Explaining the Absent Parent to Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews


What to tell 2-y-o daughter about absent father

May 2003

I am a single, working mother of a beautiful 2-year old daughter who has not seen her father in a year due to a court order based upon his heroin addiction. He moved out of our home when she was a year old and got messed up on drugs after he left. He has done nothing to try to get visitation and in fact his condition has deteriorated. This week he had open-heart surgery to replace an infected valve due to his IV drug use. Here's my question: My daughter has been asking about her daddy lately and I don't know what to tell her. I'm afraid if I tell her he's sick she'll be frightened. He has had no contact with her including by phone in a year. What can I say to her that will satisfy her curiosity without scaring her or making her feel abandoned? Thanks.

I am a strong believer in the truth when it comes to kids and major events about missing parents. Let's face it, your daughter has been abandoned. She is going to find out sooner or later. She will feel angry and hurt. The thing is that you have to put it into two year old language. The story has got to be one that you are happy to hear retold at the most inconvenient moments. The story has to also be one she can tell her friends and have them get it without your daughter's reputation going south. An example, but only to give you the flavor of what I'm talking about, is Your dad needed to go away and I don't know if he will be able to come back or not, but if he can come back sometime, you will be the first person I'll tell.
daughter of single mom

I think I'm with Dr. Laura on this one. Tell your daughter the most reassuring thing you can, and remember that her security and well-being is the most important thing.

To the extent that the truth meets those criteria, that's where I'd start. You can't say he's sick, because she'll worry that you might get sick, too....you can probably say that he made bad choices and can't be with her anymore, or something like that.

No matter what she asks you --- what she really wants and needs to know is that YOU are not going to leave her, no matter what. Maybe that's the best thing you can tell her. ''Daddy can't be with you -- but I will always be her with you.'' Good luck,

I feel that that children have the the right to know the truth. Though they may not completely understand, they feel our truthfulness, love and care which makes them feel Secure even if its hard truth. Children like something that they can hold onto, so knowing that ''daddy is not well right now, and is getting help'' gives her something to hold onto and stops her mind from wondering about what is going on. When we avoid the question ( it brings insecurity and more questions) and it ofen exposes our own pain about the issue which carries to the children This is just my own experience with my son (now 4) I wish you strength and much love (love makes us strong)

I have a beautiful, successful 16 year old daughter. Her father is a recovering alcoholic. He went into recovery about the time she was seven. Prior to that he was a lunatic. It was a very scary time. My faith in God and my daughter allowed me to support their relationship. There were many times that I doubted my decision to send her off with him. Thank God that I did. They love each other. I would not have wanted to be the obstacle in their relationship. Very early on she recognized his problems and reassured me that she would take the best and leave the rest. It isnt easy but, as long as you can be certain of her safety, let her go. All kids need their dads.

Highschool daughter wants to connect with absent father

Oct 2000

I am English, and moved to America three years ago with my husband and five children. My sixteen-year-old daughter hates America and wants to return to England, where her father lives. I was never married to him, he never contributed any child support, he drinks and smokes cannabis in front of the children. He punched me twenty times on the head the day before I started a Maths undergraduate course at Cambridge University. I was a single parent throughout college, then he took out a custody case just as I started postgraduate work. He won: the English judge did not like women studying and parenting. After two years, I managed to get the case moved to the high court in London where the decision was reversed, and my daughter returned to live with me. But she had become attached to her father during this time.

If she leaves for England now, she will lose her chance to get a green card, which would be approved next year if she stays in the US. We have been here for three years, and she still feels that England is a better country. She also feels guilty for leaving her father behind - he refuses to visit her here, but I have flown her and her brother back to England each summer to visit him.

I have four younger children, and am married to the father of the younger three. My sixteen-year-old is very close to them, and yet wants to leave...She is in her senior year at high school, just one year from college... she hasn't applied yet. I would welcome any insight anyone has to offer.


I sympathize with her feelings but it seems crazy to miss the opportunity of the green card and not to finish school here. I would say put her off until after she has finished her senior year and received the green card. It doesn't sound as though she is capable of making a good judgment on this. You are the parent. I would be for holding firm and then let her go after her senior year. Suzanne

In response to the mother whose daughter wants to return to England: You have many compelling reasons for keeping your daughter here for at least the last year of high school, the most important being her physical safety. If her father beat on you, the pattern has been established. It also sounds as if you are making the effort to allow her visits when possible. It is unfortunate that she is unhappy here, but there are no guarantees she will be happy away from the stable home life and family that you are currently providing. The only way I would let her return is if you could arrange for her to live with a trusted family friend. PJ

I will assume that what you have written is true and that you are a loving nonabusive parent.

Don't send her to live with someone who hit you. I can well understand that she is attached to him. Abusive relationships create stonger ties than nonabusive ones. That is why women have such a hard time leaving their abusive husband and that is why hazing is so common.

I suspect that she will resent your decision and pull away from you. I would suggest that you explore every avenue possible to improve your relationship with her. Even the best parent would need help under these circumstances.

I also suggest that you be completely honest with her. Don't badmouth him (He's a bastard), just tell her the truth (He hit me). If you are withholding information from her, she will feel justified in withholding information from you. You will both be better off with a full deck of cards.

Find out what it is that she doesn't like with America. Maybe it isn't America at all. Maybe her boyfriend is putting pressure on her to have sex. Maybe her friends dumped her. Maybe she is worried about college and feels like running away to England and becoming a little girl again. If she has lived here three years and only now wants to go back, I suspect it is some kind of teenage problem.

It is not too late to apply to college. This is a whole separate question. But she can go to community college anytime. And I hear the state colleges are desparate for students because the students opt to work instead, since the job market is so hot. I know a girl who got in for September after applying in the previous month. Maybe going to college in England would be a good compromise. She could wait a year, go live at college and see her father regularly then.

I am hoping that your daughter finds the best path for her. Anonymous

I think this is an issue that every parent who has come from (or goes to) another country is likely to have to deal with at some point. Surely there is some sort of compromise possible - going to England and staying with trustworthy friends for a few months won't affect her Green Card status (as far as I'm aware) as long as she comes back again for a while. Sometimes the grass is very green (for a variety of teenage reasons) on the other side of the ocean, and will only look even more so if you keep her from going. A few months of the real England(rather than imagination) would be very likely to help her realise what it is she likes about the US. Fiona