Ask AF: A Truthful Explanation

Explaining birth siblings to a child — when he already understands that his birth parent wasn't able to parent him — requires honesty and tact.

Q: Our five-year-old son’s birth mother has four other children, so I feel that the standard explanation (“Your birth mother was not ready to care for a child”) wouldn’t be truthful. Do you have suggestions?


A: I agree that you should be honest with children, but honesty doesn’t mean saying everything. When talking to children, it’s important to keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. For now, the “standard” explanation will be fine.

As your son grows, he’ll want to know more. Children can cognitively grasp the concept of birth siblings around age seven, so that’s when you can explain that his birth mother was already a parent. Maybe she was having a hard time caring for her children. Maybe she didn’t have anyone to help, and she wanted your son to have a family to take good care of him. When you do have that discussion, be sure to emphasize that her decision had nothing to do with him as a person.