How Honest Should I Be with My 4-Year-Old About the Fact That His Father Is in Jail?

A mom writes in asking for advice about her 4-year-old son and her son’s father. Her son’s father, who was involved in their lives for a time, is currently in jail. He has two years of his sentence remaining, and she says he plans to be involved when he is released. He talks to his son while in jail, but this mom has told her that his dad is “working.” She is wondering if lying to him about his father’s actual location is harmful. Should she tell her son where his father really is?

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A member of the community asks:

“How honest should I be with my 4-year-old about where his dad is?

I have a four-year-old son, and his father has been incarcerated since he was two years old. He was in his life prior to his incarceration and planned to be when he gets out. He has two years remaining in his sentence. My son and his father speak on the phone about 2x a week. I’ve been telling him his father has been “working.”

I’m having a hard time deciding if I should tell him the truth as I know it is bad to lie to children. Right now, his belief is “bad people go to jail” I don’t want him to think his father is a bad guy just that he made a bad decision. I also don’t know if he is too young for me to tell him. If you had a four-year-old in this situation, would you continue to tell him his father is working, or would you tell him his father is in jail? And what age do you think you’d tell him? Thank you.”

– Mamas Uncut Community Member

Community Advice for This Mom Who Is Wondering If She Should Tell Her Son That His Father Is in Jail

To see what advice the Mamas Uncut Facebook community has for this mom in need, read the comments of the post embedded below.

Fan QuestionHow honest should I be with my 4-year-old about where his dad is?I have a four year old son, and his…

Posted by Mamas Uncut on Saturday, August 8, 2020

Advice Summary

How Honest Should I Be with My 4-Year-Old About the Fact That His Father Is in Jail?

The community offered this mom in need a lot of great advice. Read some of their responses below.

“My son is 7 and his dad has been incarcerated since he was 3 months old. When he began to ask questions I broke it down for him like this: ‘You know how you go to timeout for not following the rules? Well, grownups have rules to follow too and just like you, when grownups break the rules, it’s very serious because they are grownups and know the right and wrong thing to do. So they have to go to grownup timeout, which is away from their families and sometimes it can be for a long time depending on how big of a rule it was they broke and how serious it is.’

“Tell him just that… Daddy made some bad decisions and has to spend some time away. When his time is up, he will come see you.”

“He’s 4, he doesn’t need to know his dad’s in jail. Just keep saying he’s at work.”

“If you celebrate Christmas, Easter, etc., you lie to him about Santa and the Easter Bunny, if you plan on giving him money and telling him the tooth fairy came, it’s the same, why? Because it’s a magical perception that you give to your child so that he can have his childhood be a magical time, and you know what? His psyche isn’t going to take it in as a lie…

… Someday looking back he will see it as a gift you gave to him to allow a relationship to form with his father without judgment or bias of being a “bad guy.” Don’t take the magic away from him, by telling him where his dad really is. Just like Santa and the Easter Bunny, there will come a day when it all comes out.”

“Maybe start by slowly introducing him to the idea that good people sometimes make bad decisions, and that there are consequences for bad choices. Teach him with simple examples and as soon as he understands the concept you can tell him daddy made a wrong choice and had to go somewhere to make up for it or something like that…

… Otherwise, let daddy tell him when he comes home. But definitely first make sure he understands that we’re human and make wrong choices. It will also teach him that choices always have consequences. Good life lesson.”

“Personally, I am a very open and honest person even with my child. I also wouldn’t want my child to think telling lies is ok and when he learns the truth he could be hurt that you lied to him.”

“My daughter knew her dad was in jail when she was that age. She’s always been a daddy’s girl. We went to visit monthly. I’ve always been upfront about it. Daddy made poor choices so he has to be here to learn from those choices. he’s been in jail on and off for more than half of her life though.”

“I wouldn’t… daddy is working is sufficient for his age. And he’ll still be young enough when he gets out to have a good relationship. Let his dad tell him when he’s older.”

“I think that maybe first you should make sure he understands that sometimes good people make mistakes and that they can end up in jail. That it doesn’t necessarily make them bad. So if you do choose to tell him (he will absolutely find out eventually) he can understand that his father isn’t a bad man just one who made bad choices.”

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