My book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters generated a mass of mail from single mothers demanding answers about some very important issues. So I am starting a six part blog just for you single mothers to address some of your struggles. You posed some great questions.
Are my kids going to be permanently scarred because their father isn't in their lives?
The answer is up to you. Every child has a deep seated (usually subconscious) need to know who their father is and why he isn't with them. Whether he left them at birth, during the early childhood years or even during the teen years, kids want to know these two things for several reasons. First, a child needs a primary connection to mother and father in order to shape his identity. Kids form their identity around the cues they get from Mom (female) and Dad (male) regarding who they are. If they receive cues from Mom alone, they have a void about who they are from a male perspective.
Second, kids need to know why Dad isn't there. They need to know why he isn't around because they believe (thinking like children, not adults) that they must have done something wrong to drive him away. Psychologically and cognitively, we Moms can't convince them they had nothing to do with Dad's departure until their brains have developed more fully. The result is that regardless of Dad's reasons for leaving, kids turn their disappointment and anger inward against themselves and this can lead to sadness, anger issues and depression.
So here's how single Moms can help their children overcome these issues.
1. Acknowledge his feelings, wishes and felt needs for his Dad (whether he knows Dad or not). Children get into emotional tangles when we refuse to acknowledge their feelings. If we brush them off or communicate that their feelings are invalid, kids feel a bit crazy. So let him feel what he feels.
2. As she matures and senses different needs for her father, discuss those needs as specifically as you can. Let her have those needs. Children get into emotional trouble not because their needs aren't met; rather because they blame themselves that they had needs in the first place. Addressing her needs lets her know that her needs are good. When she admits that she wanted something from Dad but didn't get it, then she can grieve it move forward. (This takes time, so be patient.)
For instance, most young girls desire a sense of protection from Dad. Let her know that her desires are good and normal and it's sad that he isn't around to meet her needs. Then, do the best you can to meet them or find an uncle, brother, or other adult man to help her out.
3. Let your children know that you can be a strong, complete family in the midst of a difficult situation. No, you can't be Mom and Dad, but you can be a great Mom who raises terrific kids. One of the worst things you can do to yourself is blame yourself for failing to be enough. You can't be two parents, but you certainly can be more than enough as one.