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How to talk to your child about an absent parent

 If you're unsure of where to begin, let your child guide you by answering their questions (Photo: Shutterstock)

Being a single parent is hard. Not only do you have to navigate parenting on your own, but, in some cases, you’re the sole breadwinner and the one responsible for how your child turns out come adulthood.

Another aspect of being a single parent is the challenge of having the talk about where their other parent is and why you don’t live together like other families. 

Whether you became a single parent from the start or somewhere along the way, how you answer this question will influence your child’s relationship with their absentee parent and yourself. 

Below are a few tips to help you when talking to your child about an absent parent.

1. Take emotions off the table

No matter how difficult it is to speak about your ex, remember that your child doesn’t need to know how you feel about them. When you expose your child to these feelings, you will influence how they feel and think about their absent parent. Even if he or she is the worst person you know, keep these thoughts to yourself. Be neutral so that you don’t poison your child’s opinion of their parent. And remember, just because he or she made a bad partner doesn’t mean that they will be a bad parent. They could come back in the future and have a good relationship with their child. 

2. Let your child lead the conversation

Many times our kids will make known when they are ready to take up different milestones. When it comes to talking about an absent parent, you might be unsure about when to broach the topic and what to say. Let your child guide you. When they ask about their dad or mum, answer them to the best of your ability. Don’t dismiss them thinking that they’re too young to understand. If they ask, it means that this is something they have been wondering about and are ready to be told.

3. Keep it age-appropriate

What you tell a five-year-old is not the same thing that you’d tell a teenager. Keep this in mind when talking to your child about their parent. Your explanation as to why daddy or mummy isn’t around will depend on your child’s level of understanding. Keep the explanation as simple as possible, short and precise for younger children and longer and more detailed for older children.

 Share positive memories with your child (Photo: Shutterstock)

4. Don’t dismiss their feelings

Just as you ask yourself what you could have done differently to salvage your relationship, your child might ask themselves similar questions. They might wonder why their parent doesn’t love them or if their actions caused them to leave. Listen to your child’s concerns and acknowledge them. Reassure your child that your current situation isn’t their fault and that although their parent isn’t around, he or she still loves them very much.

5. Be as honest as possible

It might be tempting to fabricate a story to cover up for the absent parent but this isn’t ideal. No matter how old your child is, they will benefit from the truth. Keep your explanation age-appropriate without getting into too much detail. Remember that if you lie about the absent parent, your child is bound to find out the truth eventually and this could ruin your relationship with them.

6. Speak positively about their absent parent

If you had any happy shared memories with your ex, tell your child about them. Paint their parent in a positive light and avoid bashing them. These memories will help cement your child’s knowledge that their parent loves them?

What did you hate sharing as a kid?

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