‘My son’s dad stopped visiting him – now I’ve got to explain why to my child’

In Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.

With over 200k Instagram followers, Lala is the anonymous voice helping womankind through every bump in the road. An established sex, dating and relationship educator, she’s had her fair share of relationship drama and shares her wisdom on social media to a loyal army of followers. Every week thousands turn to her to answer their questions (no matter how embarrassing), and her funny, frank approach to love and relationships has made her the ultimate feel-good guru.

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Dear Lala,

I'm a single mum to a five-year-old boy, who I fell pregnant with at university. His dad was my boyfriend of three years, but our relationship broke down. He was controlling, coercive, and an all-round red flag. We stayed together whilst I was pregnant, and it looked like we were figuring things out, but shortly after my son was born, it was obvious that our relationship was never going to survive.

In hindsight, having my son gave me the strength to get out of an unhealthy relationship. Sadly, however, contact between my son and his father has been sporadic to say the least. My son last saw his father in February, and he has not even texted within the last nine months to see how he is.

During these nine months, my son had his birthday (with no card or present), his first ‘summer holiday’ from school, and went into Year 1. These are all huge milestones that his father isn’t around for – and quite frankly, doesn’t seem interested in.

At some point, my son is going to ask questions about the absence of his father, and I just don't know what the right thing to say is. Do you have any guidance on this? And do you think I should prompt his father to be more involved, or would this do more harm than good?

Lala says…

Making the decision to walk away from your own child is unthinkable to most parents. It's hard to imagine going a few days without knowing how your baby is, let alone months or years. But some people do it, and their reasons are varied.

Given the way he behaved during your relationship we already know that this man has issues. He doesn’t appear to know how to have a relationship without trying to control it. Perhaps his inability to control this situation led him to flee, perhaps he has no emotional attachment to his child, or he feels unworthy or not good enough to be a father – who knows?

His reasons are his own and you will never know unless he explains it. This leaves you in the horrible position of being the person who has to make sense of this for your child when you can barely make sense of it yourself.

It's important to remember that this isn’t necessarily a catastrophe for your son. We assume that having no contact with a parent is going to be hugely emotionally damaging and so we should promote contact at all costs. But an absent parent will always be preferable to an abusive parent. It would likely be more traumatic for your son to be witnessing his father coming over weekly and being abusive towards you than it is for your son to live in a peaceful household without the stress of what Dad might do next.

However, if you feel that prompting his dad would be safe for you and your son, and a negative response won’t crush you, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t reach out.

If you do plan to do this, then I would manage your expectations. You might be met with silence or an argument. Prepare yourself for how you might feel. I would also recommend leaving out any comments that refer to the two of you. I don’t think that saying things like, “You’ve left me to bring up our child alone and it’s breaking my heart to see our son abandoned” will have the desired effect. Focus the conversation on your son, keep it factual, explain that your son wants and needs his dad and that you will do what you can to support and accommodate their contact. Don’t beg or plead.

Your son will want to know about his dad and it’s good that you're thinking about how to handle that in the best way for him. It’s important not to lie to him. It can be tempting to try to protect his feelings by saying that dad died, or he’s on holiday, but as your son grows and learns the truth, he probably won’t thank you for lying. You could say that Daddy can’t be a dad at the moment because he doesn’t know how, and if, and when, he learns he will let us know. Or you could say that Dad has decided that he needs some space to be alone and he will get in touch if, and when, he's ready. You can explain that being a parent is a really important job and not everyone can do it; Dad is one of those people at the moment. That might change, it might not.

Make sure you emphasise that it's not your son’s fault. He's very loved and very wanted. It's important not to bash Dad. Whilst it’s true that he is a massive d******d, your son doesn’t need to know that as it could have implications for how your son feels about his own identity, and it would also make things hard if he did come back. In terms of the identity aspect, you could show your son pictures of his dad, and tell him stories about how you met, and how happy his dad was when he watched him being born.

Your son won’t be the only kid in the school whose dad isn’t around, and it’s mostly mums who do the bulk of the kids activities like parties and school stuff, so your son is unlikely to feel like some big glaring odd one out. Father figures and male role models are important but that doesn’t mean your son can’t thrive without one, and that doesn’t have to be a biological father. If you have a dad, brothers, close male friends, make sure to have your son around them as often as possible. If he has love, stability and security, from you and your family, then he will be fine. It really is his dad’s loss.

If you need any further help around anything to do with single parenting you can contact Gingerbread Single Parents Charity for support.


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