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On Saturday mornings, I visit a nearby county jail. Most of the men I talk to are fathers. Some are serving short sentences and others are awaiting trials that will likely result in lengthy separations from their families. (Longer terms are served in state prisons.) Since I represent a spiritual tradition that many of these men respect, they often ask for my advice on their parenting situations.

One situation that occasionally comes up is whether it's good for the children of inmates to be told the truth of their parent's situation. For those facing long terms, I feel the answer is simple: tell the truth. If the father does end up in prison for many years, children will certainly need to know and might resent the deception.

But what about men who are going to get out of jail shortly? Are children significantly harmed by the harsh reality that their father has been punished for misdeeds against the community? Does the nature of the crime and the age of the children alter the equation?

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At about age 8, one of my son's new friends claimed his mother was in jail. It turned out she never was, she had left the family of her own choice and lived twenty minutes away. It was easier for him to say (believe?) she was away against her will than by her own choice. Even if it's just for a few days, I'd say tell the child the truth. –  Chrys Mar 16 at 0:40

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Short answer: tell the the truth

Long answer: My father went to jail... twice for the same offence, one time for a short period, 6 months in which my mom told us nothing, and one time for 2 years, and my mother spoke openly about it towards me and my older sister, we also visited regularly and my dad always had writings to give to us or nice drawings.

Those 6 months were more hell for me then those 2 years, pure for the fact that i was missing my dad, and not knowing where he went or if he would came back caused me to act out, badly, towards everybody in my surrounding. School grades dropped significant and i alienated all of my friends.

In those 2 years we visited every month, and he asked how school was(and how my grades were going), how home was, if i helped my mother. It helped me a lot, instead of acting out, i did my utmost to ensure that when we came to visit him, he would be proud of me. It was still tough as hell but it brought me, my sister and my mother, and eventually my dad, closer together, we came out stronger as a whole.

But what about men who are going to get out of jail shortly? Are children significantly harmed by the harsh reality that their father has been punished for misdeeds against the community?

I always saw my father as my father, if that what you mean, he was and still is my superhero.

Does the nature of the crime and the age of the children alter the equation?

Well its difficult, the fact is that sooner or later, they will be confronted with their parents past, so i think honesty is still the best way to move forward, you don't want this situation to cause more problems than it already had. if the child is old enough, i think its best to let them decide if they want to see him. if its to young to comprehend the situation just bring it to visits, it would strengthen the father and gives him motivation to stay on track, prison life changes a man.

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Thank you for this very personal answer. It really is helpful to me since I was leaning this way, but started second guessing the effect on children. I suppose children are pretty resilient when they feel loved and cared for. –  Jon Ericson Mar 18 at 15:40
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Your welcome, at first i was reluctant to respond, but then i thought, if i could do a good thing with this negative experience, why not? Even if it helps a little bit... –  Alexander Meesters Mar 18 at 15:54

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