If you are raising grandchildren, you are probably doing so because an adult child is not able to care for the children properly. The parent may be incapacitated due to illness, incarcerated, or unable to care for the child because of personal problems. No matter what situation led to your caring for your grandchildren full time, they may have some questions about why they are living with you rather than their parents. When that situation arises, what do you say when kids ask about mom and dad?
There are several ways to approach questions about mom or dad when one or the other is not in the picture. The first thing to remember is to be honest while being considerate of the child’s feelings and ability to handle information.
When a parent is not present because of situations like incarceration, poor parenting skills or alcoholism, it is not necessary to share all the details with the child. Some information could frighten or overwhelm a very young child. You might say something like “mommy and daddy are not able to be here for you right now, but they love you very much and they are allowing me to care for you while they are away.” It may also be helpful to explain that you are not sure when the parent(s) will be able to return. The key to helping a child accept a parent’s situation is to let the child know that he or she is loved and can rely on you and others who may be providing care.
By no means should a child be made to feel that it was his or her fault that a parent left. If the parent is in the military or has a government job that requires him or her to be gone for long periods, that may be easier to explain since these commitments are usually for the purpose of serving others and protecting the country.
When a parent is incarcerated, children need to know why the parent is in prison. This can be a time to teach children that illegal action involves consequences. Assure the child that the parent is safe, but must stay in prison as long as the law requires. Since other people will most likely know the parent is in prison, a child might learn this information from neighbors or friends at school. Failing to explain this to a child may result in embarrassment if it is brought up by neighbors or friends at school.
Just remember to give age-appropriate responses and follow-up with lots of love, support, and encouragement.