My husband and I separated recently. I have told my four-year-old son that his dad is now working in the US. My ex-husband never calls up to speak to our son, on the grounds that his psychologist and mother say talking to the child will confuse him. In some ways, I think this is good but, in other ways, I find it cruel. I feel bad for my son, especially at night when he says his prayers and asks God to bless papa. He sometimes wants to see his dad’s photo. What do you advise?

That is really an unfortunate situation. While it may seem a completely inappropriate and cruel stance that your husband is taking (based on some rather questionable advice), sadly, this is what it is, and you and your child are going to have to live with it.

Be balanced: Don’t let your child feel abandoned by your ex-spouse.

I wish it was not so. It’s not as if a divorced parent can’t play at least a small but key role in their child’s life. However, since your ex-husband has already stopped connecting with the child, you now have your work cut out for you.

Your son is too young to be told that his father has chosen to live away from him. But, at some stage, you will have to tell him this—perhaps a year or two later.

For now, you will need to slowly but steadily stop talking about the father. Do not ask your son to remember him in his prayers. Don’t react if he does so on his own but, on your own, simply do not bring the father into the nightly ritual. If your son asks you about it, just say, “God will look after him, we don’t need to tell Him separately", or some such words. In this way, begin to reduce the fresh and immediate references to the father, and cease to reinforce the vague notion that he is away for work and will return. Kids have a lot of unstated understanding, even if they don’t have the words for it.

If he asks you specific questions about his father, tell him you don’t know. Don’t try to appear as if you are in touch with him. I know this is really difficult and it is, in a way, holding out no hopes for your son about reconnecting with the dad. But you’ll have to do this: this subtle ‘editing-out’ of the father from the child’s life.

Do also communicate to your husband, or have a friend or lawyer or counsellor communicate to him one thing clearly: That you are, according to his wishes, helping your child to disconnect completely from the father, which is a painful and delicate process. And that he cannot and should not, one fine day, in accordance with some new and different advice, suddenly want to parachute his way back into the child’s life.

You too must be clear that what you are now having to do is a more or less irreversible process.

The important line, the balanced note, to take with your child—more by demonstration than by words—is that neither you nor he need feel “abandoned" by the father’s decision. This is really difficult, but needs to be done. Seek out the sensitive involvement of a dependable, positive friend or relative, or a counsellor, in this process.

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