a great long pause I did actually say yes…but he’d lost interest by then, which I was kinda relieved about because I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to say..and it all felt a bit weird and like I’d just been shot but thank you…that’s very very encouraging xxx)

Grisaille's avatar

I don’t believe honesty will scar him for life. Explaining the scenario – albeit, in a very three year old way – will go a long distance in helping him fully understand the situation when he gets a bit older. This is akin to a gay couple explaining their relationship to their child.

However, you are, in effect, both mommy and daddy. But you’ve said that you have a great support circle, and a great family. Culturing a child in a loving environment is paramount – this is way more important than any word or title. If he becomes legitimately curious, I go forward. Lying or avoiding never, ever helps.

You’ll be just fine.

janbb's avatar

I’d be inclined to say, “No, I’m you Mommy and I take care of you. Your daddy doesn’t live with us” and answer any other questions in an age-appropriate way. Followed by a hug or a tickle, that is probably all he needs right now. I think (and hope) I always was honest with my kids about things and it’s paid off with them. Kids will tend to accept their situation as the norm generally and as questions arise, you can deal with them as the loving, sincere wonderful “Mommy” you are, Lynn.

Roory's avatar

I would agree with @janbb , he will probably bring this up again, and the best thing to do is to start letting him know that his daddy is not there…
Good Luck !

Cupcake's avatar

I dealt with this with my son. He saw his father once ever during the summer break after kindergarten. When he was ~2 we were in a diner with a couple of my friends and a man walked by and my son said “Is he my daddy?”. I answered “no”, but it really shook me.

The fact of the matter is that your little one is fine – he’s healthy, loved and well cared for. He has lots of family around him. He had moved on long before your last reply.

The emotional pangs are yours – not his. He is healthy and happy. He doesn’t have a deep concept that he is “missing” anything. He is just exploring his world, his family and his language.

I have a parenting belief that there is a truthful and developmentally appropriate answer for every question. He wasn’t asking “Where has my dad been all this time” or “Why do I feel a hole inside of my heart” – he was exploring the language and general concept of “daddy”.

The sadness is yours. Someday it may also be his, maybe not. Be matter of fact. “I’m mommy and my name is Lynne and I live with you and take care of you. You have a daddy who doesn’t live with us. His name is (whatever). He has brown hair (for example). Do you remember him?”

Be respectful of him as your son’s father. Don’t project your emotions. He’ll figure it all out in time.


hearkat's avatar

My son and his father were very close until he was almost 5 years old. At that time, my ex’s drinking was taking its toll on our family, so I gave him the ultimatum to quit drinking or leave. And he chose to leave. Trying to explain to a 5-year-old “Why won’t Daddy stop drinking so he can come to see me?” is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Your situation is very different. I lived with a man that I first met when his son was 2. He was active in his life and his son took it all in stride because that was his ‘normal’. I still recall when his son was around 8, and his father said something about a trip that he, the son and mother had taken together when his son was a baby, and the boy was shocked! “Why did we go on the trip together?” “Because your mother and I were still a couple then.” The boy laughed, “you used to date Mommy?” He thought it was the most bizarre concept, because in his mind, his dad had always been with me.

In your case, I would be very matter-of-fact, and use the term “Father” as opposed to “Daddy”. In response to the question he asked, I would suggest saying, “No, I’m Mommy – your mother”. I think that at his age and in that context, saying “Yes” because you are serving both roles will confuse him because right now he is conceptualizing labels as they relate to gender. He will figure that out that you serve both roles in due time. My son started acknowleging me on Father’s Day all by himself.

And when the time comes that he wants more specific information, and he asks, “Where’s my Daddy?” answer “Your father lives _” and leave it at that. If he follows with, “Why doesn’t he live with us?” respond that you and his Father were not able to make your relationship work – in whatever words are befitting your situation and your son’s understanding at that time.

Be honest, but don’t feel compelled to expand on anything, because it might confuse your son. He will ask what he needs to know. The questions will continue indefinitely. When my son and I spent some time remembering his father on the 11th anniversary of his death, my son (now 18) asked whether his dad and I had just ‘hooked-up’ when I got pregnant, and he was surprised to learn that we had been together for 4 years before.

Again, I would recommend objectifying the concept by using the word “Father” since the man is not being a Daddy to your son. That way, if and when you do meet someone who becomes a part of your family, your son can choose to refer to him as Daddy when your son feels that bond has been formed.

And always choose words that make it clear that your son is not at fault, unloveable, or defective in any way. Put the onus on the adults involved… including yourself where appropriate. If the father is too self-absorbed and doesn’t have his priorities straight, try to find words to express that relative to your son’s comprehension… But also try not to disparage the father, because that teaches the wrong lessons to the child. It is not easy, I assure you!

proXXi's avatar

I’m so sorry, that had to hurt.

I think I’d say that I’m the Mommy but I have to act as the Daddy too.

The best of luck to you.

nebule's avatar

thank you all xx all very useful and @hearkat – I totally agree thank you x

dooj's avatar

“No, dear. Daddy lives somewhere else now.”

rangerr's avatar

My response would have to be “No, baby. I’m not daddy.”
Then just distract him. If he asks, explain that daddy doesn’t live there. If he asks why, I’d say it’s acceptable to be vague or just distract him again.

@Sarcasm Lurve for that reference!

Judi's avatar

I was single when I had my oldest daughter. When I realized I was pregnant. I had been living a pretty selfish life up until then, and the pregnancy knocked some sense into me.
Her father chose not to be involved in her life. She is 29 and has met him three times. Once when she was born, once when she was 6 months old, and once when her step father died when she was 8.
I made a point to talk about her dad when she asked, and give her as much info as I could, but to also never present him in a bad light. When she asked why I didn’t marry him I told her that we had religious differences that would have made a marriage impossible.
I decided that to say anything negative about her dad, (and there was plenty negative I could have said, he was horrid to me during my pregnancy and never paid child support) because he was a part of her, and to present HIM in a negative light would cause her to maybe feel negatively about herself.
My best advice is to be honest and kind. My daughter is pleased with how I explained her father to her. When she had her first child she attempted to contact him, to find out about family history, and let him know he was a grand father. She found out on her own what a self centered bastard he was, and she respected me for the strength to treat him with such kindness.

wundayatta's avatar

I believe in telling the truth in an age appropriate way. Your son will remember it when he remembers it. He might build a story around it. Eventually he’ll ask you to tell him more about him, because he’ll want to know about himself. All these root questions are designed to help you understand more about who you are by knowing more about where you came from.

It’s hard to imagine what he’s thinking about now. He must see other children with Mommies and Daddies. There must be stories about standard families all the time. So he understands the concept of fathers and probably has an idea of the role they play. Since you play that role in his life, but you aren’t the right gender, and there is no one else, maybe he just feels confused.

‘What’s happening here? Maybe Mommy is also Daddy?’ If that’s the case, then all you need to say is, “No.” Sometime later he may ask who is his Daddy. Or what happened to him. Or where he lives. Or why he never is here. So I guess I would say to answer the question, but with the minimum amount of answer possible in order to tell him the truth. Answer it kindly, so he doesn’t feel like it is inappropriate to ask questions like that.

That means that you have to feel comfortable with it. Kids can tell instantly when parents are uncomfortable with topics, and they stop asking such questions. So, truth, but in a dose appropriate to his “size.”

JLeslie's avatar

I think the truth also. In a very simple way. If I were you my goal would be for my child to know it is ok to ask questions, but not to get more information than they were asking for. If he has more questions after your explanation he will ask more questions. I would have said, no I am not daddy, daddy lives in XYZ. It might end right there at age 3, maybe your son sees his friends and cousins have two parents and he is trying to sort out his situation. Who knows what the kids are sayng to each other when away from adults that is causing him to think about these things, or maybe he has just been observing on his own. I think it important for him to have an answer for himself and when asked by others.

Jack79's avatar

I simply go for complete honesty from the start. Perhaps in terms the child understands, but still, clear truths. They’ll understand some of it now and some of it later.

My daughter knew that me and her mother were divorced ever since she was 1. She even knew the word “divorce” even though what she understood from it was that she got to have 2 homes, 2 bedrooms and twice as many toys. And that Mummy and Daddy were mutually exclusive terms, which for her was quite easy to grasp since she never saw us together. She also knew what the courthouse was, since we often passed by it in the pram, and knew that the people in that building would decide who she had to stay with, and that it was not really Mummy’s or Daddy’s choice. That, when I had to take her back to her mother, it was because someone called a Judge forced me to.

Yes, it all seems too much for a child to take, and people have accused me of telling my daughter too much too soon, but I always told her one, honest story, instead of a simpler story, or a white lie that I would have to change later. I think it would have been more confusing for her (and a lot harder for me) to make up lies to explain everything she doesn’t understand. By the time she was 3, she had figured out how the legal system worked and understood at least the bits that affected her own life.

gemiwing's avatar

I agree with daloon. Right now, even thought it’s pulling huge emotional strings for you, for him it’s just vocabulary. He’s not old enough to understand the depth of what happened. He’ll probably understand a bit more when he’s five or so- which is handy because that’s when he’ll be old enough to comprehend what you’re going to tell him.

I was that kid so it makes my heart ache a bit to hear what my mom must have gone through. going to call her now I can tell you from the kid’s standpoint, that I didn’t really care. I cared that other people had daddies but it didn’t make me angry at mom. It made me angry at my sperm donor for leaving. As long as you make sure he knows how amazing he is and that daddy didn’t leave because of him- even if he did- you’ll be golden.

Darwin's avatar

My kids are adopted so we have also dealt with this in a way. We believe in always telling the truth, but telling it in an age appropriate manner and not necessarily including all of the details. My kids would ask why they had birth parents and forever parents, and we would explain that there are two jobs that parents do: make babies and raise babies. Most parents can do both jobs, but sometimes they can only do one. That’s when they find another set of parents who can only do the other job, and they form a team.

When they were little we didn’t go into the details, that one birth parent was only 16 and possibly mentally ill, that another was so selfish that he didn’t even come to meet us because he wanted to go surfing that day, that a third was seriously ADD and kept losing jobs because of it, or that one set of grandparents refused to consider their child theirs any longer if she didn’t place her baby for adoption and then never speak of it again.

I have acted as a single mom at times because my husband has often been hospitalized for long periods. When the kids were toddlers and would ask where he was I would simply tell them he was in the hospital but he loved and missed them, so let’s make some drawings to put in his room to make him happy until he comes home.

I would simply have told a three-year-old in your situation that “No, I am mommy, not daddy.” If he remained interested I would then simply add that daddy lives in his house and we live in our house. All he wants right now is an answer, and that does the trick. It is the truth and he can learn more about why daddy lives in a separate house later on, when he is able to understand that it was a problem between his parents and didn’t involve him at all.

Erica_Rachelle's avatar

aw! This is a tear jerker. I have a two almost three year old son too and my husband is not his biological father. We married when he was only 2½ months old and everyday I wonder how and when I’m going to tell him he’s not. You sounded like me not wanting to scar him for life. So I completely empathize just in a different way. I do think that the thought of telling him the truth just in a very age appropriate way is the best bet. Just a little more mature each time he asks as he gets older. You seem to be very aware of emotions and everything that plays into it and being a mom you will know what to do when it comes time again. Also, just think of how much respect and admiration he’s going to have for you for what you’ve done for him when he’s old enough to understand!
Good luck!

nebule's avatar

yes I meant to thank @Cupcake too, and thank you @Erica_Rachelle in fact all of you have been amazing and incredibly supportive and encouraging xxx I really do feel very privileged to be part of this community and be able to be so open, knowing that my feelings will be respected and treated with kindness, thank you all xxxx

As an aside..(I may ask another question as a separate issue…but) does anyone know of any good books for children dealing with this issue, My sister owns a pre-school and has tried to find one appropriate for my son but she says that all the ones she has come across deal with mummy and daddy living separately and the son/daughter having two homes..which is not appropriate here of course because he doesn’t see his dad at all. Just thought I’d ask…

Erica_Rachelle's avatar

That really is a good question?! Surely they would make those, the majority of mom’s nowadays are single. (I don’t know the statistic or anything, It just seems that way.) haha. But I will be looking around and I will definitely let you know if I see any books that deal with just one parent.

nebule's avatar

Thank you… Just to update you all, Theo said to his granddad today in the car… “you’re not daddy are you? you are granddad.”. It seems it’s certainly on his mind at the moment.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@lynneblundell Do you feel comfortable telling him daddy’s name and perhaps showing him a picture? You might sit him down and say daddy is John. Here is what he looks like. He lives in a different house. Right now mommy does daddy’s job. Something simple like that. Just a thought.

Hugs for having to go through something so difficult. I wish you could find that book. I searched myself but couldn’t find anything either.

nebule's avatar

thank you @RedPowerLady I think more than anything, I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that he’s becoming more and more a real conscious little being with his own thoughts and potential judgements and feelings and it’s making me question everything I believe even more so than normal…which is saying something! lol I’ve always been afraid of this time in his life but I can’t stop it, I’ll just have to do my best, which, I hope with all my heart will be good enough.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe he is just trying to figure out fmily members in general? I remember learning my grandma was my mothers mother. Either way, it sounds like your own guilt, uneasiness, or whatever it is you feel about the situation of raising your son without his father in the picture is probably more of a factor right now then the thoughts of a 3 year old. Don’t let your predisposition affect him.

nebule's avatar

stiff upper lip then eh

janbb's avatar

@lynneblundell Your “English” is showing. :-)

JLeslie's avatar

Well, no. I don’t mean stiff upper lip I don’t think? I don’t mean to hide anything or squash your feelings, but rather I am implying that maybe your feelings will not be his. Let him find his own way about it. Not having a dad is very normal to him, it is how his life has always been, rather than having had a dad and losing one. So, he may not have any feelings of being cheated so to speak. Especially at such a young age. It also sounds like you have a lovely family who he can spend time with, so there are many male figures for him to lean on and identify with.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@lynneblundell Your lil boy is growing up :) What you said makes perfect sense.

nebule's avatar

@janbb lol!!

@JLeslie thank you for the clarification…I have issues with all this don’t show your feelings to your children business

@RedPowerLady thank you xx

JLeslie's avatar

@lynneblundell yeah I am not a stiff upper lip type person, I just worry you are more worried than you need to be.

madsmom1030's avatar

I have had to deal with a similar situation- my daughter was 3 and a half when her father took his own life. some people told me not to tell her that, some said to tell her it was an accident, some said oh don’t worry it will take a few years before she understands- it took her less than 6 months to realize that daddy had hurt himself but that daddy was also very sick (severe bipolar). I have been honest and open with her since the beginning, she feels comfortable coming to me or other family members with her questions.

Now I have gotten married for the 2nd time to an amazing guy- my soulmate. my daughter calls him dad- she looks at it as having a dad in heaven and a dad on earth. kids can understand more than we give them credit 4. i would just encourage openness and honesty so that he feels he can ask questions. my daughter still goes through periods where i can tell she is trying to work something out about her heaven daddy- she tends to ask alot of questions about him. she set her own pace as to what she could and couldn’t understand and that is what the counselor recommended- to let her be my guide as to what to mention.

nebule's avatar

@madsmom1030 I’m so sorry to hear about her heaven daddy, it must have been unimaginably hard for you. Thank you for sharing your story; It’s truly inspiring. xxxx

wundayatta's avatar

@madsmom1030 I think that looking at it as he died from an illness is totally appropriate. 20% of people with bipolar disorder die from the condition. Premature death is a strong risk for anyone with bipolar disorder. It is one of the most lethal conditions there is. And, in my experience, we don’t really want to die. We just can’t take the pain any more.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think you’re over analyzing it. A simple answer would be “No. Daddys are boys. Mommies are girls.”

I had a counselor give me some great advice once. The way you react to a situation is the kid’s cue to react the same way. In many ways it’s fortunate that dad is out of his life at such a young age. With your help he’ll get through it OK.

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