Telling The Truth… Even When It Hurts

My best friend told her four year old daughter that her Daddy was dead. In reality, her ex-husband is awaiting jail sentencing for selling drugs. Now her daughter goes up to everyone, strangers and people she knows, and says, “I can’t see Daddy anymore because he is dead.” Strangers show sympathy, those who know the truth, like me, try to avoid it because I don’t want to contribute to the lie but I feel it is her mother, my best friend, who needs to tell her the truth.

Her ex-husband had limited visitation rights for the past two years, but my friend stopped that when she did not like the suspicious company he kept; turned out she was right. The good news is my best friend now agrees what she did was wrong. The bad news is how to tell her daughter that Mommy told a lie and to gain her trust again.

For those who have never experienced the angry feelings divorce can produce, your friend’s actions seem bizarre. Yet, this is a perfect example of how one’s complex emotions left to wander out of control can cause even the most rational parents to hurt their child. Chances are your friend loves her daughter a great deal and seeks to protect her from harm. But we have to learn to respect our own feelings and how much of a role they play in our everyday actions. Your friend felt so angry, confused and betrayed that she did what she probably rationalized at the time to be best for her daughter.

Withholding information, candy coating the truth and little white lies are a part of many parents’ repertoire. But outright lies, especially when it concerns one of the most important characters in a child’s life is an indication that a parent is unable to properly handle the problem. Merely getting through “this one” is not going to do your friend’s child justice. That four year old deserves a mother who can work through her complex emotions regarding her ex so she can be the loving, caring mother she probably is in so many areas. Your friend could enlist the help of a psychotherapist to deal with these difficult issues.

The message to the child should be sent with a great deal of apology making it clear to the child that it was wrong. “I made a mistake. I wanted to make things easier for you so I made up a story about Daddy. Your Daddy has had some problems and those problems have stopped him from being around. I didn’t want you to be hurt about that so I told you he died. But I was wrong to do that. He’s alive and I’m sure he loves you but he has to make himself better before he can be with you. I don’t know when or if it will happen. I feel so bad and I’ll never lie to you again.” Then you can only await her reaction and be sensitive to her confusion and potential anger and distrust.

The parent should not begin to defend herself by severely criticizing Daddy which will further complicate this child’s self-worth. Even though your friend deems her ex-husband a negative influence in her daughter’s life, this man is still her father. She desires his affection and will feel personally rejected with his absence in her life even though that absence is due to his own problems and limitations. The mother cannot emphatically show personal disgust for this man because it will hurt her daughter and disallow her from openly discussing her emotions about her father for fear that those feelings will be belittled. If a child needs to express her sadness or hurt due to her relationship with her father, that child needs a mother who will allow such expression and respond with warmth and understanding; not anger or disgust that the child even cares to relate to this man. Taking a non-committal attitude toward that parent will allow this needed healthy communication.

Even if your friend thinks that her ex doesn’t deserve the joy of a relationship with his daughter, think again; maybe her daughter deserves the love of her father. Parents who alienate their children from the other parent, Beware. That child can grow and hate you for it. Sometimes it is best to encourage your child to have a relationship with the other parent albeit limited and physically and emotionally safe. Then the child can decide over time how much to rely, seek or depend on that parent. In this case, maybe mother should encourage letters to be written to Daddy and await a response. Mother can seek out a limited relationship between father and daughter that may provide some sense of love and positive regard toward her daughter. It will also prove mother’s reform and desire to give her daughter the best chances of feeling that her father has love for her in his heart. 

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