"deadbeat" mother found murdered - what should parent(s) tell 9 year old child?

This is an interesting question.

I know someone who is currently awaiting her papers to immigrate to the US. She is married to a US citizen, and has a stepdaughter. Her husband has full custody of the child. The child’s mother was arrested/jailed for drug related offenses and prostitution, and hasn’t really seen the child except for a couple of days each year.

Still, the child is 9.

The mother had “disappeared” a while ago, and was found murdered (along with other women) recently. I read the news articles, it checks out… I also don’t want to identify the family n’ such on the boards, so… I will avoid it.

They (the parents - dad and step-mom) are young, and don’t know what to tell the child. They told her that her mom had died (child was of course devastated - mom might have been a rotten human, but she was still HER MOM)… but not how.

IS the child too young to be told, in age-appropriate ways? My concern is that the child will eventually find out (it was in the papers, etc.) and be angry at her parents for not telling her the truth. When adolescence comes around, this could be messy.

What would YOU do in such a situation?

I think I’d withhold the gory details for a few years. I think the kid will understand why this info wasn’t shared in the beginning. How sad…

Unfortunately, my best friend was in a situation like this. Her husband’s ex-wife was found strangled in a retention pond. The son was about 8 or so. They wanted to keep the details from him, but in a fit of hysterics, the grandmother said what happened.

Needless to say, the child is pretty scarred from it. I really think it would have been better if they had waited until he was older to explain it to him.

I would tell the complete truth, its best to get these things over with. If you delay telling the child until the kid is a teenager, he/she will probably throw a hissy fit about not being told earlier.

My WAG is that the kid would be most interested in a couple of facets: 1) Did my mom do something wrong? 2) Are the killers going to kill me, too?

I’d reassure the kid that 1) maybe Mom wasn’t a model citizen, but nobody deserves to be murdered, and 2) NO, the kid is in no danger.

Lots of hugs. A diary to write things down in. I agree that the kid doesn’t need to know the horrible details.

I’d involve a professional grief counsellor/psychologist and I would tell the child the truth that their mother was murdered.

I would not withhold the truth because at 9 most kids are going to be wondering how their parent died and because it is impossible to keep all media from the child. The betrayal that the child would feel if they found out from anyone other than their father how their mother died IMO would be so extreme it’s not worth running the risk.

I disagree that they would handle it better told later. It’s one hell of a piece of information to withhold from someone who has the right to know. Yes, it’s going to hurt, yes, there will be grief but honesty is essential in human relationships. The parents cannot appear anything but dishonest if they share this information later.

What a horrible thing to have to deal with though :frowning:

What a horrible situation. I agree that it is best to tell the child ASAP, although I would withhold any especially specifics – if the mother was also raped and/or tortured, for instance. I also agree that care should be taken not to in any way blame the mother for her own death, and to reassure the child that the killer will not be looking for her. AND, please encourage them to get the little girl some counseling. I think at least short-term grief-counseling is always a good idea for a child who has lost a parent and it’s going to be especially valuable for this particular little girl who is dealing with so much more than your typical child whose lost her mother.

This kind of thing is one of the few times the Clergy really come into their own.

Contact your spiritual advisor. He may well have dealt with this kind of thing before.

Did the child ask how her mother died? I’d say if she didn’t ask, she’s not ready to know. I agree with Bosda about contacting a spiritual advisor so the parents can be prepared when she DOES ask. I would not volunteer the information because the child may not be ready to hear it.

Bosda said, "Contact your spiritual advisor. "

Uh…I don’t have one. Many, many people don’t have one. You say that like it’s a belly-button or something.

This is just my experience.

My mom died under less than ideal (?) circumstances when I was 6. I was told the truth (or most of it anyway, I guess), but was also told that I didn’t have to tell the truth to others if I didn’t want to. Even today I tell most people that she died in a car accident. This is a perfectly acceptable solution for me.

What a horrible situation indeed…

It seems like everyone’s feeling a little split about what to do. The parents are equally shocked by what happened, and want to protect the child from the ugly truth, so I understand their wish to wait a little…

My fear is that she WILL be angry (and/or scared!) when she finds out the truth, and perhaps even start wondering if they’re lying to her on other matters (or not telling her the whole story)…

The death of her mother was traumatic enough as it is - for everyone concerned. I strongly suggested they get a counselor involved, for the sake of sanity - for all three of them.


Is there a fair amount of publicity about this case? I’d be concerned that kids who know this child might find out the truth (by listening to their parents, perhaps) and then question/tease/whatever the child about the method of the death. This would be a horrible way for the child to learn.

Tell the child their mother has died, and reassure them that they are safe, and will be taken care of.

IMO, 9 is way too young to be told Mommy was murdered. This is information that can wait until the child is old enough to handle it.

And if the child as a teenage throws a hissy fit, so what? There are some things that children cannot handle, and finding out your mother was murdered falls under this category. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean you have to spill it.