Q: We have very little information about our five-year-old daughter’s birth parents, but what we do know is disturbing – her birth mother died as a result of domestic violence. When should we share this information, and how?
A: You’re right in thinking your daughter needs to know that her birth mother has died, even though it is tough information. In fact, children can often more easily deal with the idea of losing a parent through death than losing a parent through abandonment.
Children can understand the concept of death by four to six years of age, so you can tell her now. You don’t have to be explicit about the cause of death, but you shouldn’t lie. Don’t say something like, “Your birth mother got sick and died.” For now, you might say that her birth mother died in an accident.
When she’s about 10, you should talk to her more specifically about the cause of her birth mother’s death, even if she hasn’t asked. You can say to her that, now that she’s older, you want her to know her adoption story in a more adult way. Then tell her the details you know. Until then, be sure not to share this information with anyone else. This is her history, not yours – and it is not something she should find out from anyone but you.