Dad's in jail. 8-y-o wants mom to wait for him. Not happening.

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 20, 2011 06:00 AM

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I'm a single mom with an 8 yr. old son. My son's father has been out of the picture for three and a half years. He is in jail and when he's released, in 4-5 yrs, he'll be deported to Mexico. Even before he went to jail, he wasn't around as much as he should have been. I'm ready to move on...I've met a great guy that, eventually, I'd like my son to meet. When I bring up the topic, my son insists that I'm going to wait and be with his daddy again. How do I get him to understand that will never happen?

From: MeAndMine, Asheville, NC


Dear MeAndMine,

He'll get there, eventually, but meanwhile, this is about his perception of loyalty to his dad. This is a normal, healthy response, even if it is hard for you to hear.

It doesn't do any good to hit him over the head with reality because, well, because he isn't developmentally ready to accept reality. Instead of setting him straight each time he expresses his wish, grant your son his wish in fantasy: "I know, you wish your dad and mom could be together again, don't you?" By saying that, you're telling him, "I hear what you're saying, I know it's what you wish for." By giving him the chance to wallow in his feelings, he's more likely to hear what you are really saying, which is, "This is your wish. That's all it is."

You could even take it a step further and ask him, "What do you wish you could do with your dad, if he wasn't in jail?" His wishes are most likely for ordinary things that he sees other boys do with their dads: play catch, toss a football, watch TV. It may break your heart to hear him say some of this, but it's healthy for him to be able to get it out in the open. Then you can say, "I know. I wish your dad had been able to be here for you, too," which is not the same as saying you wish you were married to him. You're just expressing empathy.

By the way, I love that you wrote, "eventually" you want your son to meet the great guy in your life. Good for you for dating, good for you for waiting!


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2 comments so far...
  1. I have a couple of questions: does your son visit his Dad in prison? How has he kept his image of Dad so vivid, since Dad's been absent since he was a 4 YO? And will the deportation happen immediately upon Dad's release? I'm assuming that the crime he is serving time for was fairly serious, to result in a 7 - 9 year sentence. I understand the need to validate your little one's feelings and wishes but if reality says that he's never going to see him again perhaps a next step post-validation would be to gently set the stage for the reality of the situation, perhaps with the help of a child psychologist specializing in abandonment issues.

    Posted by JBar October 20, 11 08:51 AM
  1. You can also reinforce that his Dad will always be his Dad, no matter what. He needs to understand that, and it might help if he knows that you are not trying to replace him.

    Posted by PJ October 20, 11 04:07 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. I have a couple of questions: does your son visit his Dad in prison? How has he kept his image of Dad so vivid, since Dad's been absent since he was a 4 YO? And will the deportation happen immediately upon Dad's release? I'm assuming that the crime he is serving time for was fairly serious, to result in a 7 - 9 year sentence. I understand the need to validate your little one's feelings and wishes but if reality says that he's never going to see him again perhaps a next step post-validation would be to gently set the stage for the reality of the situation, perhaps with the help of a child psychologist specializing in abandonment issues.

    Posted by JBar October 20, 11 08:51 AM
  1. You can also reinforce that his Dad will always be his Dad, no matter what. He needs to understand that, and it might help if he knows that you are not trying to replace him.

    Posted by PJ October 20, 11 04:07 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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