Single Parent Moment: Talking To Your Child's Teacher About The Absent ParentChristine Coppa
A new teacher started in JD’s classroom today. I met her this morning. She’s very pretty and looks like Shoshanna from HBO’s Girls (which is a compliment in my book). JD met her briefly last week, but this morning was our first interaction. As usual I was speedy and running in heels and sunglasses. JD scooted ahead to his cubby to hang up his hoody and store his lunch sack. I popped his chicken nuggets and broccoli in the heat-up lunch bin.
JD came running back to me for his routine kiss. “Mommy is going to stay a minute and talk to your teacher, so go pick a center to play in and I’ll say goodbye before I leave, OK?” I said. JD ran off to a bin of dinosaurs. “Roar,” he said, crashing two together.
I smiled at his teacher and her pretty pink shirt dress. (Yes, yes, I notice these things.) I needed her to know that JD comes from a solo, single parent family and that he has never met his father. I needed to jam this into a 2-minute conversation, because I had to get to the magazine. It’s important that everyone in JD’s life, especially someone he’ll spend the majority of his day with, is on the same page as me. (He does before-care, school and after-care.)
In summary, I told her that JD lives with me and has never met his dad who lives out of state. His dad plays a legal role in his life, but nothing more at this time. I explained JD has been at this school since he was 2 and the teachers and administrators have all been wonderful at enforcing the modern family theme in the classroom. Then I explained that since JD is 5 and not five-months-old, he brings up his father sometimes and in very different ways. (Another reason why dad has been coming up in my personal mom blogs—I’m living real life, now.) I told the teacher that JD would say, “I don’t have a dad, Can we call my dad? What is my dad’s name? Poppy is like, everyone’s dad. My uncles are like my dads.” And I mentioned that he once asked my brother, Carlo, if he could call him dad and told me, “You’re my mom and my dad, mommy!” The teacher smiled. She got it.
I told her that my approach to discussing JD’s father with him came from many (5?) years of research and writing (and obsessing)—and as a result of my work as a writer and having child psychologists at my disposal for comment. I also seek advice from single parents, single parent bloggers, and JD’s Ped.
The best advice I’ve gotten has been to answer, not ignore, the child’s question about an absent parent—then quickly redirect. So when JD asks about his father, I am fine being truthful: “He lives far away, dude. You live here with me and we all love you so much! Now let’s go rebuild the train tracks.” For the most part this approach works. If JD continues with questions and sometimes he does, I answer them. Quickly. Honestly. Then again, redirect. The teacher agreed, my approach was best and said she’d do the same. She asked about the guys in JD’s life and I was happy to tell her there was no shortage. “One of the nutty uncles always comes to the Father’s Day shindig and my dad was just at Grandparents Day. JD is pretty much overwhelmed by dudes, thankfully.”
In the corner of my eye I saw JD in his light-wash denim jeans and skull print tee. I knelt down, opened my arms and hugged him tight. “See you later, I love you!” I stood up and watched my son run off to the other kids. “Welcome, and thank you for helping me, us, on our journey. Have a wonderful first day!” Walking out to my car, I was happy that I took the time to explain things.
Some single parent advice: Never underestimate the fact that society thinks your kid has two parents (despite modern fams are on the rise) and how that would make them feel if they were asked about the dad they never met, or the dad they don’t have, because they have two awesome moms (or dads). Be proactive. Be proud.
Check out this cover story I wrote. It really helped me understand … my situation and it will help you if you’re struggling with single parents Qs and concerns.
Single parents, have you had “the talk” with your child’s teacher, coach …? Please share.