How young is too young to hear the real reason Dad left?
Many single moms struggle with this loaded question. As badly as they want to tell the truth, their instinct to protect their children often leads them to make excuses for their child's absent father. But is this really the right move?
Spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant, a single mother herself, has a very clear and candid opinion on this topic, which she explained on an "Oprah's Lifeclass" episode about single moms. One single mother named Kim shared her story, wondering what she should tell her 6-year-old son about why his father never calls or attempts to see him. Iyanla framed her answer with a very pointed question.
"Why do you think that it's your responsibility to protect your son from the truth of his life?" she asked Kim.
Kim admits that she had never thought of it that way before, but still questions whether or not she's doing the right thing. "He's 6, so I don't know where I draw the line," she says. "Do I tell him what's really going on?"
"What is the truth?" Iyanla asks.
"[The father] doesn't care enough to make the effort," Kim says. "I make up excuses that he's constantly working, and that's why he doesn't call."
"Did the child's father say to you, 'I don't care enough to call?'" Iyanla presses. "Did the child's father say to you, 'I don't care,' or did you make that up based on behavior?"
Kim pauses. "I made it up based on behavior," she answers.
Iyanla offers several different reasons why a father may be absent from his child's life, none of which have to do with how he feels about the child. "What happened to irresponsibility? What happened to fear of intimacy, fear of vulnerability? What happens to feeling of in adequacy, shame, guilt?" she says. "Why did you, as the mother, reduce it to, 'He don't care about his son?'"
Though some harsh truths may be inappropriate for a 6-year-old, Iyanla says that it's not appropriate to lie. "It's a betrayal," she says to all the single mothers in the audience. "It's a betrayal of his trust in you. The lie is unnecessary."
Also in the video, Roland Warren of the National Fatherhood Initiative offers sound advice to single mothers struggling with what to tell their children, beginning with trying to understand why fathers really leave their children.