Seeking Professional Help: Why I went to a Child Therapist


My life as a single mom isn’t all heartache and sorrow. It also isn’t just cupcakes and daisies either.

I make hard choices constantly, and even when I solicit input from my trusted and valued advisers (this sounds so much more authoritative than saying, “my best girl friends”) I make choices on my own, and suffer consequences alone.

This summer has been hard for me in some ways, and delightful in others. I find that my perpetual companions, anxiety and depression, have taken hold recently, in ways I forgot how to guard against. The glorious Vermont green, warming summer sun, and the new reality of a tandem kayak allowing my daughter and I endless opportunities for a summer of exploring lakes and ponds, slow paddles and picnic lunches, have all been colored in grey by the oppressive weight of my terror and sadness. Sometimes the burden of parenting alone becomes crushing. I get stuck in a repeating loop of worry, fear, and sorrow.

Recently, to address one issue causing me much distress, I decided to consult with a child therapist. I called my daughter’s pediatrician, and asked for recommendations. I did this because my daughter is smart, perceptive, and challenging in ways I never anticipated from a four year old human. Her tenacity, commitment, and force of will are all more developed than my own. In every single way. She can make a choice quickly, and stick with it, unwaveringly. I am jealous of her certainty and conviction. A lifetime of having my truths cut down has left me a compassionate, tender forty year old, and someone who can easily see many sides of different arguments. Very few issues are black and white to me anymore. I know what I believe, but I no longer am certain of the absolute correctness of my beliefs. Is this the nature of growing older? Or is this what happens after multiple profound betrayals? When I compare my daughter’s whole, unscathed psyche to my own tissue thin, and only halfway successful layer of “coping,” I know that I have to do everything I can to make sure that her father’s absence doesn’t damage her.

I consulted with a child therapist because I wasn’t sure if I was handling the issue of my daughter’s absent father correctly.

I have always tried to shield her from harsh realities, while still offering a diluted version of the truth. “Honesty lite” is what I call it. I prefer the tongue in cheek nature of using the word “lite” as opposed to tediously spelling out age appropriate truth, and framing adult experiences for a child’s delicate mind. I’ll take any humor where I can get it.

My daughter has asked me, “Mom, can we make a flag and leave it outside the door so Dad can find us and come home?” I tell her that we can, but that her father made a bad choice, and is not involved in our lives anymore. I hate saying these words, and wish science fiction or magical realism could give me a better story to tell my daughter, something that would tie up all the loose ends, and all the heartbreak, into some sort of modern Disney tale.

“I’m sorry, honey. Dad isn’t here anymore because an evil witch enchanted him, and made him forget everything.”

Or… “I’m sorry, dear, Dad can’t be with us because he is busy saving the planet from the Forces of Darkness. But he loves you very much.”

Anything is preferable to the reality of his hurtful choices and human frailty.

When she sees me dressed up, going out for dinner with friends, and leaving her at home with her babysitter, she asks, “Mom, is that dress the one you wore when you got married?” I smile as I calmly explain that my wedding dress was so beautiful, that it was big like a princess’s dress, and white. I can smile through any level of pain these days.

I ask her if she thinks about her Dad, and she gets an excited and hopeful look on her face and tells me rapid fire how she just knows that he’ll be coming back. I say that I don’t know what will happen in the future, but that right now her Dad has made a bad choice and he is not here now. What else can I do?

That’s my formula, and the only way I know how to make sense of his leaving for my bright child. He made a bad choice, but I love you very much. This formula has started to feel inadequate, so I made an appointment to see a child therapist.

The child therapist explained to me that because my daughter mentions her Dad regularly, she is indicating to me that she would like to know more about her own history. The therapist believes that my daughter is so incredibly tenacious because she is trying to make sense of her world, and that if I can provide her with a narrative of how her father and I met, and share stories with her about how we fell in love, got married, and even how we eventually divorced (glossing over the abruptness, betrayal, and my own devastation) that she will feel more safe and in control of her own world.

For the sake of emphasis, let me please just repeat what the child therapist says I have to do. I need to share the story of how I fell in love with a man who crushed my heart and psyche, with the very person he most betrayed.

What? I would rather never speak again than say kind words about this man. I will never, ever say one negative comment about him to my daughter, because she needs to come to her own conclusion about what sort of a person he is. The idea of talking about how we fell in love, how we tenderly argued about baby names, and how he brought me milkshakes every day during my pregnancy? Those memories I would love to forget. It seems counter-intuitive to tell my daughter about her father, in his absence. If this is what she needs, however, I will make this sacrifice and unearth some of my ancient history.

The first thing I told my daughter, is how her father proposed to me. I offered to let her play with the rings, and to try them on.

I told my daughter about how her father wanted to name her Elizabeth. I explained that her name was always in my heart, and that no other name would suit her, so he easily relented.

I described how we fell in love, how we got married, and how we wished we could bring a beautiful baby girl in to our marriage. I said that we loved each other so much, but that eventually, things stopped working, we didn’t get along, and that we got divorced. We talked about her friends who have divorced parents. I explained to her that I never thought her father would make such a bad decision, and not be involved in her life. I said how sad it is that he is not involved, and how I know it must make her sad. There is nothing I can do to explain away the sad, or distract her from it, but I can honor her feelings and help her name them, and be there, feeling them with her.

None of us can run from feeling sad, but truly feeling it, from beginning to end, is not what I want for my tender baby girl. I wish I could feel the pain for her, but the therapist assures me that feeling the pain now will help her cope with her father’s absence throughout her life.

Today my daughter and I looked at the wedding rings, and I let her try them on.

These rings used to fit my fingers.
I used to be so proud of these rings.

lila ring 5

She was a little excited about the rings too.

lila crazy 2

Today we looked though the brand new, nearly untouched photo album containing the beautiful photos from my wedding. We pointed out people she recognizes, and we looked at photos of her father and me, beaming, shy, and in love. I told her how much fun we had on that day, and how I felt so beautiful and happy.

lila album

lila album 2

lila album 3

I expected sadness, and questions, but instead my girl seemed content, and satisfied. She asked for a wedding photo for her room, and while looking at it makes me want to vomit, I am happy to fulfill her request, if it helps her process her loss, and understand that she came from a place of profound but fleeting love.

Some days, being a single mom is hard. I just hope I am making the best choices I can for my darling, cherished child.


  1. Your writing is so honest and beautiful. I have been teaching high school students for 10 years, and I can tell you that you are more than enough for your amazing daughter. The fact that even through your dark moments, you still kayak and have picnics shows how incredibly special you are as a Mama. I have taught more children from single parents (usually the mother) than kids from two parent households. Many of my students have confided in me that their Moms feel so overwhelmed that they aren’t able to truly be there for them and their siblings. This obviously isn’t the case with you; you put your daughter first no matter what. I really admire your strength even when you feel weak you keep going. Your daughter will grow up to be caring, confident, and strong watching you.

    • Hi Eva,
      Thank you so much for your kind comments! I’m really moved that you took the time to write. It is true- I do try to always put my daughter first. I can do this, in part, bc I’m able to stay home with her right now. I’m lucky in a lot of ways. I also make a choice, however, to not allow my personal failings impact her happiness and her experiences. I push myself very hard too, and this isn’t always the best for me. It’s a double edged sword, trying to be the sort of parent I want to be, and maintaining the smallest bit of life for myself. Dating, my career, most of my hobbies- have been jettisoned, at least for now. I’m always struggling with balance.

      • Hi Jemima:)
        I totally understand when you describe the double edged sword. You were so many wonderful things before you were a Mom. I often have to remind myself of that as well. Hoping for balance and peace for Mamas everywhere. Thank you again for your inspirational writing.

  2. Your story is wonderful. Thank you for sharing it with the mom’s blog community. You are a light beam for all mamas and your beautiful girl. Sounds like she and my strong willed April 2010 girl are soul sisters. Keep going mom you are doing great.

  3. Thank you so much for this! My son is 3 and while he was planned, I asked his biological father to leave when I was 4 months pregnant. I have not heard from him since. I think all the time of how I’ll deal with this. I’m scared.

    • Shannon- I was so scared too. But my two cents (probably worth a whole lot less) it’s better to address the issue as soon as you can. At 3, I was telling my daughter that her dad made a mistake and wasn’t here. Does your son ask about his dad? Do his friends bring up his absence? My daughter did, and her friends did too. That’s how I knew it was time to begin our conversation. Best of luck to you and your son. Big hugs.

  4. Good four you four betting brave enough to share these things with your daughter. When I was teaching I had several students whose parents we’re separated, and the hardest part was thinking they had not been brought into three world with love, especially when one parent was never around. So always know you are doing great

    • Thank you, Monica. It isn’t easy, but I’m trying my best to be a good parent and give my daughter everything she deserves.

  5. This was beautiful and honest and real, and I am sending it to my friend who needs to read this as she is dealing with a similar situation.

    • Thank you, Heather. There’s so much shame associated with being a single mom, at any age, and it makes me happy that you’d share my article with your friend.

  6. This is lovely, and brave, and your daughter is so lucky to have you in her life, showing her the profound love and respect and honor you are showing her. Thank you for sharing this story.

    • Hi Miriam- thank you so much for your kind comments. I try hard to be the best parent I can be, but it’s really exhausting trying to compensate for a missing parent. Thank you for reading and making me feel like I am doing something worthwhile for my kid.


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