Q. My son’s bio-dad wants to be a part of his life after years of being absent. I got pregnant at 17 and had a son. His father had no interest in having a child. My son and I lived with my parents for about a year and a half. During that time I met a wonderful man. We have been married for four years. My son adores my husband. He thinks he is his daddy and we have never told him differently. Last month my son’s biological father caught up with me on Facebook. He asked about our son and now wants to be part of his life. I do not know what to do. I had not intended to tell my son ever—and now I am forced to. How do I handle it? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A.Even though this is far more common than you think, the fact that you were never going to tell your son the truth is very concerning—and very bad ex-etiquette. You may think that keeping a secret of that magnitude will protect him, but in actuality, it only complicates the issue and make matters worse.
First, finding out this sort of information by accident can be extremely disturbing to a child so start the conversation as soon as possible. Although you should have been talking about it all along, at 5 ½ your son is just now at an age where he can grasp an explanation. But, before you start talking about anything, do a little research. Know where his father lives, family history, etc. Although you may want to tell him all sorts of specifics and how everything happened, your son will really only care about how all this impacts him right this second.
Introduce the subject using easy to understand age appropriate language. “Age-appropriate” means presenting the facts simply and directly and then responding only to the questions he asks. Do not volunteer more information than he initiates. This will allow him to grasp what he’s ready to understand and pace his own readiness. Let him know that he can come to you with any questions at any time.
It will also help if you have a plan in place for how you’re going to proceed. How often will the biological father want to see your son? Will there be a formal parenting plan? Will your husband and the biological father work together in your son’s best interest? Is the bio dad open to taking it slow while your son gets used to him being in his life? And, most importantly, is bio dad ready to be invested this time? It will be extremely detrimental to your son to introduce dad, allow them to get close, then dad disappears again. You may want to consult an attorney to explore the legalities associated with all this, plus a therapist to help ease your son’s anxiety if you find him getting confused.
Finally, there is another more practical concern—your son’s medical history is different than anyone else in your family. His bio dad’s family may have a presupposition to various diseases that will impact your son’s quality of life. He needs to know that and his doctors need to be informed.
Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #8 is, “Be honest and straight forward.” Get started. That’s good ex-etiquette.