Lydia is a never-married mother of an 8-year-old daughter, Carla. Lately, Carla has asked some difficult questions about her father, whom she has never met. How should Lydia respond?

"Do you love Daddy?"

In the movie One Fine Day, actress Michelle Pfieffer plays a single mother who answers the same question for her young son: "I will always love your daddy because he gave me you." Lydia could use a similar response.

Regardless of how Lydia feels about her ex, she should not tell Carla that she doesn't love him. When a single parent undermines a former mate – by withheld expressions of love, implied disdain or overt criticism – the child pays the price.

"Why doesn't Daddy call? Doesn't he love me?"

From the toddler to young adult years, children tend to practice what psychologists call "self-referential thinking." That means they believe everything that happens in life relates to them. For example, if a child's mom and dad break up, the child feels that the blame lies with him.

Carla's questions show that she feels responsible for her dad's departure, and that she is unlovable. Lydia should give her daughter the opposite message. Carla needs to know how precious and lovable she is, and that her father's absence has nothing to do with her. To accomplish this, Lydia should constantly affirm Carla by praising her strengths, downplaying her weaknesses and recounting her incredible value. She might tell her daughter, "I know this is not easy for you. You really miss your daddy. I know you are sad that he doesn't call. He is missing out on a precious, special little girl."

Over time, such reassurances will help Carla rebound. Many kind words can relieve even the most intense pain. Though her father's choices may hurt Carla deeply, Lydia's encouragement can help her daughter recover with grace. As Proverbs 12:18 says, ". . . the tongue of the wise brings healing."

Moreover, Lydia should allow Carla to share her feelings as often as needed, and she should make sure encouraging words follow close on the heels of her daughter's admissions. Family, friends or church members can also help Carla through this difficult time.

"May I search for Daddy someday?"

Counsellor and author John Trent says that he respected his single mother because she never belittled her ex, even though her husband had left the family. She told her children the facts but never criticized the man. Instead, she allowed them to draw conclusions about their father based on their own observations.

All children should learn for themselves the character of their non-custodial parents. While some children will choose not to exercise this option, custodial parents should use emotional restraint to prepare their children and themselves for potential reunions.

Custodial parents should also help their children contact their non-custodial parents when the time comes. If custodial parents don't support their children's desire to seek out their exes, the kids may think their parents want to block a relationship they desire – a belief that could cause unpleasant results. In any case, if meeting non-custodial parents upsets children, then custodial parents should pick up the pieces.

As parents, we need wisdom about when and what to say to our children. Fortunately, the Bible says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). Lydia and the rest of us can trust that our heavenly Father loves our children more than we ever could and promises to give us the wisdom we seek. That assurance comes in handy – especially for the tough questions.

From Troubledwith.com, a Focus on the Family website. © 1999 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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