Question

Talking to a Grandchild About a Parent Who Left

Question:

My 4-year-old granddaughter is being raised by her single dad, our son-in-law. Our daughter, the mom, disappeared almost four years ago. None of us have had any contact with our daughter, and we don’t know where she is.

My husband and I watch her 3 days/week and her other grandma cares for her 2 days/week while her dad works. How should we reply when our granddaughter asks about her mom?

Response:

I am sorry to hear that your daughter left her family. It must be difficult to be out of touch with her and not know where she is.

It sounds as if your family has responded well, however, by taking over childcare responsibilities and therefore, providing love and good care for your granddaughter. Good, consistent childcare typically contributes to a child feeling safe and secure.

Since your daughter left when your granddaughter was very young, she may not have any memories of her. Therefore, it may take some time for her to begin to ask questions about her mother. Wait for her to ask you and then, when she asks, tell her the truth and be as gentle and concise as possible. Don’t give any details, say anything negative about her mother, or talk about how this loss has affected you.

For example, if she says, “Who is my mother?” you can respond by telling her that your daughter is her mother and sharing one thing about her such as what she looked like. If she asks, “Where is my mother?”, you might respond “She left our family when you were very young and we don’t know where she is.” That may be all she wants to know at that time so you don’t need to say more.

As she gets older, she will ask more questions such as “Why did she leave?” You can honestly answer that you don’t know. Later, she may decide that her mother left because she did something wrong. This is most likely to happen when she gets into school and sees other children interacting with their mothers. At that point, it will be important to assure her that she was not responsible in any way, for her mother leaving. Assure her that the decision was her mother’s and that a young child can never be responsible for a parent’s decision.

If she begins to express a lot of sadness or anxiety about her mother, it would be helpful for your granddaughter to begin to talk to a licensed mental health professional.

Remember to take care of yourself as you have experienced a significant loss in your life. If you find that you are burdened by the loss, don’t hesitate to reach out for help for yourself. Finally, submit your burdens to God in prayer and pray for healing for your daughter and your family.

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