How to Talk to Kids About an Absent Dad

How do I answer my child's difficult questions about her absent father? I broke up with her dad almost eight years ago — when she was just a baby — and she has never met him. But lately she's been asking things like, "Do you still love Daddy?" and "Why doesn't he love me? " and "Can I try to find him someday?" What do you think I should say?

No doubt about it – as a single mom you do face some special challenges in this area. But it can be helpful to remember that you’re not alone. Every parent needs wisdom about what and how much to say in answer to kids’ tough questions. Fortunately, the Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). The first thing you need to know, then, is that your heavenly Father loves you and your daughter more than you can comprehend. He has promised to give you the wisdom you seek when you need it most by simply asking Him. That assurance comes in handy – especially in a situation like yours.

Perhaps we can best help you by taking a closer look at each of the specific questions your daughter has raised. We can understand why they might make you feel awkward, but when it comes right down to it they shouldn’t be particularly difficult to answer. You just have to be honest, humble, and real. Let your words be guided by your love for your little girl and your genuine concern for her best interests.

“Do you still love Daddy?”

In the movie One Fine Day, actress Michelle Pfieffer plays a single mother whose young son confronts her with this very same question. Her reply? “I will always love your father because he gave me you.” You could use a similar response. It has the salutary effect of focusing the entire discussion around your love for your child, the infinite value of her life, and her identity as a person made in the image of God.

That’s not to mention that, regardless of how you might feel about your ex, you should never tell your daughter that you don’t love him. When a single parent undermines a former mate, whether by withheld expressions of love, implied disdain, or overt criticism, it’s the child who pays the price.

“Why doesn’t Daddy call? Doesn’t he love me?”

From toddlerhood to the young adult years, children tend to engage in what psychologists call “self-referential thinking.” They believe everything that happens in life is directly related to them, and they usually understand that connection in terms of cause and effect. This means that when parents break up, the child blames himself.

Your daughter’s questions seem to indicate that she feels responsible somehow for her dad’s departure. She’s afraid that he went away because she is unlovable. You need to counter this in the strongest possible language. Let her know how precious and lovable she is. You don’t have to go into details, but make it clear that her father’s absence has absolutely nothing to do with her.

It would help to supplement this message by constantly affirming your daughter, praising her strengths, downplaying her weaknesses, and talking about her incredible value. You might also say something like, “I know this is not easy for you. You really miss your daddy, and I know it makes you sad that he doesn’t call. But he’s the one who is really missing out. He’s depriving himself of the chance to know a very precious and special little girl.”

You should also allow your daughter to share her feelings as often as she feels the need. Make sure to follow up her admissions with lots of encouraging words. Enlist family, friends, or church members to help you in this effort. It may take time, but verbal reassurances of this kind will help your daughter rebound. Kind words have great power to relieve even the most intense pain. As Proverbs 12:18 says, “The tongue of the wise brings healing.”

“May I search for Daddy someday?”

Counselor and author John Trent says that he respected his single mother because she never belittled her former husband, even though he had abandoned the family. She told her children the facts but never criticized the man. Instead, she allowed the kids to draw their own conclusions about their father based on their own observations.

This is important, because children should have the chance to discover for themselves the character of their noncustodial parent. In other words, the answer to this question should be yes: when she’s old enough, your daughter should be encouraged to seek out her dad and attempt to initiate a relationship with him. Some children won’t choose to exercise this option, but they should all be given the opportunity.

When the time comes, do everything you can to help your daughter achieve her objective. Help her get in touch with her dad. Exercise emotional restraint in preparing her for the reunion. If you fail to assist her, she may think that you’re trying to block a relationship she can’t help desiring in the depths of her heart, and that could produce some extremely unpleasant repercussions. And remember – if the meeting turns out badly, it will be your job to help her pick up the pieces. That’s part of what it means to be a custodial parent.

If you’d like to discuss this subject with a member of our staff, feel free to get in touch with Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. Our trained counselors would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone.


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