WTF Wednesday: My kid’s dad is not involved and I don’t know what to say to her

single mom advice

Dear Emma, WTF?!

When my daughter was six months old, her dad left and more or less never showed up again. There were a few visits for a few years, and a couple of visits to family court for child support, but since then we have not heard or seen from him. My daughter is now 8 years old.

We don’t talk about it much and I feel like it isn’t such a huge deal. She is a great kid — does well in school, has lots of friends and is polite. We are close with my parents and siblings, who live nearby. I am glad that I get her all to myself and don’t have to share custody like some of my divorced friends. Sometimes people say things to me like, “I feel so bad for her that she doesn’t know her father.” She never mentions her dad, and I feel like she doesn’t care. She doesn’t know any different. What should I tell all these rude people who judge our situation?

Defensive in Deloitte


Dear Deloitte,

I’m not worried about your rude neighbors. I am worried about you and your daughter.

When a parent is absent from a child’s life — no matter by choice, imprisonment or death — it is a loss. It is a loss for that child and a loss for those who love her.

We are all socially conditioned and predisposed with a deep need to know both our mother and our father. Socially, it is easy to understand that the majority of people grow up living with both a mother and a father — and nearly everyone else knows both parents. That is the norm. Your daughter is very aware that her family does not look like other families. She understands deeply that most of her friends have relationships with their dads and she does not.

But the biologically half our mothers and fathers. Humans have a intrinsic need for family. We yearn to know our relatives so that we can better know ourselves. When we are raised apart from our families, homelands and extended cultures, there is a sense of loss that transcends our daily experience. This explains why people who are adopted are compelled to find their birth parents — no matter how wonderful their adoptive families. This also explains why humans are driven to visit their ancestral homelands, even when they are removed from the place by generations.

Not every person will know both their parents. This is a fact. This does not mean that your daughter does not have a fantastic life, or that she is a wonderful child who will grow up to be a happy, productive and lovely adult.

But those things do not preclude loss and grief. Your daughter has experienced a great loss. She does not know her father. She is different from other kids. And she also has a mother who dismisses this loss. When grief is ignored or belittled, it creates shame. I don’t care what your daughter expresses outwardly, she is deeply affected by this situation.

Before you can help your child, you must address your own loss and grief. When your ex-husband left and abandoned your daughter, he also abandoned you — both as a husband but more to the point here, as a co-parent. You also suffered a loss in that you do not have someone to help raise your daughter — even if it means separately, as divorced parents. You do not have anyone to enjoy their sweet habits, or commiserate on the daily challenges of parenthood. You do not enjoy a co-parenting arrangement that gives you a break. Most of all, you suffer because deep down you know that your daughter is hurt. That, for any mother, is devastating.

This situation can be changed. But you must take action.

First, you must recognize the situation for what it is: A huge, giant, grave loss. It is not your fault. It is life. But it is your responsibility as a parent to address it. First, acknowledge how this has affected you personally. Lean into that pain. Right now you are avoiding that pain, which is why you are dismissing it in your daughter. Just sit with it. Cry, scream, punch the refrigerator or write him an angry letter you never send. Whatever is your way, go there.

Then, recognize that he is human. When a parent abandons a child, that parent is deeply wounded. There is a reason they cannot fulfill their responsibility. They do not recognize they are worthy of being needed, or can bring value to another person’s life. Your ex misses out — in a very major way — of the joy of raising and loving his child. He also suffers knowing that he deeply hurts her. Every day.

Recognizing this is part of the process of forgiveness. It involves empathy and grace. It will take time. But you must get there — for your sake, and that of your daughter.

While you work through that, you must now face your daughter.

Talk with her. Say: “I’ve been thinking a lot about your dad. I imagine you do, too. How do you feel about the fact you don’t know him?”

Ask her how she feels when she visits friends who live with their dads — or have visitation schedules with both their divorced parents. Tell her about her father, how you met him, what you liked and loved about him. Tell her stories about your time with him, and stories he told you about his life. Tell her about his family and jokes he told. Ask her what she’d like to know about him. Answer honestly — including about the part where he left. And why he doesn’t call. If you don’t know how to answer some questions, say so. “I wish I knew, but I don’t.”

That is just the first conversation.

Have another the next week.

And the next.

You may not have weekly conversations about your daughter’s father for the rest of your lives. But get into a habit of talking about him. About her father. Give her permission to ask, and to feel. Do not sugar coat the information, or your own feelings. Especially as she gets older, tell her what really went down, and how absolutely infuriated you were — and maybe still are. By recognizing your feelings and sharing them honestly with her, you give her permission to recognize and honor her own, complex and human feelings.

Only then can both of you move forward with a full, wonderful — and complex — life you were meant to have.


A dad explains: “Why I don’t see my son.”

My kid’s dad isn’t involved and I don’t know what to say

The real reason your ex doesn’t see the kids

How to get dads involved in divorced and separated families

Close the pay gap? Get dads involved? 50-50 visitation and no child support

Should you date a guy who doesn’t see his kids?


Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

14 thoughts on “WTF Wednesday: My kid’s dad is not involved and I don’t know what to say to her

  1. I have the opposite problem. My children’s father is involved very, very little- he has supervised visitation a couple of times a year & calls sporadically. Yes, he drives me crazy & I would be fine, personally, if he just disappeared off the face of the planet. But my kids’ should know their dad. My friends all talk about how I should do this and do that & how if they were in this situation they’d tell him to take a hike, they’d put him in jail (for non-payment of support), they’d send letters to his mom… they don’t know WHY I let them see him. Because they need to! I want to scream. It is hard to see your kids hurt, and I can see what his partial-absence from their life does to them, especially my son. It drives me crazy trying to justify my non-confrontational behavior regarding my ex to my friends. Got any advice for that?!

    1. I have this very problem too. He shows up occasionally – like to a parent/teacher conference but then goes weeks/months without calling. And no child support. Infuriating!

    2. Uh, people are such dicks. Good for you for doing the right thing — often situations like this with very sporadic visits are tougher than none at all — at least with the latter you and the kids know what to expect (nothing).

      As for your friends — what if you just either didn’t bring it up at all, or if they bring it up, just say: “You know what, I really prefer if we don’t get into it.”

    3. UGH! You single moms didn’t just meet these wonderful men who made all your dreams come true, and then suddenly the guy became abusive, absent, or an addict AFTER you had kids with them. There are ALWAYS signs and symptoms when you put some time into a relationship. He was that bad boy you were so in a hurry to get your pants off for, and now you have these bad situations where horrible men rarely see their kids.

      As for the child support, if the support ordered by the court is reasonable…and not exhorbitant because greedy mommy wanted revenge in the divorce….no decent guy has respect for a deadbeat dad.

      If any of you find yourself in a serious relationship with a guy who (GULP) would dare consider marrying or living with you and mixing finances and such keep this in mind: If Poindexter is helping pay the bills, at least have the decency to set boundaries with the ex where necessary and remind the deadbeat that he owes child support. I’ve dated single moms whose ex was tens of thousands behind, sporadically saw the kids, but ex would text or call single mommy to talk about his new phone, or car, or life in general (not about the kids), and single mommy would talk to the ex like they “besties”….all the while she was expecting me to spend my time and money supporting the kids. Single mommies wouldn’t remind the ex that he owed on child support while they yucked it up about old times whenever he showed up “to visit the kids”. Heck, why should she remind the ex of his shortcomings, she’s got Poindy’s wallet now? If you’re not holding your ex to account, but expecting Poindexter to support you and your kiddos, figure Poindy is gonna get pretty sick of being disrespected. Even the nicest Poindexters get sick of that shit.

    1. Glad that was helpful, Tara. I put more energy into this post than some because my dad wasn’t around much when I was growing up — and we pretty much never talked about it.

      1. Your writing definitely seems from the heart. I grew up with my mom and dad so for my little boy to be in this position is really hard to handle. I do know that I can help him through and he’ll grow up to be an amazing person even though his dad is out of the picture. I am working on forgiving his absent dad (almost there!) and my son and I include him in his prayers every night. Some of my close friends who grew up in more complicated family situations who are really solid, successful and realistic about life (way more than me!) so I lean on them for support and advice too. Thanks again Emma. I love your advice, it’s always spot on!

  2. I am a single mother by choice. I always wanted to get married and have that perfect family, but when I never had a perfect relationship that culminated in a wedding and realized I was getting older, I did a great deal of soul searching. Eventually I ended up using donor sperm and getting IVF done which resulted in my beautiful (now 3 1/2 year old daughter). Our situation is different than most, but is becoming more common. I already know of 2 other friends that have done this same thing and are living blessed and happy lives. I would never dismiss the role that a child’s father should play in our lives, but the reality is that many fathers are not present, or are emotionally absent or even abusive in some families. There are pros and cons to living in each type of family, and the family unit is definitely evolving and changing. The message I would like to send is that you are honest with your child from the beginning, loving and open to the good and bad that will arise when you talk about the father that isn’t there, you can raise a well adjusted and happy child that will be proud of her single mommy who loves her so much.

  3. Thank you very much. My daughter is 4.5 yr old and we have zero contact with her father. I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with it…this has help me tremendously. Honestly I didn’t even consider my own feeling as I’m so worried about her. Now we can start healing together!

  4. I would like some advice . I’m 6 months pregnant the father of my baby daughter just left the picture we where living together and decided to get pregnant it was all planned then he started using hard core drugs and one day he hit me and things jst got bad from there he became a hole different person so I moved to my moms house . As time went by he stopped really being there our main issue was always the fact that we would say we where gonna make it work but it was hard for him to show much interest cuz his priority was his addiction and friends. He completly was out of control so i. Went to pick up my things from the apartment we both bad gotten together and he treated me really bad so I decided I was done tryin I called the land lord and advised him I wanted out of the contract and I have to admit I told the land lord the hole truth about why I didn’t want to be part of the contract since his drug abuse was worrying me and I didn’t want to b involved in any of the crimes he was part of while on the drugs. Land lord contacted him and told him to leave the apartment and what I had said he called threaten me and claimed my daughter was a mistake and didn’t want nothin to do with her haven’t heard from him since and doubt I ever will but my question is when my daughter is born how can I approach the situation for her ? Some family members have told me to never speak of him others wants me to lie to her and me personally wouldn’t wanna lie to my daughter I would want her to know I was always honest to her and in a way I can’t find it in me to tell her all he said and how he just don’t wanna have nothing to do with her I’m really confused on what is best for her and me . Can you please give me some advice ?

  5. Great advice. I was in the situation of the daughter growing up without knowing her father. My mother and her entire family always celebrated my mother’s bravery and what a good mother she was (which she was) so I didn’t really think I minded growing up without a father until I was an adult with my own children. No one really gave me a chance to have feelings about it, but it definitely affected me. I just didn’t realize it until later. I always felt different though and struggled emotionally, I just never wanted to upset my mom, until one day I kind of blew up on her and said a lot of things that were hurtful to her I’m sure.

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