Talking With Your Younger Child About Your Co-Parenting Relationship

If you’re currently raising a very young child in a parenting partnership, you know that there will come a day when your child starts to ask questions about your family. While kids who are 2 or 3 years old aren’t likely to be aware there is any other type of family than their own, this will start to change when your child starts spending a lot of time around other pre-school kids. As your child becomes aware that the families of other kids don’t necessarily look like your family, you can start to expect some questions to be asked about your family structure.

Rather than thinking of this as an awkward conversation, a little advance planning can turn the opportunity to address these questions with your child into a positive bonding experience – as long as you answer these questions with honesty, authenticity, and patience.  Here are some tips as to how to approach the conversation, what you might wish to say, and when / how to say it.

(1) Honesty is the best policy.  No matter what information you choose to share with your child at this early age, provide an honest and straightforward answer.

(2) Think about what you want to say before you say it.  Each parenting partnership has its own “backstory”. While honesty is important, you should think in advance how you want to present your family’s story to your child, keeping in mind that, as your child gets older, you will continue to build on this story as your child may ask for more details. For example, if an egg donor was used, what do you want your child to know about the egg donor?

(3) Keep answers consistent between parenting partners. Just as you should consider how you want to present information to your young child, you should communicate these thoughts with your parenting partner – before your child starts asking family questions – to make sure you are both on the same page with the information you want to share. It would be confusing to a child to hear different stories from his or her co-parents.

(4) Don’t go deeper than necessary. You may be ready to discuss how you used home insemination to conceive your child, but your 4-year-old is probably not looking for an answer that complex. Keep the concepts simple.

(5) Be prepared to discuss it again, but don’t overdo it.  Young children are unlikely to absorb the information you provide about your parenting relationship the first time they ask. Be prepared to answer it again in the future – and look for contextual opportunities to revisit your parenting conversation. At the same time, there’s no need to bring the subject up regularly – and if your child doesn’t show interest in continuing the conversation, take your cues from them.

(6) Bring it up contextually as appropriate.  Sometimes you will encounter situations that naturally lead into a conversation with your child about your own family structure. This could include not only questions from your child about their friends’ families, but also questions that come out of watching TV shows, movies, or reading books. The situation may not be specific to parenting partnerships / co-parenting, but other forms of family relationships can launch a conversation with your child about the fact that there are many different types of families

(7) Make sure you understand the question being asked. For example, if your young child asks you, “where do I come from”, are you sure you understand what the exact question is? A good way to get clarity before you launch into an answer is to ask your child what they think the answer might be.  (E.g., “Where do you think you come from?”) Their answer will give a basis for direction of how to approach your answer.

(8) Point out that families of different stripes have equal value.  When it comes to respecting and valuing different types of families, your child is going to take his or her cues from you.  Rather than suggesting to your child that one type of family is better than another (married couples vs co-parenting families, co-parenting vs single parenting, etc) you should point out that there are many different types of families, and that families are important and valuable in their different formations. So if your child asks why she or he can’t have a live-at-home daddy (or mommy) like her or his friends do, you can explain how your family has just as much love, and just as much value, in its special structure as that of a family with a different structure.

Ultimately, talking with your younger child about your co-parenting relationship is not very different than speaking with your child about any other type of family they may be growing up in.  The messaging your child should absorb from your conversations together is that they are loved by their parents, that families come in different structures, and that families of different types are all equally valuable – including their own co-parented family.