Q: My son just turned 5 and is starting to ask various questions about parents including why some people have two parents and he only has one. About two months before he turned two, his "donor" said he wasn't "feeling it" (his exact words) with him and didn't want to participate in his life anymore. How can I explain that to my son? My son has no recollection of this person, but his parents still visit and take him places as do two other members of his "dad's" family. I am really at a loss or how to explain this without hurting his feelings or making him feel unwanted or unloved.

A:  Please don't try and explain an emotionally-complicated situation such as this to a child this age. No matter how carefully you choose your words, he will not understand what you want him to understand. The explanation will only confuse him and leave him with more questions than it answers. Furthermore, at age 5, your son does not possess the intellectual and verbal skills with which to even ask the right questions.

Rule of thumb: Tell a child only what he absolutely needs to know when and only when he absolutely needs to know it.

Your son does not need to know that "Donor Dad" doesn't want anything to do with him. By the way, I feel compelled to interrupt this answer to exclaim: What a guy! A real man's man! A paragon of masculine virtue!

Now that I have purged those faint praises from my system, I would not explain any of the "stuff" in question until your son is (a) well into his teenage years, as in, at least 15, (b) is in possession of a sturdy self-image, (c) has demonstrated a good amount of emotional fortitude/resilience, and (d) virtually demands answers to his questions. When all four (not three!) conditions are present, then tell the sordid tale of Donor Dad, but don't editorialize. 

Until then: Why do some children have only one parent? Because sometimes one parent is all the child needs. Why do some kids need two parents? Because they're not as sweet as you are. Where is my father? We don't know ... he was never here. What's his name? (Answer with first name only.) Any more "intimate" questions, answer with, "I'll answer that when you grow up." And let that be that.

Another rule of thumb, learned from my parents: One of a parent's responsibilities is that of making a child's life as simple as possible. Children do not need to worry about things they can't understand, and when adults try to force such understandings into their heads, worry they will.

John Rosemond, a family psychologist, can be reached at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 E. 86th St., Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 or at his website: www.rosemond.com.

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