Ruth wrote wondering what she should do about her three-year-old son who thus far has not opened up the question of fathers.
As she wrote, “I don’t want to wait much longer to bring up the subject because I want it to be something that has always just been part of his reality, not something he was ‘told’ when he got older. But I don’t know how to bring it up without making it sound like something is wrong. I can’t exactly say ‘Do you realize other kids have Daddies but you don’t?’ or ‘Our family is different from other families.’ I know the best starting point is a book about a Choice Mom (I have several) but he won’t let me read him any books. I don’t know if I should keep waiting for him to ask, but I have a feeling it might be a LONG time before he notices the lack of a Daddy, and I don’t want the window of opportunity to pass me by, since the young years are the best ones to have these early conversations about his conception.”
Ruth is right that the prevailing wisdom is these conversations should begin even before the child is fully aware of what the topic — or even the words — mean. (See our “Answering the daddy question” article on this website for more.)
My son wasn’t a big talker for the first four years of his life. He didn’t ask questions about “daddy” until roughly age seven — and even then it was less of a question than musing out loud with friends about the fact that he’d never met his biological father, and that one of his dad’s friends was fun to have around. And, like Ruth’s son, mine didn’t request a lot of book reading.
I asked some of our group of Choice Mom-friendly therapists and the executive director of The Sperm Bank of California for their input on the daddy question.
A child of 3 may not be noticing anything. A child of 4 or 5 may. I would not force anything. Books normalize life and tell stories. If not a book, then telling stories about the two of them and the things they love to do together. Children learn through stories. She can also tell stories about families from one of her books or make one up on her own. The books I suggest for Choice Moms are:
- The Adventures of Princess Mommy: A fairy tale for single mothers and their children by Ali Sherwin
- The Pea that was me (there is a version for single women)I by Kimberly Kluger-Bell
- Our story (sperm donation for solo mums) by Nicola Baxter; Donor Conception Network
- Megan and Mommy by Elizabeth Reed
A family of two: Ashley began in Mommy’s heart by Elizabeth Reed
- Chloe wants to be a mother by Rosa Maestro
I speak with women who have questions like this on a regular basis one-on-one on and in talks I give for Our Family Coalition. (See this resource for more.) She has some great parental instincts about wanting to talk to him young and not wanting to focus on what he doesn’t have.
From my experience, I would suggest talking about their family, how their family came to be (donor conception? adoption?), and who is in their family (relatives, close friends, pets) as a starting point. Some families make a book but you could also share this as a bed time story or share the details when talking about when he was a baby (young children often like to hear about when they were babies).
Concurrent with this, she could also start noticing other families and who is in those families. The Todd Parr book on families is great for this—it has a lot of pictures and few words so they could just look at the pictures. They can also talk about the diversity of families they know to give a framework that there is a great deal of variety in families. Conversations like this would help give him a framework to think about his family, start to answer questions he may have but not be able to verbalize, and give him an opening to start asking questions when he is ready.
I am very fond of Madeline Feingold’s approach that genes make people and people make families. This can be modified depending on your child’s age and your circumstance. For example, in our two-mom family with a known donor, when our son was a preschooler we modified this to say, “there are people who help make you and people who take care of you, sometimes these people are the same and sometimes they are different. The people who take care of you are your parents.”
Joann Galst (212-759-2783)