Ask AF: News of a Birth Parent's Death

The death of a birth parent is never easy. But your child deserves to know, no matter their relationship.

Q: We recently learned that our seven-year-old son’s birth father passed away. My son never met his birth father, but he knows his name and has a letter from and pictures of him. (We have a separate, ongoing relationship with his birth mother.) How should we break this sad news?


A: In keeping with your openness, I recommend that you tell your son sooner rather than later that his birth father has died. Waiting for the “right time” often means not sharing it at all, as there are never good times to reveal sad information. If you wait too long, your son may continue to think about someday meeting his birth father, and feel betrayed when he finds out that that is no longer possible.

If your son doesn’t raise the topic soon, by asking about his birth father, I recommend sitting down with him at a quiet time, when the three of you are home, and telling him you have some sad news. Then tell him that his birth father died (don’t say “passed,” as children take words literally), and you thought he should know. Give him a chance to respond, and allow him his feelings, or lack of feelings (the situation is fairly remote, and it doesn’t impact his life directly). Encourage him to ask questions, and answer them as best you can. If he seems to be struggling with the loss, you can suggest a ritual, such as lighting a candle, or writing a letter, to memorialize him.


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