22 Comments

How do you talk to a six-year-old about grownup stuff? Like So:

My Sugar Bugger.

I know, I know, I promised you I’d write about the YMCA, physical fitness, all of that.  I’ve been making notes on the YMCA post for months.  But it’ll wait.  Because I’ve gotta get this one out.  It’s the kind you like, it’s emotional.  And the Y’s in it.  Sort of.  We had occasion for this conversation because of the Y.

People who know and love us might cry.  I didn’t, but I’ve had six years to deal with the inevitability of this conversation, and I must tell you that it went tons better than I was expecting it to go.

If you’re new to the story or this blog, you can read some of my thoughts about parenthood, some other thoughts about parenthoodChild’s present fake father situation, and the Child: Origins in (lightly) fictionalized form.

So last night, on the way home from the Y, Child was talking about her little friend whose house we passed’s father and mom’s boyfriend.

She got this sad look on her face, and she said, “I wish I had a father.”

I am so accustomed to being able to dodge this conversation that I said, “You do!”

She said, “No.  Fella’s my fake dad.  I mean a real dad.”

“You do have a real dad, Child, but Fella’s way more your dad than he is.”

“Really?!” She was legitimately surprised.  There are some real pleasures in observing childhood, of getting to re-live that naivete, that utter faith that nobody around you is trying to mess with you, be dishonest, or dick you over.  Life pre-awareness-of-sex.

“Yeah, really.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s a guy I knew in college for a while.”

“Were you married?”

“No.  We were just friends.”

“Then how’d you get me?”

“Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes friends get babies together on accident.”  (I was not in a financial position to be on whore pills, but we were using lots of birth control)

“I want him to be my dad.”

“Why?”

“Because Fella yells at me all the time.”

“Your biological dad would yell at you all the time, too.  It’s what parents do.”

“I want to meet him.  Can you call him?”

“I don’t have his phone number, Child. I don’t know if you’ll ever get to meet him.”

“Why not?!”

“Because, Child.  He chose not to meet you.  He said he wasn’t ready for you yet.”

“When will he be ready for me?”

“I don’t know, Sugar bugger.  And anyway, what’s so wrong with Fella?  Doesn’t he play with you?”

“Yes.”

“And hug you?”

“Yes.”

“And buy you stuff?”

“Yes.  But can I tell him?  About my real dad?”

“Sure you can.  He already knows.”

So that’s the way it went.

The bit that surprised me was the, “I want to meet him.” She said it with such certitude and finality.

I’ve heard tell that kids who are adopted or who only know one of their birth parents have some kind of psychic off-kilterness. An adopted friend who had two kids of her own and was married happily looked up her birth mother.  She said it was compulsive.

It’s a real thing, the biological magnetism.

And personally?  I’m totally torn.  I’ve always said that when Child wants to meet her father, I’m absolutely going to help her with that.  But I was expecting it to be at least seven years from now.

I know her biological grandparents would dearly like to be in her life, but out of respect for their son’s arrangement with me, they have not.

And my kid is awesome (of course I think so).  She’s sassy and resilient and really good at not taking things personally.  But she’s six.  I mean, is it fair to say, “Ok, we’re going to meet your father, but we’re not going to live with him, and he’s still not going to be in your life.”?

She’s still hopeful and naive and happy about the world.  I don’t want to invite disillusionment.

Because I’ve also said that if he ever craves involvement, I’ll need him to put his money where his mouth is and pony up with some back child support and some kind of legal accountability before I put my sweet girl in emotional harm’s way.

But again, I was expecting that to happen you know, really any time before she’s officially a grown up.  Or even a teenager.

And here’s the thing.  I have great faith that if child’s bio dad wanted to, he’d be a terrific father.  But he has not had the advantage of six years during which his life is literally upside down, and he doesn’t matter much, and people make ridiculous assumptions about him and his character based on his having a kid on his own.

And even if he had, it’s totally different for men.  Men who are single dads are total heroes. They’re like the Don Juans of the playground benches.  Sisters and moms and strangers bring them casseroles and come pick up their laundry to do.  Women who are single moms?  We’re whores. And if we accept welfare, we’re whores who deserve to be poor, and who are trying to trick Uncle Sam into paying for our Lexuses.  (I would like to posit for the record that the brief times during which I have accepted financial assistance from the state, I would have never been able to afford a Lexus, or even a 1997 Ford Aspire. True story.)

Therefore, I imagine Child’s bio dad to be very similar to the way he was when I knew him, that is to say he is still probably not especially responsible.  And probably still doesn’t like himself terribly well.  And probably still drinks too much.

So even IF I could, with a clear conscience, say, “Okay, Child!  Let’s go!  We’ll find your father this summer!” What kind of can of worms would I be opening?  What are the statistical odds that her life would be better after that?  That it would be worse?

My basis for asking Child’s father to make the same choice that I had to make (100% or 0%) was extremely unscientific, but was that the most rogered up people I’ve ever known are the ones who’ve had here-and-gone-again fathers or mothers.  Who’ve had a consistent stream of rejection in their young lives.  (Also, it seemed unfair to me for him to have to be cool with whatever choice I was making, but that’s a post for another day).

So what are we going to do?  I dunno.  But I’ll keep you posted.

I welcome your input and feedback, but if you’re going to be hateful toward me or toward Child’s bio dad, I thank you in advance for keeping your comments to yourself.

22 comments on “How do you talk to a six-year-old about grownup stuff? Like So:

  1. It’s definitely a tricky situation, but I think you’re wonderful for thinking things through about what would be best for her in the long run. I wish I had “the answer”. I wonder if allowing her to get to know her paternal grandparents could be a possible first step? Or you contacting them and explaining both her curiosities and your concerns?

    • It is hard! You’re right. I worry–if she knows her paternal grandparents–that she’ll be more taunted by the biological father void. On the other hand, who am I to stand between a kid and her grandparents… All children deserve all the love people are willing to give them, right?

  2. Wow. Lovely story, really. You are so on top of this, I am sure that whatever you decide will be exactly what is right. I know that’s not much help, but I don’t think you need my help. ‘Cause you’re good. :) Having said that, I agree with Maria. Check with the paternal grandparents. Not about getting in touch with the bio-dad, but just about allowing them to be grandparents, allowing them to be in her life, and her in theirs.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Jamie. :-) The communication channel is open between me and Child’s paternal grandmother. In fact, I bet she’s read this post–or will this afternoon. She’s a spy. She gets to know us through facebook and my blog.

  3. Honesty is a hard road to go down with your child, but you tempered it with love and showed Child she can trust you with any question she has in her heart. Sometimes, as I’ve also recently discovered, the answers you have to give your child in order to be honest suck. I just hate that my own 6 year old has to know even an ounce of the crap that is life. But she’ll figure out the real deal one day anyway, right? Rather she look at you and know, wholeheartedly, that you’re a straight shooter than believe you kept secrets from her. Solid thumbs up, Mom.

    • Solidarity, Tracey. I think I’ve mentioned before the advice my friend Sue gave me: always give your kid an answer that they can process in their developmental stage, and tell the truth. That was the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Also the hardest to follow. It’s so tempting to just lie. Sigh. Having scruples is really a drag sometimes. ;-)

  4. Thanks for sharing your real world story…. I, as you know, had a similar situation…

    However, my now almost 11yr old doesn’t know (or at least I think he doesn’t) his “father”, my now husband, is not his bio father. His bio father had sort of been in his life from age 0-3ish as occasional baby sitter and thief of young baby’s savings account. That being said, bio dad has not been seen or heard from, nor do I want him to be, and he doesn’t either (good riddins, i say) since my son was 3-4ish.

    When my son actually met his now “father” there had been an instant bond and has grown up with him as “daddy” ever since. In my hope and naivete, I believed that my son had no memory of bio father, but there had been instances were he had placed the image of his “father” in a memory that had happened with his bio father. Kind of an eek moment for me.

    I dread if and when my son finds out about bio father. Mostly because I don’t wish to burden him with the knowledge that he has an asshole bio father when his “father” for all intents and purposes is his loving and caring “real father”. But I am torn, wondering if in fact we should let him know about bio father.

    I admire and applaud that you, April, have always been up front with your little one. And appreciate you sharing this “event”. However, if you, or any of your readers have any suggestions/advice for my situation, I would kindly appreciate it. I know honesty is best, but sometimes perhaps…not?

    • Hey Lady,

      I’ll advocate for telling little fella (I can hardly believe he’s 11!!!!) all about the bio dad. There are ways to tell him that won’t make him feel weird. For example, I am big on talking about all the different kinds of families there can be. Sometimes there’s only one mom or one dad, or two dads and one mom, or two moms and one dad or two moms or two dads or whatever. Sometimes families are related by blood, and sometimes only because they like each other a real lot.

      Yours is older than mine, but you can still explain–and should. He’s young enough that he’ll forgive you now, but if you let him find out on the oopsy–like when he’s a teen and miserable anyhow, he might be angry and resentful.

      And ultimately, he’s probably going to have to discover for himself that bio dad is an arse. I accept that Child will need to do that, too. Hopefully, hers will be less an arse… but well. Harumph.

      Of course, too, the “norm”–especially here in largely working class, republican PA–exists, so our kids are always confronted by families that look different than theirs, and there’s a huge prevalence of mother-father-children configurations here. Teachers aren’t as concerned about the PC thing b/c there’s not as much diversity, etc, etc, etc…

      But that, too, is an opportunity to show tolerance from an early age. Every family is different, sometimes there’s one brown parent and one white parent, or two different shades of brown, or whatever. Some families have lots of kids, some only have one, some families only have animals, etc, etc, etc.

      Solidarity, M. Whatever you decide, it has to be the right thing for you and your fam. And at the end of the day, you are the only one who can make that choice. Regardless, I’m behind you. :-)

    • I so, so, SO agree with April. There is no way you can keep this secret, unless you and your husband are the only two who know. And I suspect that is not a true statement. :) Someone will slip. And the potential for hurt feelings (not to mention anger, resentment, etc) is so vast you don’t even want to THINK about dealing with it. It may be very painful NOW but I think the potential for pain later increases exponentially every day. You are right on the cusp of his slipping into teenagerdom (during which time you will begin to wonder of the faeries stole your beautiful, loving child while you were sleeping and substituted demon spawn), so you need to do it while he still loves you, as April also advises. As a side note, my sister’s first husband had this very thing happen to him; he overheard family talking about it when he was 16. That’s how he found out he was adopted. It’s 40 years later and he is still a profoundly damaged man.

      • Preach it, Jamie! Jinkeys Scoob re: ex-brother-in-law!

        Yeah, Michelle. I am concerned about the oopsy factor, and about F’s teen angst. As you mentioned, he knows… He’ll probably be angry if you don’t tell, and then one day he finds out and a lot of things clear up for him. <3 <3 <3

  5. april, i think you are such an amazing person and a fantastic mother. you know what’s best for her. i see such terrible parenting out in the world and if only other parents would even put forth a fraction of the effort you do they’d see such an improvement in their childrens lives. keep doing what you do!

    • Aw thanks, April! What a sweet comment & touching! Thanks for taking the time!

      But be careful with assessing terrible parenting… the old adage: “You can’t judge a book by its cover” holds true here, too, I think. Though when I worked at the car dealership–I’ll never forget the day–there was this sweet little girl, blonde, stringy hair, skinny, and with fear shining in her eyes, probably around 5 or 6. Her clothes were sparkling clean, and she was being still like standing water and eerily silent. Her father towered over her–not a large man, but a commanding presence–and he had the kinetic energy of a temper about to blow. She seemed to be trying to be invisible. He wasn’t upset about his car or anything, but she was noticeably afraid of him. I knew without even having to see that she was an abused child and her father is a horrid tyrant. But maybe that’s because I’m always telling myself stories about the lives of the people I observe in the world. Maybe he was really freaking out about something else, and she was deaf or something.

  6. As somebody who grew up without a mother (said mother was also “not ready, though didn’t decide so until after the fact, and four months later), it fell to my grandmother to have this kind of conversation with me, regarding the fact that she (my grandmother) was not, in fact, my mother, and maybe one day I could meet her. My dad, if I recall correctly, was at work at the time, or else he would’ve weighed in I’m sure. I could have asked him the next day, I suppose, but I had a bowl of ice cream and got over it. I was a pragmatic child, apparently.

    I agree, it is a potential can of worms, and you don’t know what the actuality of that person, in the flesh, being in your and your daughter’s life will be like. He might never be ready. Or he might get some idea of being responsible, and actually pony up those financial and legal details. People can be surprising, and also very disappointing.

    • You are right, Jennifer. There’s no crystal ball. And there’s no protecting our kids from pain, really. In my experience, though, it’s more likely that people will be disappointing than surprising.

      I think I’m going to wait for now. See what happens next–if anything. Child hasn’t mentioned it since our talk the other day, but there’s no telling when she’ll get a wild hair up her butt about it.

      Was it your dad’s mom or your mom’s mom who had this chat with you? Have you met your mom? If you don’t want to answer publicly, or at all, that’s fine. If you care to engage, I’m AprilLineWriting (at) gmail (dot) com.

      • It was my dad’s mom that had the chat with me. My mother’s side of the family was kind of in a split: her mother “sided” with her, her father did not, nor did her three brothers. So my mother’s dad, and three brothers, I’ve had at least holiday relationships with, if not a bit more from time to time.

        I have not met her, nor her mother. It never ended up being a crucial goal for me (and I guess is more than a little sour grapes, “well F them anyway”), though I wonder if her subsequent children will ever want contact. The oldest is a few years younger than me, and we were all on Grandpa’s fridge.

      • I’d probably have the same sour grapes kind of reaction that you have: “Well Eff Them!!” My sweet child is not yet jaded enough for that, and premature jadedness is kind of what I’m trying to avoid…

        I’ve always imagined that abandoned children of people who go on to have other children would be really stung by that. Does it hurt your feelings that she was “ready” a few years later to have other kids? And that she still chose not to have anything to do with you? Eep!

        Interesting that your maternal grandparents took opposing approaches to you. Are they still married? Though I intended to give up Child for adoption when I first found out I was pregnant, and my parents took opposing viewpoints on that. My dad took me aside and said, “We will NOT take your baby.” And my mother pulled me aside and said, “You can’t give my grandbaby away. I will take her if you don’t want her.”

        What a pile of garbage that would’ve been.

      • “F them!” didn’t happen right when I was little…it evolved over the years! It helped that my father’s side of the family was large, and loving, and ever present.

        It did kind of hurt when I was like “Oh, I have a half sister? Oh, two half sisters, and a half brother?” She subsequently divorced that guy (she and my dad were young, and never married), but I believe kept the kids. My maternal grandparents are not still married; I’m not sure of when their divorce took place on the timeline. I think one of my uncles still lives with her as well, to further confuse things. Also, my maternal grandfather’s sister was willing to adopt me, if my father didn’t want me either.

        Family is always complicated, isn’t it? And that’s just blood relations, not the extended “friends who are family” webs that we all seem to form.

      • LOL. Complicated indeed. Sometimes I think I prefer the friends-who-are-family to proper family. I am lucky to have a nice, close family, and good relationships with my sibs & parents… So I am particularly out of my depth on Child’s family/extended family situation.

        Your input and comments are extremely helpful and much appreciated. Thanks for hanging out. I looked at your blog, too. Nicely done. :-)

      • Yeah, it can be hard to have a “pat answer” in mind when there really just isn’t one. Every person, and situation, is different!

        Glad I could help, with my own wacky situation! Thanks for stopping by my blog as well, it’s definitely appreciated ^^

  7. [...] 4.  I have a daughter who is six who does not know her biological father. [...]

  8. [...]  Child met her paternal grandparents for the first time.  If you’ll recall, she hasn’t met her father.  We spent a lovely late morning with them, had some lunch, played at the mall, chatted.  It was [...]

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