My son is going on 5 and starting to learn a lot about how we're created. I've been with my husband for 10 years, but nearly 6 years ago I had no other choice but to move 1000 miles away and after trying the long distance thing it didn't work so we split up.

I ended up going through a rough patch and started dating an abusive jerk. After a year I was pregnant. He threatened me trying to force me to have an abortion and I refused. His grandmother was chief of police and he scared me into moving back to Florida.

Eventually, when I was 4 months along in my pregnancy my husband and I picked up right where we left off. He loved me so much and accepted our son as if he was his own and has done an amazing job at raising him.

He enrolled in college while I was pregnant, got us a house and went above and beyond to care for us both (as after giving birth I became very ill due to rare brain and spine conditions). I've always tried to do right by my son. Since day one, even while with my husband, I tried to keep the sperm donor involved. But he wanted no part of his son.

My husband stepped up when the biological father refused. The biological father would pretend that he cared, only to tell me he never cared about him anyway and was just trying to manipulate me into stopping child support (which I did anyway after the first year: I felt it wasn't right to take his money when my son had a dad who loved, supported and wanted him from the beginning).

This is a very long story so I'll try and make it not so much of a novel. The sperm donor has made it very clear he wants nothing ever to do with my son. My husband has been Dad since the moment my son entered this world. I've always planned to tell my son as early as possible. I think now, or in a few years, it won't be as hard on him compared to us telling him when he's a teen and who knows how he'd handle it.

I just don't know what to do. We have an extremely happy loving family. My son adores his dad. We never argue, we have a very happy non-dysfunctional marriage. I just feel we have a very special family. But I refuse to lie to my son. What if we wait and someone else maliciously tells him? Or if, when he's older and finds out, he spirals out of control?

I'm so confused, I just want to do the right thing and desperately need advice. Especially from others who have been through similar circumstances. We're planning on meeting with therapists and I guess child development specialists, if someone could also point me in the right direction for what type of doctor is best suited in this situation.

Also my son is very happy. He has a wonderful life and I feel as if he would do fine, knowing how much he loves his dad and just beginning to really grasp the concept of life. I don't think it would change anything for him, if that makes sense. I've been worrying over this for 5 years and really need some answers!

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    "I felt it wasn't right to take his money when my son had a dad that loved supported and wanted him from the beginning" -- To anyone in a similar situation: You don't "take" his money. The money is to support the child. As such, you are in a way morally obliged to spend it for the benefit of the child. Voluntarily giving up on that is almost the same as taking that amount away from the child. Even if you don't need the money you could still put it into savings to give the child a good start into a life of his own when he's grown up.
    – JimmyB
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 15:03
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    @JimmyB - since she felt the finances were not an issue, severing that last possible tie to someone who is abusive and manipulative and could really mess with the child's head if still financially tethered and resentful about it could very well be in the best interest of the child. I understand the general sentiment, but the OP seemed pretty thoughtful, overall, in her take on the issue. Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 17:21
  • Why tell him at all? Your husband is for all practical purposes his father. Never mind the sperm donor. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 20:29

9 Answers 9


My approach is not much different than what I'd suggest for plain vanilla everyday families:

Why not supplement the biology part with a discussion of what makes a father a father or
the fundamental difference between producing and raising a child?

IMHO, every child's education on sex should include these aspects. We want to raise responsible adults, not just inform them on the human reproductive system.

There are so many children that are raised by step- or foster parents, by family members or friends. Children are conceived thanks to medical assistance and egg- or sperm donors. It takes a village, they say... And we are so much more than our genetic make up. Your son's situation and history is unique to him, but by no means unheard of.

Lay the groundwork of these ideas and values, then follow up whenever more technical details fit in. Catch "occasions" over the next few years, a few random examples could be:

  • A divorced or widowed parent in your neighbourhood re-marries or has a new partner.
  • Your son asks about when you decided to have a baby.
  • Does he look like his mom or dad?
  • ...

Perhaps you are shattering the image of "man & woman -> love -> marriage -> kids -> happily ever after" a bit sooner than you intended to, but rest assured, most observant children of your son's age will have noticed by now that reality works differently on occasion.

But please spare him the gruesome details for now. Stick to neutral answers like "your bio-dad lives far away" or "your bio-dad doesn't want to visit", even admit that you don't know some details (like why his bio-dad doesn't want him) or that you will tell him more when you think he can understand better, but don't lie. He will ask for more information as he gets a older, then tell him in an age-appropriate way. This is where telling the truth pays off: You don't have to worry whether your storry adds up. If he catches you lying, this may severely damage his trust in you.

In case whether you wonder if its a good idea to tell your son his story:
The mistakes we make and admit do not make us inferior, what we make of them counts. You got a wonderful son and a stable marriage out of a bad situation and should be proud of it.

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    Knowing the different ways loving families are made (kids are raised by single parents, foster parents, step parents, adoptive parents, grandparents or aunts/uncles) is I think important for every child, and even more so in this case.
    – Acire
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 12:09
  • There is a difference between being a Dad, and being a Father. One is easy and irrelevant, the other is hard and very important.
    – Ryan
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 16:40
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    @Ryan - as long as language doesn't unambiguously differ between these terms, we will have to explain how we understand them. And note that in an international forum like SE, more explanation can be better. I chose "father" in my answer to allude to some of the more general responsibilities and to add a touch of gravity (-> e.g. "father figure").
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 16:54

My situation was very similar to yours. My husband and I filed natural paternity since neither of the boys legally had a father at birth, and the courts gave them his last name and amended their SSN's and birth certificate so that we are protected legally.

Neither of my boys knew their "donor" or bio-dad as we came to call him when they got older. We just always told them they were special because they had 2 dads; 1 that couldn't stay, and 1 that picked them and loves them very much. If they ever asked why the other one couldn't stay I simply said I don't know, which satisfied them for a surprisingly long time. That way you're not bashing the sperm donor, who you may dislike, but your son is half him biologically and you don't want him worried about being bad like his biological dad or something.

Our boys are now 13 and 15 and they plan to meet bio-dad this summer with us. I'm not sure how or if this will change it, but their entire lives, they've been very well adjusted about the whole thing. You'd be surprised how much a kid can handle, especially if you're still providing a loving, stable home life, which it sounds like you are.

I suggest being honest, I totally agree that finding out later in life can be detrimental. It can make them wonder about the very foundation of trust and love that you've been raising them in and question if anything is to be trusted. Be honest, strong and loving and he'll be fine. Good luck!


OK, so I'll try.

Also my son is very happy. He has a wonderful life and I feel as if he would do fine, knowing how much he loves his dad and just beginning to really grasp the concept of life. I don't think it would change anything for him, if that makes sense.

I do understand this very well. However, all this would be based on a lie. (Omission of a truth is a lie, too.) And this would indeed make a difference for him. Many years down the road, when your son asks you why you never told him, what would you say?

Given that you think it wouldn't change anything for him, why do you keep it from him? Could it be that what makes you shrink back from telling him is that you feel guilt yourself? Because this must not even be an issue for your son – except in as much as it is an issue for you. If you give the facts casually and put emphasis on your husband being the one who cares for him, if your husband indeed cares for him, if it's understood that we are formed by our environment at least as much as by our genes, then why would your son have a problem with this?

I think what could become a true problem for him (rather than a reflection of your problems with this) is if his biological father refuses him. This can be a source of psychological problems that has a potential to put a shadow on his whole life. If anything, I'd prepare for this, so that, should it indeed happen, you have ways to help him to deal with this. (Love and a therapist might be the most important factors there.)

And this, and only this, I can see as a reason to consider waiting to tell him. However, that is not a strong case, since learning that what you thought about your origins was a lie has just as much potential to disturb and damage – the worse the later you learn about it.

  • To be fair, she's not talking about never telling her son. She's asking when, and how. Clearly that's not something that you dump on a four year old when they can't emotionally handle it. Probably, you shouldn't wait until they are 30. She's asking about the best way, not whether she should avoid it all together, so throwing terms like "lie" around, based on a snipped in the middle, is not fair, IMO. Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 17:25
  • If one man was involved for five minutes, and another for 18 years, why would it be a lie to say that the one who was involved for 18 years is the dad?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 22:21
  • @Andrew: I was talking about the when as well: "this I can see as a reason to consider waiting to tell him."
    – sbi
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 8:44
  • @gnasher729: I didn't say that. I said not saying the truth about the biological role of some other guy would be problematic. Of course, the child will bond, and build a relationship, with the man who is caring for him. That is good, should be encouraged, and takes care of his needs for a father. If he calls him "father", then that's just as well. But imagine he would find out at, say, 30yo that his mother never told him that he has the genes of some other guy. Wouldn't he feel cheated?
    – sbi
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 8:47
  • @sbi - Yes, you said that at the very, very end. And you also said, in the passage where you threw around the term "lie," - "Many years down the road, when your son asks you why you NEVER told him, what would you say?" Since she never suggested "never" telling him, you created a straw man as a vehicle to suggest she might be a liar. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 12:56

This question is interesting because from the child's point of view the problem is almost identical to adoption. But that is an advantage, because as others have pointed out, there are mountains of resources for parents wondering how to broach the subject of adoption with their children.

I very much agree that you need to separate the 'where do I come from' discussion from the 'birds and the bees': Simply because he needs to start learning the truth about where he comes from before he's likely to be interested in the mechanics of how it happened.

Close friends who have adopted children have used a simple photo album: in their case with photos of the orphanage, of the personnel who cared for their child during the first months/years, photos of the trip the parents made to go and get their child etc.

This has many advantages:

  • It's something the child can return to regularly, and with each telling, the story can gain more detail as and when the child grows
  • It breaks the ice of 'how do I bring up the subject?'. Here's an album of photos, this is you when you were little, who's that man? Oh, he was your first Daddy.
  • It's so much easier to tell a story like this sitting side by side looking at a book, than face to face.

Erica voiced concerns about 'triggering', but I think that if the photo (one solitary photo) is in an album rather than on a wall, that would not be such an issue. And if you have been worrying about this for 5 years, it sounds like you're pretty triggered-up already as it is!

The only other thing I'd add is avoid trying to 'get it over and done with': obviously it's a subject you want to 'evacuate' and never have to think about again. But your child is going to need to assimilate this information slowly, over years, and too much information too fast is not going to help.

Edgar is gone, but he is still present and will be for many years.

  • To Benjol who posted this: Thank you. Helpful in my own situation with my almost 8 year old. It's something the child can return to regularly, and with each telling, the story can gain more detail as and when the child grows It breaks the ice of 'how do I bring up the subject?'. Here's an album of photos, this is you when you were little, who's that man? Oh, he was your first Daddy. It's so much easier to tell a story like this sitting side by side looking at a book, than face to face
    – MrsWratch
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 16:13

He has a wonderful life and I feel as if he would do fine, knowing how much he loves his dad and just beginning to really grasp the concept of life. I don't think it would change anything for him, if that makes sense. I've been worrying over this for 5 years and really need some answers!

I'm very happy for you and your family. Five years is a long time to worry, though.

Has your husband adopted your son? Do you have anything in writing from the biological father about giving up all rights? (In other words, are the legalities wrapped up?) How many people know the truth, and how likely are they to tell your son?

I have a different viewpoint, maybe a shocking one. While I place a very high value on the truth, the truth doesn't always set people free, especially little ones who lack the sophistication to understand things like biological parental rejection. On the other hand, it appears that no matter when you tell the child, they will begin to have deeper questions about the whole thing during late adolescence. This has been shown in sperm-donor children, and even in interracial adoption, where the child knows from the beginning that they were chosen, wanted and loved.

Right now your son probably just wants birds-and-bees-type information, not an actual "what is my particular genetic identity?" I would not tell him until you've spoken to a therapist, perhaps one who specializes in adoption. They can give you recommendations regarding when and how to break the news based on years of dealing with children of adoption and the problems they have. One would hope the problems would be much less serious because your son has always had his biological mother, and that attachment has been there from birth (it sounds as if he has always had his non-biological father's attachment as well. All the better.)

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    Having learned about my biological father very late in life, I totally disagree with this answer.
    – sbi
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 17:32
  • 1
    @sbi - would you consider posting an answer of your own experience? I think it would be valuable. Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 17:34
  • 1
    I have thought about this ever since, and finally gave my own answer.
    – sbi
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 9:40
  • 1
    @sbi - upvoted! Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 7:48
  • +1 to making sure the husband has legally adopted the child. Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:05

I think now, or in a few years, it won't be as hard on him compared to us telling him when he's a teen and who knows how he'd handle it.

This makes a lot of sense.

I didn't want my adopted child to have any unpleasant surprises, so I started telling him his adoption story extremely early, even before he was very far along with speech-language development. The first version was very simple. It's gotten gradually more detailed and complete through the years. He's 12 now.

There will be a feeling of loss, sooner or later, and perhaps in multiple waves. You can be close and empathetic, but you can't take it away.

But there's no need to project that feeling of loss on your son. I mentioned it so you won't be caught by surprise when it comes.

You can tell the story in a simple, joyous way with a very young child. Children love to hear about how they came into the world, how you and Dad couldn't wait to see him, and how happy you were to meet him once he was born! I would introduce your ex by name, so that he's in your son's cast of characters. Try to leave any feelings of bitterness, disappointment or disapproval out of your voice. Let's suppose your ex's name is Edgar. The story might go something like this:

Before you were born, you started out as a tiny little almost-baby, growing in my uterus (point at your belly). I was hungry all the time, and I ate lots and lots, and you got a little bit bigger every day!

Remember how a baby starts to grow? There's a tiny egg from a woman, and a tinier sperm from a man, and they find each other, grow together, and start to get bigger, and make an embryo, which becomes a fetus, and eventually it's a complete, just-right-size baby, and is ready to be born.

The sperm to make you came from Edgar, and the tiny egg to make you came from me. Edgar was your first father.

Did you know that Dad sang to you every evening? I remember when he first felt you kicking in my uterus. He said, this baby is going to be really good at kicking a soccer ball!

There, that wasn't so bad, was it? We've introduced another character in the story, and the story is basically a lovely, loving story. The other character is pretty cloudy in the first version, but he can get fleshed out some more as your son gets a bit older.

You can tell each version of the story as many times as you like. Once is definitely not enough. A story like this goes well with bathing or cuddle time.

You can give simple answers to any questions he might ask you.

In a subsequent version of the story, you can say something like "Edgar didn't feel ready to be a father, so he said, "Bye-bye Kim, bye-bye baby." You wouldn't tell this in a sad way -- you would just tell it as an interesting story.

The goals are

  • develop an awareness that there is this other person in the cast of characters (we don't know much about him when he first walks on stage, but as we find out more about him later, at least we feel some familiarity -- oh, right, I've heard of Edgar before). This is so there's no feeling of shock later.

  • celebrate the miracle of birth and the joy of being much wanted -- this is important for developing self-esteem.

You can draw a simple family tree and put it on the wall, and refer to it from time to time. Make sure Edgar is in it. Here's a site that outlines various approaches for how to incorporate Edgar into the schematic: http://genealogy.about.com/od/adoption/a/family_tree.htm

Kindergarten is a great age for reading picture books about different family configurations. There may even be a unit in kindergarten on families. Even if there isn't, it would be a good idea to let the teacher know about your family's constellation.

If you see a lot of your in-laws, it might be good to give them a heads-up too. What I mean is that you can give them the outline and the flavor of the current version of your son's birth story, so they won't be caught by surprise if your son brings up Edgar with them.

  • This seems a pretty good answer. Not sure why it was downvoted. +1 from me.
    – sbi
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 7:56
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    Having Edgar so constantly a presence may not be ideal in this particular situation: he was, after all, an abusive jerk. While awareness of Edgar's contribution to the family may be helpful for the son (and by extension the family unit), incorporating him visibly into the household wall could be triggering for the parents.
    – Acire
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 11:35

My reply is probably very late after the fact and I wish I came across this earlier but thank you for posting. I'm new to this site and not too familiar with the rules but if you can and don't mind sharing with us an update as to how you ended up dealing with the situation I would be really interested to read it. My daughter just turned 5 and I am in the same boat, also at lost and worried at what to do too. Here are my thoughts (although I have yet to tell her myself but I plan to soon).

We saw a therapist earlier this year and like you mentioned, it's better to tell them the truth sooner than later. It's easier on them to grow up knowing it then to be hit hard as a teenager or even older at which point they will question whether their whole life has been a lie. So I would definitely tell him sooner and tell him yourself. Letting him find out from someone else is a really bad idea (imo) because then how it is told and how it impacts him becomes out of your control (although either way the latter will be out of your control regardless, but at least you can nudge his reaction in the direction you want). You are also the person he trusts the most so for it to be told by you probably provides with the most sense of security and empathy which we know kids really need.

Coming from a broken and abusive family, I don't think there is a need to mention Edgar was abusive, esp if he is out of the picture and refuses to be. That affected your relationship with him but really, the relationship between Edgar and your son is just a blank piece of paper. I don't see any good that could come out of telling him. It might just cause your son to dislike him or make him think he came from a bad person and in both cases, I see it as a negative thing. There's no need for such a young boy to go through such negative emotions which could in turn lead up to bigger problems as he grows older. If it's history then I say let it pass and move on. If when he's older he asks when you 2 never stayed together I would just keep things general too.

I really like aparente001's suggestions, minus the family tree and putting it up on the wall part. It is important to tell your son Edgar's existence and the part he once played but the emphasis isn't there. Emphasis should be on how much his dad loves him and has been there since day 1. While he might only get more curious and want to know more about him as he grows older, it doesn't need to be in writing or be reminded visually. Focus on being the happy and loving family that you have always been.

And my last point... As with everything in life, it is important to set the right expectations. Expect that he will ask questions, more detailed as he gets older. Expect that he will want to learn about Edgar and perhaps even ask to meet him one day. While you might get upset from time to time, it is important to stay positive and as calm as possible while talking about Edgar. Just like you're stating facts. Whatever he asks or says doesn't mean he loves his dad any less or wants to move out and be with Edgar. He is just curious because Edgar is an unknown.

I hope everything did and will go well for you. Congratulations on having built a loving family!


Your situation is similar to telling a child they're adopted. While other people have already provided helpful answers from the parent's point of view, I'd like to share my personal experience with you from the child's point of view.

I was adopted when I was 4 months old, and as such I have no recollection of my biological parents. In my experience, my adoptive parents are my real parents, as they are the ones who raised me and shaped me to become the person who I am today. Until you tell your child the truth, they will perceive you in the same way. When and how you break this news to your child is key to how they'll perceive you afterwards. From my own personal experience, all I can say is, don't wait too long to tell them. The sooner the better.

My mother first explained it to me when I was 4 years old using a children's book called Mam, wat is geadopteerd? (Why was I adopted. - Carole Livingstone, 1978). Using age-appropriate media can help them understand the concept.

My parents were very open about this to me at a young age, for which I am very grateful. In hindsight, I think learning about this in puberty or later would be very difficult to process. I imagine feelings of distrust and insecurity about personal identity would be much more of a problem.


I was told about my bio Dad at 22. Honestly I would have been fine had they never told me!

Finding out brought more heartache and confusion than happiness.

Although, if they had told me when I was a child I probably would have felt a lot better about it.

Good part is I have sibling ive gotten close to.

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