“Where’s My Daddy?” (or, if you’re a single Dad, “Where’s My Mommy?”)
My DD (Darling Daughter) was 2 and a ½ when I first got this question, which I thought was precocious. DD always asks these deeper, difficult questions at the end of the day, once we’ve relaxed thanks to the bedtime routine, so I have no “background noise” (like stress from the office or stress about getting dinner on the table sometime before 10 p.m.) and can actually think. But, I happen to be an advance planning type-A personality, so I was ready for it, with the naked truth: “I don’t know.”
I had decided a long time ago that I would never, ever lie to my child, especially about the things that really mattered. Her identity, her sense of self, was what has always mattered the most. In toddlerhood, children are at a concrete stage. How could I explain my not-really-a-marriage-even-though-I-thought-it-was, when it was hard for me to understand it as a 38-year-old adult? So, I knew that the answer had to be simple and concrete. “Where’s my daddy?” I honestly don’t know. Of course, my daughter had follow up questions: “Is he living somewhere else? Does he have another family? Is he dead?” I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. The answer had to remain simple, concrete…and consistent. Children are concrete, they have no life experience, they are naturally trusting, but they are not stupid. Had I once answered, “Of course not” (such as to the “Is he dead” question), she would have pounced on that as a “Mommy must know something” type of answer, and her trust in me would have begun to erode.
My Advice to Fellow Maddies
So, for what it’s worth, my advice to all my fellow Maddies: try to anticipate the potentially difficult questions that your children may ask and think through your answers carefully, thinking like a child but maintaining your adult’s perspective, so that you preserve your children’s trust.
Background to My “Maddie-hood”
My elevator speech about my marriage is: “Short marriage, long story.” I was married about 5 minutes when I became pregnant. I didn’t actually know, or believe, I was pregnant until about the second month; according to my gynecologists from the time I was about 22 years old, I was unable to get pregnant, sterile (thanks to my first long-term boyfriend who, unbeknownst to 19 year old me, was stepping out with other women; I was with him for four years and two Pelvic Inflammatory Disease episodes that I only discovered once they were so raging that I couldn’t walk…but no medical person told me the reason I had contracted either one. Obviously, though, doctors can’t predict everything, since I got my surprise bundle 13 years later, at age 35.)
My “husband” came to the first obstetrician’s visit, listened without once looking at me, and, as she asked for blood samples, spoke up, saying, “I don’t have to give blood. I just gave blood at another clinic, for another woman, six months ago, and they said everything was fine.” I just stared at him, as did the obstetrician. I was dumbfounded, speechless. My mind raced with questions, “Six months ago? When did he have time to sleep with another woman, when he was dating me?” After all, until we actually had the piece of paper saying we were married, I saw him so often that it felt as though we were living together.
Needless to say, I read him the riot act in the car, as he was driving me home (because, no, we never actually lived together; in fact, after we were married, it was hard to see him at all…so how I got pregnant is still a mystery to me – though I know it couldn’t have been an immaculate conception as I’ve never been particularly saintly…more of a naive Magdalene, really – which means I was a wild child by Catholic school girl standards but really, really tame by real world standards). He told me that after all I was merely the “factory” for his son (he never, ever entertained the thought our baby might be a girl…Spanish-speaking-male machismo personified), that all any woman really wanted was to have a baby and be a mother (he was helping me – and every other woman who would sleep with him – “fulfil my female destiny”), that he had decided to become a Mormon (obviously completely misunderstanding the entire Mormon religion and picking out the only part that he liked about it – the multiple wives part – without realizing that even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints hasn’t endorsed polygamy in a very long time).
After that ride home, I didn’t see him again (though I most certainly felt his presence, through intimidating e-mails, sitting in his car right in front of my house all night long, following me, breaking or pulling out one – and only one – headlight overnight, every four nights (but a random four), for a year, just to let me know he was around and could harm me if he chose to) until a year later, when he actually appeared at the court hearing for annulment of my civil marriage (which, by the way, I won). He moved without telling me, changed his phone number, and didn’t call. We were both 35, so I was done; I knew then that he would never be part of our lives if I could help it – I refused to make my child endure the “revolving door” phenomenon, or to try to find him every time I wanted to travel, move, etc. with my kid. At best, my “husband” was a philandering narcissist; at worst, he was a psychopath…I didn’t (and still don’t) care to find out which one.
Question of the Day: Does anyone have any other advice, suggestions, recommendations, or stories to share about how to answer children’s difficult questions? Please share here!