THE most awkward question a child can ask is not always where they come from — sometimes it is who they come from.
A handbook published yesterday aims to help with the delicate issue of talking about an absent or even an unknown parent.
It also deals with the difficulties of explaining to children the role of the live-apart parent, new partners, step-parents and second families.
The book, Family Links, is published by Treoir, the national federation of services for unmarried parents, which has been dealing with such questions for more than 30 years.
But its tips are relevant now more than ever, according to author Margot Doherty, who is also Treoir’s assistant chief executive, because of the sheer number of families dealing with the situations it covers.
The last census found almost one in five of all families in Ireland was headed by a lone-parent, meaning a widowed, divorced, separated, never married or in a relationship with the other parent of their children but living apart.
“And then there are those who never married but lived as a family and then informally separated — they don’t show up at all,” said Margot. “But it’s not just that there are more families in this kind of situation now but fathers (in 86% of cases it is the father who is absent) seem to want to be more involved with their children.
“They have cottoned on to the fact they enjoy being involved with their children and it’s good for the children. That’s great but it also creates challenges in how you involve him, how you explain to a child that Dad is still his Dad even though he doesn’t live at home.”
The 90-page guide has tips for talking to children and teenagers of all ages and in every situation but if Margot was to give one piece of advice to parents it would be to be honest.
“It can be tricky but children shouldn’t be lied to. They can cope with the truth. You can be economical with the truth of course, depending on a child’s age, but ultimately they need to know who they are and where they come from. If children find out they have been lied to, it’s a huge betrayal.”
lFamily Links, which is published with funding from the Family Support Agency, is available free of charge by writing to or phoning Treoir at 14 Gandon House, International Financial Services Centre, Dublin 1, LoCall 1890 252 084. The contents are also on the organisation’s website, www.treoir.ie.
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