How Do Parents With A Dead Child Adress The Children "Do You Have Children?"

Again as I continue on my marathon of the great Australian soap opera *Prisoner *(Prisoner: Cell Block H), I noticed “Top Dog” Bea Smith will be talking to the other prisoners and of course they have to tell their backstory. So one of the other prisoners will say “So Bea do you have any kids”? And usually she’ll say "Yes, I have a daughter, Debbie. Part of the story is that Bea was inside when her daughter Debbie got hooked on drugs and OD from them. That’s why she hates drugs and pushers.

Once in a great while Bea Smith will say, “I had a daughter but she died,” but usually she won’t say anything, but “Yes, I have a daughter.”

Then of course the other characters have to explain that Bea’s daughter died, etc etc

OK I see how this is important to the plot of a TV show, but what what about in real life?

Does anyone know anyone who has had a child that died and if so how do they answer the causal question, “Do you have any children?” Do they usually include the dead children? Do they provide the additional information about the child’s demise

This is a question that has sort of come up in my family - my youngest sister died when she was four. It depends on the situation, but I might say I had four sisters or three sisters, depending on the context (how many siblings do you have? Three sisters. How many kids were in your family? Five girls.*) My mom would answer likewise, I’m pretty sure - she gave birth to five girls, but she has four daughters. How many children she has is a different question than how many children she had.

*If anyone has ever noticed the discrepancy in my answers here in this regard, that’s why.

I lost my only child and have a hard time with this. I want to acknowledge my daughter because saying no feels like I’m denying her. If I say I had a daughter then I either get the uncomfortable looks and “I’m sorry” or questions I really don’t feel like answering. It usually depends on who the person asking is, why they’re asking and the mood I’m in.

When someone asks how many children my parents have, my two deceased siblings are included in the count. I include them in my count of siblings as well.

For a casual question, this is a casual answer. That they are no longer with us can come out if/when the conversation goes in a direction that makes it appropriate.

I read the blog of someone whose third child died and she has specifically mentioned this as a difficult issue. It’s often a casual inquiry from other parents and she doesn’t like to bring the conversation from casual to suddenly dark and difficult (or cry in front of someone she hardly knows), but she doesn’t want to ignore her son’s existence by not mentioning him.

A casual acquaintance recently said, “I have one son that lives in town, and one daughter that is in heaven.”

Probably too maudlin for some people, but it answered the question without ambiguity.


My sister died in a car accident almost 30 years ago, and I still feel this way when people ask me about my siblings. I can usually skip her if they just ask about siblings in general, but if they specifically ask me if I have any sisters, I get all anxious. Saying “yes, but she’s dead” definitely brings the conversation to an awkward point, but if I say “no” then I feel like I’m negating her whole existence and that makes me sad.

Pretty sure my Mom always counts her, but my Mom’s the type that can talk about death/illness/etc without batting an eye or having it bring her down.

A woman once responded to that question from me with “eleven, nine alive”.

Wordsworth dealt with this issue a couple of hundred years ago.

This is a very tricky question for me personally. I lost two daughters in infancy. One in 1985 in a car accident when she was just past her first birthday and one in 1989 -4 days after she was born, from a birth defect. It’s a horrible sad subject for me and because talking about the deaths of my daughters is likely to make me somewhat emotional, I don’t usually bring it up in casual conversation. If someone I’ve just met wants to know how many children I have I say 1 because I have one daughter who’s alive. If I get to know someone well enough that I feel like sharing my personal history then I’ll mention that I had two daughters that died. It’s a very emotional issue and one that I don’t address in casual conversation.

It’s weird, the few times I’ve responded like the woman mentioned above, “3 daughters, 1 living” it seems too cavalier a response given the depth of my feelings on the subject and the enormous impact those events had on my life.

ETA - It’s more of a momentary denial of the feelings associated with their deaths than a denial of their existence.

It’s not easy. It’s painful, so you don’t want to get into it with everyone, but also you don’t want to deny your child’s existence, even it it was just brief, as in the case of our first son.

I echo the “It depends” responses above - our second child was stillborn, and most of the time now (4 years on) I will say we just have the two (my son was born almost two years ago), but if I trust the person I’ll talk about Zoe, or sometimes if the conversation goes to a place where to avoid her would require denying her existence (e.g. why there is a 3.5 year gap between the two living children) I’ll even tell complete strangers.


I’m a big fan of telling people what they need to know, even if it’s not the whole truth. While it does bother me to ignore my older son, I’m not very comfortable receiving sympathy and I certainly don’t like the kid-gloves treatment that seems to follow. Hell, I have close friends who don’t even know, and while I wouldn’t lie about it if confronted, I’m not going to be the first one to talk about it, either. Besides, I remember my son, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what matters.

For infants? Privately. As **MsRobyn **stated.

Older kid to adult children, matter-of-factly.

Not me, extended family.

Personal experience…

If it’s a casual acquaintance, I don’t get into specifics. If it’s a real friend, I’ll tell them.

Ugh. This is why I don’t ask these questions. This thread breaks my heart.

My boyfriend had a little brother who died of SIDS. I believe she says she had three children (including the dead one, in other words.) Put my foot in my mouth when I first met her because she had a pretty ring and I asked about it and she said it was her boys’ birthstones and I said “I thought you only had two children?” I mean, I knew in the back of my head but not the front of my head I guess.

My brother’s friend was making a nice speech at bro’s wedding, and he mentioned his two kids. In my mind I immediately thought “you only have one k…ooh…” an I got a little choked up.

From time to time he or his wife will mention “our son Jacob” but I only see it when they are talking about the March of Dimes. The baby was premature and only lived a week or so.

I don’t have kids, but I have worked a ton of temp jobs in the last three years and one of the first questions everyone asks after, “So how do you like the job,” Is “are you married” and then “Do you have kids.”

I don’t mind a sticky beak and those are pretty normal quesitons. Being gay, I don’t go into that, as I’m 46 so it’s fairly obvious if I’ve never been married at that age I’m gay.

But I always wondered about that, since it seems to come up so much, the question about kids that is.

I have a brother who died when I was 4. He was 16 years older than me and I barely remember him. I can only recall one time with him so 99.9% of the time, I forget he ever existed.

My grandmother is nuts, but no more than she’s always been; she’s 97 and the family’s bets are on whether she’ll break 105 or not. She’s lost any manners she had but her memory is fine thank you much and her health is better than those of her daughters… her two grown-up daughters, that is. Whenever anybody refers to my mother as Grandma’s eldest daughter or, even worse, says “you have two daughters”, Grandma goes ballistic: she had three daughters and my mother is the middle one. There’s “the first L, then M, then the second L” or “L who died, M and L”.

I once saw her rip Mom a whole row of new holes for saying “well, since I’m the eldest…” “no you’re not, and you wouldn’t have been alive if your eldest sister hadn’t already died from that illness you both had at age three, so don’t you DARE forget about her, you owe her your life!” L the first had what doctors insisted was “just a bad cold”; she died. At the same age, doctors insisted that M had “just a bad cold”: Grandma went to another doctor and another and another until she found one who said “pneumonia” and got them an oxygen tent; a nice little man who was very sickly himself, Grandpa would carry him in his arms up the five flights of stairs (the house didn’t have a lift at that point). Grandma isn’t about to forget either ordeal.