Philosphical Question (you were warned) [Is a parent still a parent if their only child dies?]

There’s no way to pose the question without getting some real annoyance at me even asking this, but I will … Is a parent still a parent if their only child dies?

Technically, I suppose “no” in that I would say someone “was his mother/father” if speaking about the parents of a deceased child.

Legally, no in that a law that protected parents (for example) wouldn’t apply to them.

But from any social point of view, I would still consider them parents for the experience of raising a child.

I’m expecting a move to IMHO.

I don’t think this is a GQ post.

But FWIW I think you’re basically asking a question about the English language, not so much a philosophical question, and in my own ideolect of English, the question is an undecided one, probably because I haven’t encountered the situation enough times to settle on one way of talking or the other. If I had to make a prescription, it’d be this: let’s call them parents if they want us to, since if they want us to they likely have formed some kind of self-image surrounding the emotional bond between parent and child and why would we want to be so cruel as to appear to invalidate that bond? But let’s not call them that if they don’t want us to, since if they don’t want us to they have probably formed some kind of self-image surrounding the emotional bond between parent child (in this case, a self image that says " I don’t have that bond") and why should we want to be so cruel as to deny them that. Meanwhile, if we’re trying to use “parent” as a technical term for legal or scientific purposes or something, let’s just define the term carefully and then use it consistently.

I disagree. If any of your now-deceased children had their own children who are still alive, they don’t suddenly stop being your grandchildren, do they? If you die next year, does the law step in and say that your grandchildren are strangers and cannot inherit because the parent in between died first? If the grandchildren need a guardian, and the law looks for close relatives first, do you suddenly not qualify because your relationship was severed by the death of the intermediate parent? These are absurd ideas.

It’s probably true that you couldn’t apply for benefits for people with children.

All of my grandparents are dead, but I still talk about them, though admitting that they are dead if it is material.

It all depends on your definition of “parent”.

I would say yes lest the time spent parenting already was ignored.

Since this is a matter of opinion rather than fact, let’s send this over to IMHO. I also edited the title to indicate the subject.

General Questions Moderator

I think so. You’d be the parent of a dead child. ( no longer existing child)
Them no longer living doesn’t change the fact that were are his/her mother/father, and it doesn’t suddenly take away that status. Little susy died, well I was her mother but I still am even though she’s not moving. Doesn’t being a parent just mean you gave birth/helped created that child? It dying doesnt change the fact that you made it.


If you were a parent, you would already know the answer to this question.

Does an artist stop being an artist if their artwork is destroyed? Say every last Van Gogh was destroyed, would we still consider him an artist? Yes, because he created that art in the first place.

I think the level of reaction you’re expecting shows you already know what the general position in society is likely to be.


Yes. Society typically does not strip people of familial titles just because of death. Parents are still parents, siblings are still siblings.

they may not be adjectivally parenting anymore, but still a parent.

How about if their only child is given up for adoption?

Well, since this seems to be a sematics question, the Oxford English Dictionary might be of some help. It gives the following relevant definitions of the word parent :

a. A person who is one of the progenitors of a child; a father or mother
c. A person who has the position or role of a parent; one who exercises the functions of a parent

So, there are two different meaning here. One is a biological relationship, the other is a job description. So, even if your children have died, you are still that child’s progenitor, and thus you are the child’s parent. However, the job-description sense doesn’t apply in this case, since it is impossible to act as a parent to a dead child since there’s no real interaction. Obviously, the two senses are related in that the progenitors of children are by far the most likely to have a role as a parent, which I think is what leads to the question the OP asks.

If I had to say which one applies in this case, I would say that my parents are still my parents even though they stopped parenting me long ago. Even if I had stopped talking to my parents years ago and I lived my life as if my parents had never existed, they’re obviously still my parents, because I just called them that, and doing that makes perfect sense. Therefore, in my humble opinion, yes, a parent is still a parent even if their children have died. Just my $/50.

I’m inclined to say “yes.”

When my mother dies, will I be considered an orphan, as my dad died several years ago?

To hit the OED again:

Orphan: 1. A person, esp. a child, both of whose parents are dead

So, probably not, but possibly so. Still, probably not. Unless you’re 12, in which case, yes.

As the mother of an only child who died at 14 the answer is, you bet your ass I am.