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Ask a Therapist: How to Tell Daughter She was Conceived Before Marriage?

Q: What would be the best age/time/scenario to tell our daughter that she was conceived out of marriage?

We are a strong religious family and will teach as we were taught, no sexual relations outside of marriage. How can you get your children to learn from your mistakes instead of hold them against you and use them as excuses to experiment in their own lives? What is the best way to tell her and the rest of the children we have had? It’s something I would rather disclose to her when we choose, rather than have it be something they “figure out” or are told by someone else. Not only that, but I worry that she will think we only got married because of her. This is something I would like to put off as long as possible, but don’t want her to feel we lied or kept things from her. Thanks!!

A: The best way to approach this delicate subject is to first come to terms with your own feelings about conceiving a child before marriage. If you carry shame or guilt, that will likely be passed on to your children. It’s important to work toward forgiving yourself for your actions and developing an ease in talking about your past with your children.

Next, I suggest that you allow the conversations with your children to unfold naturally in the course of daily life. For example, if you’re looking at wedding pictures with your oldest child you might say, “Did you know that you were at our wedding? You were growing inside of me when we got married.” Often, parents think that they need to have a big “sit down – we need to talk” conversation with their child and make an official announcement of family “secrets”. This approach can sometimes be more traumatic than the actual content of the conversation because parents often call an official meeting when the child is in trouble, or the parent is anxious about talking about an uncomfortable subject.

Since I’m not sure how old your daughter is, it’s difficult to give specific advice. However, when your daughter and your other children become teens, the obvious moral issues of your past behavior will come into question by them and require more complex conversations. Again, your comfort level in talking about the fact that you and your husband had sex before marriage will lead the way in the conversations. This conversation is an amazing opportunity to open up important discussions with your teen about repentance, choices and consequences, and how life isn’t as black and white as it is seems in childhood. An important part of the message will be admitting to making a choice that went against your values, that their were consequences, and how you have chosen to handle the the consequences in positive ways. If you’d like to write back with your daughter’s specific age, and a few more details on how you’ve handled this issue so far, I’d be happy to continue this discussion.

Take good care of you and yours!

Send me your love & relationship questions here!

Self & relationship expert Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is wife of 22 years and mother of 4, a licensed psychotherapist, a popular media contributor, and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Watch Julie on KSL TV’s Studio 5, listen on B98.7 radio, and read her national advice columns on Psych Central, and Latter-day Woman Magazine.


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