The flexibility of homeschooling allows us to do things that aren’t always done in public school. Going in depth in a genealogy project, for example. I know my kids did a basic family tree project in public school in Kindergarten or 1st grade, but it was very basic – essentially the people who lived in the house. This raised some questions, of course, but with so much else to focus on, not many.
I happen to be a fan of genealogy in general. I love working on my family tree (I discovered some years ago, thanks to a cousin, that I actually qualify to join the Daughters of the American Revolution!), and finding out where I come from. Sometimes my kids join me, sometimes they don’t.
Even if you don’t specifically do a family tree project, there’s biology for science, stories in reading that have families with both parents, and a whole plethora of other opportunities for the questions to come up: Where’s my dad/mom? Why doesn’t he/she live with us? Why do I only see him/her on weekends (or not at all)?
These questions may not come up in quite the same way if you’re only recently divorced, or if your kids were old enough when you split that they can remember what happened. But if, like me, your kids were far too young to remember anything about it, they might come up. In my case, my ex walked out of their lives shortly after the divorce, so the question was more along the lines of “Who is my father?” instead of where is he.
It can be hard to answer these questions, even under the best of circumstances. Sometimes, though, it can be even harder when we homeschool. As single parents, we’re often surrounded by couples in the homeschooling community, a fact that can already make us feel awkward. In public school, our kids would likely have friends who come from two parent homes, single parent homes, and stepparent homes, so they might not feel quite so awkward and have quite so many questions – there’s no guarantee of that, of course, but from our personal experience, it seems to be that way.
Add to all of this various reasons why things might be even more complicated for you – an intense dislike for your ex, an incarcerated parent, a parent who now has a new family with someone else while ignoring your children, and so on – and you might feel like questions about where the other parent is are little landmines your kids are planting for you to step on.
Sometimes, it might feel easier to try to avoid all this. You might be tempted to skip projects, activities, lessons, and trips that might arouse curiosity in this area. Instead of skipping them, though, embrace them for the opportunities they are.
But how do you do that when it’s so hard for you to figure out how to handle it? Start with a few basics. (I will be referring to the absent parent as “he” and “him” for simplicity, but it is just as likely that a mother can be the absent parent, so feel free to substitute “she” and “her”, if that’s your situation.)
- Stick to the facts. To start with, try just sticking to pure fact. Names, dates, information that can be verified easily or at least discussed without much emotion. They ask who their father is, give them a name. They ask where he lives, tell them an address or a town.
- Avoid the things that are opinion. If they ask you a question that requires you to answer with your opinion (“Does Dad love me?”, “Is he a bad father?”, etc.), don’t answer with your opinion – especially if your opinion would paint him in a negative light.
- If you must answer an opinion-based question, be as neutral as possible. For example, if your child asks, “Does Dad love me?”, you could say, “Well, you know, that would be a question for him. No one else can ever tell you how someone feels except for that person.” Or if he asks, “Why doesn’t my father ever come to see me?”, you could say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what his schedule or his life is like. You’d have to ask him. I know that’s not possible right now, and I’m sorry.”
- Don’t ignore the absent parent’s role. Even if he’s walked completely away and plays no role currently, the fact remains that he did help you create this child, and you shouldn’t ignore that in situations like creating family trees or discussing the biological aspects. Don’t leave out the father’s role in creating a child, if you’re discussing where babies come from. Put his name on the family tree, even if it results in your child pointing at it and asking, “Who’s that?” Leaving him out will only raise more questions – if not now, then later.
- Say “none of your business” when necessary. Sometimes the questions that come up aren’t ones the kids really need answers to. “Why did you get divorced?” is just one example. If your child asks a question that you feel isn’t one they need the answer to (or don’t need an answer to until they’re older, anyway), feel free to say so. Telling them that it’s not appropriate for them to ask/know, or that it’s none of their business (gently, of course), is a perfectly acceptable response.
Don’t let the fact that your ex might not be as active in your children’s lives as he/she should be stop you from doing lessons and activities that might bring up questions. Use them as opportunities. It will be far better for everyone in the long run.