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At what age would you tell your child that your parent died when you were little?

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

My mom died when I was 12.  I have a step mom.  My daughter is 3 and calls her grandma.  I call her by her first name.  On a recent visit my daughter said "Mom you have to call your mom MOM!".  I just agreed and went on and didn't say anything.  I didn't want my daughter to say to her grandma "You are not my mom's mom".

 

So ideas on when and what to say?

 

*Is this the right thread?

post #2 of 12

Hmm...well my husband is the only bio child of both his parents and his six older siblings all lost a parent. Only two of them have children and I wasn't around when his nieces and nephews were younger so not sure how their parents handled it, but for our kids we've always been totally open with them about it and have never had any awkward moments. 

 

Also, my father's mother was widowed by her first husband and had an older daughter when she married my grandfather. I don't remember being told this at any specific time. I'm sure I was but I must have been very small as I don't recall a time when I didn't know.

 

I guess it would just depend on the dynamics between you and stepmom. Do you have pics of your mom? That might help if she saw them and was curious and you could share with her who it is and make sure she knows that stepmom is still grandma to her since that is the role you have given her.

post #3 of 12

I think you can tell her that she isn't your actual mom like you are her mom, but you are still family. I don't think it's necessary to tell her that your mother died when you were little.

post #4 of 12
I had the same situation with my stepdad; Dad died when I was 8 but Mom remarried when I was a teen so I called him by his first name. Stepdad died when my dds were 2 and 8 but he was without a doubt their Grampa:)
I always told them the facts of it and it didn't cause any confusion on their part. When we look at pics or tell family stories the 4yo clarifies with "your first Dad or Grampa Tom?"

It didn't seem to scare them to know that parents sometimes die before kids, though my kids have unfortunately seen friends in that situation so it wasn't as if we could avoid the topic.
post #5 of 12
I think it's fine to explain now. Both my parents fathers died when they were very young, and I just always knew. Kids that age are putting together family relationships, and not telling them the truth will be more confusing. As a stepmom, I would not be offended if a child trying to figure things out said something less than tactful. In fact, I am surprised your stepmom didn't say something at the time to explain. I know I try to broach the awkward topics before my stepkids have to or feel uncomfortable. I kind of feel like it's my job as the "parent" for lack of a better word.
post #6 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarah W View Post

I think you can tell her that she isn't your actual mom like you are her mom, but you are still family. I don't think it's necessary to tell her that your mother died when you were little.


I think this is good advice. It could be scary and confusing for a three-year-old to hear about your mom dying; she may fear the same would happen to you. With little kids the simplest explanation and the least additional info is usually the best, IMO.

 

Sorry you lost your mom at such a young age. :(

post #7 of 12

Sorry about your mom...Your daughter can always know that losing your mom is part of your past. You can say I didn't come out of Grandma's belly I came out of my moms belly and she died when I was a kid. Aren't I lucky to have two moms who loved me very much Want to see a picture of her....and each year your daughter gets older she will ask more questions and that is ok. It should not be a secret. Secrets cause hurt feeling and little ones can develop fears  It's so great that you are asking this question

post #8 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by chrissy collins View Post

Sorry about your mom...Your daughter can always know that losing your mom is part of your past. You can say I didn't come out of Grandma's belly I came out of my moms belly and she died when I was a kid. Aren't I lucky to have two moms who loved me very much Want to see a picture of her....and each year your daughter gets older she will ask more questions and that is ok. It should not be a secret. Secrets cause hurt feeling and little ones can develop fears  It's so great that you are asking this question


I think there is a difference between keeping it a secret and sharing only what information is age-appropriate. I don't talk with my kids about the holocaust yet, for example, even though my husband's family lost many people in it. I'm not keeping the holocaust a secret, I'm just waiting til they're old enough to process it. Similarly, if it were me I would not yet talk about my mom having died when I was a child. I might say something like, "There are all kinds of moms out there. I'm your mom because you grew in my belly. I didn't grow in [step-mom's name]'s belly, but she helped take care of me when I was little. So I call her [name]. And we all love her a lot!" I really doubt your child would then make the leap to wondering about your first mom. And in a few years, you can expand on the story.

 

Ultimately of course it's up to you and you will have to make your own judgement based on your family dynamics and what you know of your child. I would just hesitate to put the negative spin of "keeping secrets" on it if you decide not to tell her the whole story right away.

post #9 of 12

My Mom was an orphan, and was raised by various relatives, foster families, and orphanages. All those people are part of our family stories: "Aunt Betty said...", "Rose would never have understood...", "When I was in the Children's Home...". The title "mom" was clearly reserved for my Mom's biological mom, as no one else really filled that role. The stories were told with love and laughter, not morose grief. That attitude, and the fact that my siblings and I were secure in our home and relationships, made it not scary at all. Just a fact. I don't remember ever not knowing. I do remember being interested in the whole idea of orphans, possibly more than other kids, but not in a weird or pathological way. And I grew up to become a foster/adoptive parent, so I guess there was some real benefit.
 

post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone for the replies.

 

The decision and method of sharing this with my daughter was taken away from me as on a recent trip my MIL told her.  It wasn't until after we got home that I knew they had talked about it.  My daughter said "Your mother died.  But that is okay because you have another mother."  I had to ask how she knew.

post #11 of 12

I hope it wasn't done maliciously but what's done is done and now you have a wonderful opportunity for open, honest communication with your LO.  :)

post #12 of 12

I would have told at the first opportunity. (I also have this view about sex ed.) My kids didn't know their maternal grandfather, but he died when DH was an adult. We just always told them that he died before they were born. DH's mom has had a boyfriend for many years and they know that he is not their Granddad. It causes no confusion.

 

The simplest thing to do would be to tell your dd that your mom died before your dd was born and your dad remarried. You don't have to tell details like how and when. If she's curious you answer the questions. (This also works great for sex ed.) I think sometimes as adults we can't separate the extra knowledge we have about things (like the Holocaust example) from the basic facts. Continuing with that example, Katielady could just say that lots of our ancestors died in WWII. No need to bring up gas chambers and death camps yet. Same with sex — an egg from Mommy and a sperm from Daddy combine to make a baby. Same with grandma being Mom's stepmom — my mom died and Granddad remarried, so Grandma is my step-mom.

 

I think your MIL overstepped (it was yours or your step-mom's to tell) but I think it is the right thing for her to know. Keeping it from her could have been damaging to everyone's relationship. 

 

My condolences for your loss. I think 12 must be a really hard age to lose a parent — old enough to more fully understand, but young enough to still really need them.

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