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My 8-year-old daughter hasn’t seen her father since she was 5 months old. It was an mentally and physically abusive relationship, so we moved to a different province and he hasn’t attempted to see her at all.

When she was 5 or 6, she would ask why she doesn’t have a dad and why isn’t she special to have a dad. She didn’t ask often, just when she started school and started to see other kids with fathers in their lives. I always told her that not everyone has a mom and dad and that all families are different and pointed out how special her family was and how many people there were who loved her.

Earlier this year a classmate brought up that she had to have a father and asked where her father was. I heard her tell the classmate that some mommies can have babies on their own and they don’t need daddies. Soon after I told her that yes, you need a man and a woman to have a baby, but that doesn’t always mean the man becomes a daddy.

Then, something came up at school and she asked me straight out who was her father. I told her his name and where he lives, I said we were in love but he wasn’t ready to be a dad and that doesn’t change anything with our family. She asked did he ever see her, and I said yes when she was a baby.

I don’t know where to go from here. I just see how devastated she was and how she doesn’t trust me, she thought for so long that it was just us and now she sees that I lied to her and how does she trust me? She’s acting out and she doesn’t tell me as much about her friends and school. My family doesn’t talk about her dad at all. I’m the only one who has ever mentioned him so that has to be weird for her but I don’t know where to go from here.

  • For what it's worth, I don't see how you lied to her from what you write. I also think you did a pretty good job framing a difficult topic in a way she could understand. Don't worry too much because she's outgrown this frame, this won't cause long-term damage to your relationship with her if you (as it sounds) acted in her best interests. – Pascal says Talk To Monica Aug 26 at 22:52
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First off, my children aren't your daughter's age yet, so I don't have a first hand experience reference. That being said, my impression is that an 8 year old is capable of understanding rather complex concepts, and that perhaps she'd handle a bit more truth that you give her credit for. She does exist within a context, with classmates who will challenge her world view again, if the explanations she's given are too naïve, and it'll be in a setting where you're not around to provide answers. It's a balance, I get that.

Building trust, withholding information in order to give her an age-appropriate understanding of her situation is not the problem. Saying things you'll later have to revert on is. You don't have to tell her it was an abusive relationship, if you don't think she could handle that, but you also don't have to tell her that it was a loving one. If you're upfront about the fact that he was a bad person and that you are all better off without him, I suspect your daughter will be less confused about why he has not been mentioned.

Go to a public library and ask them for age-appropriate books on different family constellations, or childrens books with absent fathers. Have discussions on what constitutes a family. To me, the defining characteristics are an intimate network of people who care for each other and love each other unconditionally. There are adopted children, half-siblings and step parents. Those can all be family. Equally, you can be a blood-relative without being family. Egg- and sperm donors are hardly family. That holds just as well for absent parents. So you haven't been lying when you've said that hers is a family with a mom but no dad, see if you can have her understand that.

Scrutinize yourself. How do you feel? Have you been dishonest? Have you been withholding more than her age actually called for? (I'm not suggesting you have, I'm just saying you need to figure out on which points you should persevere or back down and apologize, respectively.) If you think you've done anything wrong, be straight with her on that note, say you're sorry, and then give her a (true) story you think she's ready to hear. And explain to her why you thought you had to say the things you did. It's okay to be wrong. It's okay to say you didn't know what to say.

Nothing is ruined, mind you. I bet your daughter doesn't begrudge you for having her believe Santa existed when she was younger? She understands that harmless dishonesty can be used to spark excitement and joy. As she gets older, she will understand that you can be dishonest in order to protect someone as well. But just as it would be cruel to have a fifteen year old believe that Santa Clause existed, you need to make sure that you're not treating her as younger than she is in this regard as well.

  • Thank you for this. I really needed to see it through a different perspective. I think a lot of this is me projecting my feelings from being abused and abandoned onto her and that’s not fair. I need to apologize to her for not being honest about it from the beginning, give her the reasons why I wasn’t honest and maybe I will say a bit more of the truth. I don’t want to speak badly about him but I don’t want her to think he was some fabulous dude who loved her and then she realize he doesn’t when he doesn’t ever try to see her. But I don’t want her to hate him then hate part of herself also – Elizabeth28 Aug 24 at 4:54
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    Very good answer. We often don't give kids the merit they deserve. In tough situations, kids can understand hunger, death and war, so I am sure most can understand an abusive absent father – David Aug 26 at 9:01
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You can apologise of not telling the truth (for the reason, that you assumed, she wouldn't understand. I liked, how you explained to her the difference between a biological man and daddy. Now you could offer to speak together about him, and listen to her, what she wants without proactively trying to protect her or answer questions she didn't ask. If you are scared to do any mistake, consider involving a psychotherapist in the discussion. Maybe she wan's to get in contact with him, a letter or a phone call could be a start.

  • I would love to be able to have them meet or speak on the phone but unfortunately he isn’t being easy to deal with. He has a new baby and he told his girlfriend and mother of the new baby that Kiera isn’t his daughter and it’s a whole mess. The last time we spoke which was a year ago, he told me he needed time before he could see her 🙄 I just am worried I said to much or said the wrong thing and now I can’t take it back obviously – Elizabeth28 Aug 24 at 4:49
  • Your daughter wants the truth; I understand, that you want to protect her, but this puts your credibility at risk. How about to support her do the smallest kind of interaction (sending a postcard to "ask the phone number"), and allow her to probably experience his bad character. (make sure it is a small interaction, to keep disappointment low). – mambolis Sep 5 at 9:58

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