My daughter is 11 years old and my husband adopted her when she was three. He has been in her life since she was 14 months old so he is the only father that she knows. I don't think that she has put two and two together about her name being changed.

The sperm donor was a very bad person, a drug addict and a drunk. He was abusive mentally, emotionally and physically. And decided to leave town when I was four months along and told him that I was having a girl. I just found out recently that he died two years ago from a drug overdose.

So my question is, when should I tell her the truth? I know that I should have told her sooner but I felt like I was protecting her from an evil man. I would like to hear from people that have done the same thing. I want to know if I should wait longer or tell her now. If others have done this, how did your child handle it? I want to hear the good, bad and the ugly. Please I really need help with this.

  • Related: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/29007/…
    – walen
    May 30, 2017 at 15:34
  • 3
    Sounds like her dad is her real father. Not the contributor of 1/2 of the DNA, or the biological parent, but that's not really what being a father is about. When you do tell her, be careful about the language you use and the larger meaning. I'd guess that if you phrase it differently, she's not really going to look at her father as anything but the father he has been to her. By the way, your question sounds, straight up, like the events that inspired the song "Alive" by Pearl Jam. May 30, 2017 at 21:16
  • As an infertile dad via sperm donation, I'd second the calls for caution with terminology here. Your husband is your daughter's real father. He's not biologically the parent, but it sounds like he's the dad in the ways that matter.
    – ceejayoz
    Jun 1, 2017 at 14:52
  • 1
    tip: don't use the word "real" dad in the conversation. that role has already been taken by her adopted father. biological dad would be better Jun 1, 2017 at 18:48

3 Answers 3


I have not done the same thing, but have counselled families with similar issues.

I would not wait a moment longer. She's about to enter her teens and go through all the hormonal issues that brings.

If your husband adopted her, he should sit down with you. If he did not, perhaps you both would consider starting that process.

If your daughter was adopted, then Dad should tell her that he chose her as his daughter and it was the best choice he ever made. (Yes, be a little over-the-top.) I'd be prepared for the sorts of questions Daughter might ask and answer truthfully but carefully. She probably needs to know he was a drug addict, but might not need to know he was abusive. ("Sweetheart, I've recently discovered that your biological father died because he was ill. He had a disease called drug addiction and it caused him to make bad decisions. This was why he wasn't a part of your life. He was incapable of even making the choice of meeting you . It's very sad. I know he'd have loved you." I'd 'blame' him and say he could not get it together to be a part of her life. Paint "Dad" as the hero who has loved you and Daughter completely. I doubt there's a lie in there. Try not to lie because lies never seem to work -- something slips out and the foundation cracks.

If Dad chooses to adopt her, then he says he loves her and he could propose that and maybe even give her a token like a ring to mark the occasion.


As an adoptive parent, I'd suggest one of your top priorities would be to make a concerted effort to alter your language here. "Real" is not helpful; it's got judgment loaded in it, since if you're not real you must be fake. And as a commenter on the question points out, by most standards of good parenting the real father is the one who is there for the child. In the adoption community we refer to birth parents. While sperm donor is certainly descriptive, it may not be an image your tween daughter will welcome :)

Similarly, "evil" isn't going to help things any. Your daughter is going to have complicated feelings about this, possibly forever. They won't necessarily be bad feelings, but she has a genetic heritage she can't ever really connect with. This can be tough for adopted kids, just as it would be tough if she had an absent father who didn't want contact. Using a word like evil will just make it harder. She's going to draw her own conclusions about his character based on him taking a powder when she was still in diapers. Any further editorializing might be a basis for her to question her own character.

In your shoes, I'd simply say he was troubled and had a problem with drugs and alcohol. He chose to leave when she was an infant and never showed an interest in being a parent. Presumably he either agreed to the adoption or no-showed and had his parental rights terminated, clearing your husband to adopt.

I think, depending on the kind of relationship you all have, the best thing would be to have a sit-down and say you wanted to let her know something about her past. I'd refer to your husband as "your father" just to be clear that that is who he is, genetics be damned. You might just present this as something she should know about her heritage for the sake of her health; people with parents who have addiction problems are more likely to have those problems themselves, and there might be other issues in his medical history worth knowing. If you describe it as something that now you are old enough to understand the genetics of things, then she may be more likely to see it as about bodies rather than families.

For our part we are simply always open with our child about his adopted status, though we didn't have the complicating factors you did. He's not yet as old as your daughter but we think being matter-of-fact about it is the simplest thing. You don't need to keep the way he treated you from her forever, though I think letting them come out over time will make it a less overwhelming thing for her to come to terms with. But you know her and we don't - perhaps she'll do better knowing it all up-front. But I think the more dispassionate you can manage to be the better; his actions speak for themselves.

  • Do you use something different from birth parent if the parent didn't even make it that far?
    – gnasher729
    Jun 1, 2017 at 14:41
  • I don't think I understand the question. Do you mean like a father who buzzes of even before the child is born? If that's what you mean, yes, they're still called the birth father.
    – Don
    Jun 1, 2017 at 19:55

I think being a father is different than being a biological father. I think donor of life would describe that process better.

Title father has to be earned. I means trust. Good father is role model who child can look up to. He tries to teach the child how to live this life. He shows good and bad things in life and sets boundaries. Yes, that means experiences of dissapointment.

Please, tell her as soon as you can. Willow said it well.

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