Communication (and life) in general can be difficult. Okay, let's be real. It's f*ckin' hard work! While there's no guarantee you'll get it right, previous experience allows us to safely navigate through some of life's unforeseen trials and tribulations. Oftentimes without scathe. But, for a child both green and naive to the wonderfully chaotic ways of the world, carefully cruising through the unknown can seem nearly impossible. No matter how bright or resilient the child, they simply lack the life experience to blindly steer, nonetheless articulate how they feel. (Then again, does this ever change?)
This brings me to a recent conversation with my youngest who's six years old; let's call her "T" for the purpose of this article. As we entered a new season, it was only natural the topic of "daddy" would resurface. In fact, I anticipate this "talk" of sorts ahead of many milestones. It was the first day of school -- as she intently watched her peers gently embrace the men in their lives, before nervously tiptoeing into the great, big, scary world -- she turned and with her big, bright brown eyes gleaming up at me, asked, "Why didn't my daddy ever hug me like that? Why doesn't he ever call?"
At the moment, my heart broke for her. I fought back tears -- even a major bitch fit. Still, as painful as it can be to man these conversations alone, avoidance is NOT the answer. Here's how I talked to my child about her father's absence. Take note.
1. Honesty is the best policy.
Now, I'm not saying get down to the nitty gritty as this can be extremely damaging depending on the circumstances. Instead, advocate for the truth. For example, previously I've explained to my daughters that "parenting is a lot of work. It requires dying to self and living for the benefit of another, day in and day out. Some parents aren't ready for this." Of course, with age, you may need to be more forthcoming. They may not like what you have to say. But, they'll appreciate that you kept it real. That said, whatever the approach, don't pretend he doesn't exist. This is the equivalent of telling your child that his/her father is dead. No bueno!
2. Do NOT by any means bash the other parent.
Please remember, your child is looking for reassurance! They want to know life will be an effing turnup, despite the absence of their father. They need to hear it's not their fault. Even more, they want to know YOU will ALWAYS be there! So, keep it positive people.
3. Share positive memories.
I don't care how far you gotta reach; dig deep sister! Personally, I revisit the joy of discovering I was with child nearly seven years after I was told I'd never again know the joy of motherhood -- she was a blessing within a storm. Or, the look in her father's eyes the moment he first held her. At the end of the day, your tot will hold these memories close. They will build an impression of who their father is as a person -- likely even aid in shaping who they are as they grow into adulthood.
4. Acknowledge and validate their feelings.
Whatever you do, check your emotions at the door. This is not about you. I'd have to admit, initially this was a challenge for me. "Am I not enough?" "What am I doing wrong?" Before I knew it, by taking it personally, I was indirectly writing it off like, "Well, it is what it is." Though I never expressed this verbally, my inability to take this topic head-on said otherwise. Of course, I quickly learned the significance of simply listening, acknowledging and mirroring their feelings. In turn, helping my mini me articulate her feelings in a healthy way.
5. Identify positive “father-figures” in their life.
Growing up one of ten children -- seven of my siblings are men -- I'm hip to the gravity of having positive "father-figures" in your life. Whether family, friends, a co-worker, even a romantic partner; these men should serve as pillars of excellence. By this I mean, they are trustworthy, respectful, reliable, kind, fair, accepting, and honest -- all characteristics they should seek in others as they begin to forge relationships of their own.
Is this to say the questions won't resurface? No! But, if handled with care and blanketed with love, your babe will walk away feeling loved, maybe even at peace. More importantly, they will feel valued. You listened. You acknowledged. You withheld judgement. You were there!
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