We were sitting at the dining room table and discussing how thankful we were for our family and my five year old daughter was naming all of her cousins and telling us “who they belonged to”. “Aunt Jenny is Ava’s mommy and Uncle Garrett is Ava’s daddy. Bella’s mommy and daddy are Aunt Celeste and Uncle Danny”, she said in the happiest and energetic voice. This went on and on as she went through our entire family, including my husband and me. “Grandma is daddy’s mom and Grandpa is daddy’s dad and Mimi is your mom.” Then there was a pause, and in the most innocent and curious voice she asked, “Do you have a dad, Mommy?”. And then, my heart broke.
The answer is yes, I do have a dad. The truth is that he has chosen to not be present in our lives. He has met my daughter maybe 4 times during her whole existence and she doesn’t remember anything about him. Regardless of how I feel or how sad it makes me to talk about it aloud, she has questions. Children are curious and they like for the puzzle pieces to fit just right. So, if there is a missing piece they want to know why.
Here are some tips to help deal with an absent grandparent:
- Talk about it. – If your child has questions, be as honest as is appropriate for his/her age. Don’t create a false story or glamorize the situation as to not hurt your child’s feelings and protect them from disappointment. Sometimes its enough to simply say, “Yes, I do have a dad. His name is ____ and he lives in ___.” Let your child/children lead the conversation and ask questions that are important to them, not what you think they may want to know.
- Squash the trash talk. – You can own the heart break, betrayal, and hurtful words…but your children shouldn’t. It’s not their fault, so don’t make it about them. You may have your own issues to work through, but try to just talk about the facts, not how that person made you feel. Let your child express his/her feelings and try not to encourage them to “pick a side” and allow them make their own judgement about the situation.
- Details aren’t important. – Leave the nitty-gritty of your broken relationship for your therapist. It is human nature to want to shout all wrongdoings from the rooftop, but the past is the past and your children, and how they view relationships, are the future. Focus on that.
- Express your blessings. – Use other family and friends as support. Even though a grandparent may be absent, celebrate the good friends and family members that are an integral part of your lives each and everyday. Express to your child/children how much they are loved and how many people love being a part of their lives. Say the names aloud and discuss how they can count on those people anytime they need them.
- Accept it. – You can’t change what the absent grandparent (or parent) is choosing to do or not to do in your life. You can continue to try to salvage whatever is left of the relationship, encourage communication if your child wants to get to know them better or simply just wash your hands of the situation. Whatever that looks like for you, accept it, move on and put that energy into being the best parent you can be.