Ask AF: Explaining the Death of a Birth Father

If my child never talks about his birth father, when should I let him know that he's passed away?

Q: Our son’s birth father died in a car accident before our son was born. Our son, now 9, has frequently asked about his birth mother but never about his birth father. Is this the right time to tell him that his birth father died? Should I tell him how he died?


A: The desire to protect kids from difficult information is understandable. But with adoption, a lack of information can lead children to fantasize about the past. The truth frees children to use their energy in more productive ways.

As to when to tell: Generally, by age 7, children start to understand the complexities of adoption, and, by age 9, they understand that death is permanent. That said, you should consider your child’s temperament and maturity before deciding when to share this information.

It’s not uncommon for children not to ask about birth fathers. In general, we don’t talk about birth fathers as much, because we often know less about them. Based on my experience, I’d say that your son probably wonders about his birth father but doesn’t ask because no one has mentioned him.

You might ask your son if he’s thought about him, and what he’s thinking. Say you have information about his birth father that you want to share with him.

Keep in mind that kids his age often wonder why they were placed for adoption. If the death of his birth father was a reason for your son’s placement, you’ll want to discuss that with him. Finally, an adoption support group might be a good resource for your son.

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