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My husband has a most complex family tree. As an adult, he gained
knowledge that the father who raised him was not his biological
father. A mentor-figure to him was, in truth, his biological
father. (His mother had an affair with this man).
It is a strong secret among his family (the concerned adults knew
and took the decision to maintain a secret). Even those few
family members who know, don't talk of it. How my husband
learned the truth is a complicated story in its own, which I will
not go into here.
I wonder: when do we speak to our children (both under 6 years
old) of their actual biological grandfather? Has anyone
experienced a similar situation? How does one balance
discretion and truthfulness? How do you make peace with
deceiving one's children? I know it is important that they not
be informed until they are capable of keeping the informations a
secret, as family members would be hurt by the open discussion of
it. I thank you for any advices you may offer.
The question I would ask is ''What benefit is it to tell the
children?'' It doesn't sound like the bio grandfather is playing
the grandfather role. Why undermine their relationship with your
husband's parents' You ask, ''How do you make peace with deceiving
one's children?'' I don't see it as deception - I see it as
keeping a private issue private. We don't, and shouldn't,
disclose everything to our children (e.g., our sex lives, our
finances, etc.) To me, biology doesn't mean much - it's the
actual time and effort that people put into the relationship that
I think that biological relationships are really overated. A
parent or grandparent can be defined in terms of biology or in
terms of emotional and physical contribution to one's life. So
the information about who is the actual biological grandparent
is pretty much irrelavant to a young kid. You can never have
too many loving grandparents, biological or otherwise and lots
of kids have grandparent figures that are not biological (step
parents, close family friends, adoptive). My point is that both
the bio grandpa and the non-bio grandpa are relationships worth
cultivating, and kids don't really care about which is which!
I don't think you can ever make peace with decieving your
children, so I don't have any strategies for dealing with that.
My guess is that they are too young for lessons about balancing
truthfulness and discretion. So, I would advise embracing the
bio grandfather as just another grandfather figure in thier
lives. I would approach this as a widening of your family
circle. There is no reason that you need to go into the details
with your kids at this point, especially if you think it would
be hurtful to others. All they need to know is that this is
someone very important to thier Dad. At some point it will
become important enough or easy enough or obvious enough that
the information will flow freely. In the meantime just refer to
all of them as grandparents and enjoy them while you can!
Sounds to me like the whole family is living in a fog, consumed by
this dirty little secret and you have bought into the idea that
keeping this secret is important. The pain that people in the
family are feeling around this isn't ever going to go away until
it is all brought into the light of truth telling. And don't kid
yourself into thinking that some of the adults involved are
better off not knowing. This is like a cancer that affects every
relationship in the family. What happened, happened- how is
talking about it going to inflict harm? Sure, some people
are/will be angry and feeling/will feel betrayed and hurt.
But they are continueing to feel this way BECAUSE it is a secret.
Although it is not clear from your posting, I would assume that
your husband thinks of the man that raised him as ''Dad''. In
terms of your children this man IS grandpa. What difference does
it make who the sperm donor was? But do you really want to
poison your children, at any age, with the desperate drive to
keep this secret quiet? What kind of life lesson is that? The
adults need to clean up this mess and then it won't make any
difference if you ever tell your children.
Why do the kids need to know this? I can't imagine what good it would
do them, and can see that it could cause a lot of hurt and confusion. It is
not deceptive, because the ''biological dad'' is not the father any more
than the donor at a sperm bank. When they are adults and can
understand all the complexities of life maybe they should be told if there
are medical reasons. Otherwise, you would be harming them, in my
opinion. Telling them would be for your satisfaction, NOT their benefit.
You husband's father is the man that raised him and the grandfather of
your children, unless there is something you have not said. Do not do
this to your kids, or to the man who raised your husband.
We have a similar issue. My husband's biological father is out of
the picture, as is pretty much everyone else on his side of the
family except his mother. My husband cut off contact with them
when he was in high school due to their emotional and physical
abuse. My husband's mother lives in the Bay Area with her husband
(my husband's stepfather) and our two children are very close to
their Gramma and Grampa. However, we are at a loss as to what to
say to our kids when they start asking questions about my
husband's biological father. We do want to be as honest as
possible, but at the same time we do not want to invoke any
unwarranted fears in our own kids (telling our kids Daddy doesn't
talk to *his* Daddy anymore because they had fights and he
doesn't love him anymore sounds like a very bad idea). So far we
have kept it simple, by telling the kids where my husband's
father is located but we have not gone into specifics yet. Our
children are both under 6 as well.
We don't feel like we are deceiving them because the truth of the
matter is, his stepfather was more of a father to him than his
actual father (his stepfather came into the picture when my
husband was in his early teens). He is now enjoying his
grandparent role with enjoyment and love for our children. I have
never met my husband's biological father, nor do I particularly
want to. Our children assume that my husband's stepfather is his
biological father (and therefore their biological grandfather)
and at this point, it is pointless to explain the difference. My
4 yo is still having problems working out the logistics of the
simple family tree (eg that Mom's brother is your uncle), let
alone the complicated one (stepfamilies, half-siblings, etc.).
One thing that is important to realize is that your husband's
baggage is not yours nor your children's. It sounds like your
husband is somewhat traumatized by the discovery of his
paternity. It also sounds like the whole family is scandalized,
as well. In our experience, if you make it a big deal, it becomes
one. Be frank. You don't need to go into the details of the
affair or the emotional anguish apparently suffered by the family
(I'm not making light of your situation, just trying to provide
perspective) because once you do, your children will get caught
up in it too.
Wait a while until you feel your kids are responsible enough to
handle the news, at leat until they're 10 but probably older than
that. good luck.
Read books! There are so many great books about coping and
grieving, especially in relation to adoption; because, in the
end, your husband was adopted... Your husband probably is going
through all of it, very quickly. By the way, the politically
correct term to use these days is birthparent not biological
parent... One book comes to mind, it's called: Being adopted, a
lifelong search for self by Brodzinnsky, Schechter and Marantz.
Sounds pretty deep but it mainly deals with grieving. There is
also an organization called Pact. They are located in Richmond
and have a website (www.pactadopt.org). They are a non-profit
adoption facilitator and the 2 co-founders are just great
resources for books and therapists. There names are Beth Hall
and Gail Steinberg. They should be able to help you find a way
to help your husband.
Gosh, it just seems to me that the person who raised your husband *is* his
father, for all intents and purposes. Why tell your kids any different, at least
until they are much, much older? What could be gained by it? If somebody
starts needing information for a genetic problem, OK, but otherwise, it should
be presented to them as adults or near-adults that the grandpa they know and
love is not actually biologically related to them, and that ''dear old Uncle Bob''
is their genetic grandfather. Calling Grandpa ''Grandpa'' is not dishonest.
I was so surprised by most of the comments on this issue that I
had to write. I completely disagree with the assessment that
biological relations are ''overrated'' or that the issue
is ''private.'' It was important information to your husband
that he is not biologically related to his father. In the same
way, I think the information is important to your children. I
don't know why ANY of us care where our genes came from, but we
do. Didn't I just read a thread in the Recs newsletter about
agencies for finding birth parents?
And as for how and when to tell your kids, I think open adoption
is a good model to follow here -- it should never be a secret,
but the details can be explained as questions arise.
I DO think this kind of secret silently poisons a family.
Moreover, I firmly believe you have no obligation to keep a
secret that you never asked to know in the first place!
Good luck to you!
I offer things to think about rather than specific advice. My
story is that I found out at age 18 that the father I'd been
raised by since birth was not my biological father. Since that
time I have come to understand how much suffering keeping this
secret caused my parents, and how it negatively affected my
relationship with my (non-biological) Dad during my childhood. I
think it also affected my relationship with the entire older
generation, who knew while I and the younger set did not.
Your situation sounds different because it is a generation
removed, but while I agree with the posts that emphasize the
importance of relationship over biology, I would caution anyone
with family secrets that just keeping the secret can in and of
itself be damaging in various ways. I seem to have suffered the
least - finding out was not the traumatic event you might
That said, I'm struggling with how to break this secret. As my
younger siblings grew old enough to know, I told them. But it was
very awkward to do so (now I see why it was so hard for my
parents to tell me), and I still haven't told the youngest. My
2.5 year old son has met my biological father (who lives abroad,
so contact is rare) but is still too young for me to explain his
role in my life. I want to be sure to tell him young enough and
often enough in a casual way that it doesn't seem like a big
deal. However, it is still a very taboo topic in my family,
mostly out of respect for my Dad's feelings...
Privacy is privacy, but I feel like if I expect my children to be
honest and forthright with me, I need to be the same with them,
no matter how difficult the topic. I hope I will find the way to
do so over the years.
still searching for answers
this page was last updated: Aug 1, 2003
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