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ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

What approach do I take on telling my son he has a absent father?

Asked by ItalianPrincess1217 (11979points) September 15th, 2013 from iPhone

For those who don’t know my story, I have a 2 year old who’s father abandon him when he was only a few months old. He simply didn’t come home one day. It’s been almost 2 years since he left. I found out recently that drugs and cheating were among the reasons for him leaving us. He has made it known since him leaving that he is still involved with drugs (both selling and using). He’s also made it known that he wants only wants to be part of his kid’s life if I will take him back. Well, of course I’m not interested in that. Once he realized I have no intention on being with him, he disappeared again and refused all contact with me again.

I have made a nice life for my baby. He’s never known the struggles of being abandon because he was too young to realize what happened. Around the exact time that he started forming words and remembering who people were (a little over a year ago), I started dating my current boyfriend. We have made a loving little family out of our situation and my son refers to him as Daddy. He is all he’s ever known for a father figure and my boyfriend loves him like his own blood. You would never know he wasn’t his “real” child.

There are only a few problems with this situation. First of all, eventually my son is going to realize his last name is neither his mom’s or his “dad’s”. He took his blood father’s last name. He will surely ask questions. And second of all, what if I somehow manage to change his last name before he’s old enough to realize it but his blood father comes back in say 10 years and tries to be part of his life again. My mother has suggested I hide the fact that my boyfriend is not his real dad but I can’t help but feel guilty for lying. In the end if my son finds out from anyone other than me, he’ll hold that against me forever and lose trust. What is my best option here? If telling my son about his father is the only option, what age do I break the news? And what in the world do I say?

An additional comment: I have not been able to establish custody yet because every time there’s a court date his father is a no show and the judge continues to give him chances to come. So it’s just a postponing game now. So legally nobody has full custody.

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14 Answers

ZEPHYRA's avatar

You could start breaking out with the truth very lightly and in story-like form as soon as the child is able to understand. Tell the truth (obviously NOT the drugs part) in the “sweetest” way possible and be sure to bring out the hero in your current boyfriend who will hopefully continue to stand by your side. As the child gets older, gradually adapt the story according to his age respecting the fact that he has to know the truth. A very delicate situation, but skillfully handled, the truth will hurt slightly less than it would otherwise. The aim is to get the child to accept the circumstances using a smooth landing rather than an emergency landing. Good luck. Honesty is the best policy and will ultimately lead to respect between you and your son in future.

antimatter's avatar

Tell him the truth and nothing but the truth. If you lie it will come back and bite you in the ass a few years down the line and you will end up with a kid who will hate you for not telling the truth. Well good luck…

Judi's avatar

I was in your shoes.
This situation is only traumatic for you not him.
My daughter grew up knowing she had another dad. When the subject came up I never hushed because she was around. I DID avoid ever saying anything negative about him around her. When she got old enough to ask why I didn’t marry him I told her that our religious beliefs were different.
In your shoes you could say that he has a problem with drugs and is sick. He’s not able to be a part of the family. Some day you’re sure they will meet. You’re hoping he gets better.
When my daughter was a rebellious teenager she wanted to find him and I helped her do that. She talked to him every night on the phone for about a week.
Finally she said, “mom, why didn’t you warn me?”
I told her that he was a part of her and that even though I couldn’t marry him I didn’t want her to judge him (or herself) based on how I felt about him.
She agreed and even though she has 4 kids of her own now she appreciates the way I handled it. I didn’t lie to her, I told her the good things I knew about him and I let her form her own opinion of the guy.
The last time she contacted him was to let him know he was a grandfather. He became a self centered asshole again so she cut off contact again.
Lying to her was never an option but I knew that if I ever spoke badly about him, the first time she ever saw an inkling that contradicted it I would be the bad guy and be alienated.
Take it from an old person whose seen both sides. Family secrets will destroy relationships. Take the high road. Have integrity, compassion, and openness with your child or it will come back to bite you in the ass.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

@Judi Thank you! You have fantastic advice and a very relevant similar experience.

creative1's avatar

Ok I want to say that both my children are adopted and the girls know I love them like they were born from me but my experience with a similar situation as yours with my nephew, his mother and my brother has made me realize that from an early age children should know just as a matter of fact. My brother met his now ex-wife when my nephew was only 3 months old and they ended up having 2 children together well my nephew never knew my brother was his until he was an early teen and it was because my brother and his now ex-wife were divorcing and though my brother had both boys my brother was afraid my nephew would see the divorce documents and see he was not mentioned in it and only the two biological children of my brother because my nephew was going through my brothers desk where everything was one day when my brother came home from work. Well his ex-wife was the one to tell him after the isstance of my brother and my nephew did not take it well. He went from being very close to my family to wanting to leave and live with his mother where he then started getting into trouble and ended up in a program for kids who drop out of high school he then got a girl on purpose pregnant in this program and now has a 4 year old little girl at 22 years old.

The point I am getting to if you just make it a fact and not make big of the fact that your boyfriend is not her biological father but loves him and is his daddy from a young age its not a big deal when they get older and start questioning the facts. My daughters are now 5 and 4 and as they become older I fill them in with what I feel are age appropriate things that they understand at their particular ages and it doesn’t take much information to satisfy the questions. I do this so when they hit the teen years and now old enough to know most if not all the details its not a big deal because they have always known and they never feel I kept anything from them. They will know I love them and always will and the fact they are adopted is just a fact and not something that they were lied to about.

So even though he is just two I would just make it a little known fact that he has a biological father but your now current boyfriend is his daddy, I would do this especially if you plan to stay with and possibly marry current your boyfriend. As he ages he will have questions but if you limit the answers to simple ones you know he will comprehend at the age in which he is asking them. All at once at an older age gives them a feeling of being lied to and the worry of who they are because they feel their life was a lie.

After years of showing my nephew he is loved he as slowly come to realize our family never treated him any different than my brothers children and has started to come around but he went through so much in order to get there where if he was told at a very young age it would have just been a matter of fact and no big deal.

trailsillustrated's avatar

I’ve written here before about this. Every child needs to know a biological parent if they want to. My children were taken away at age 8 and told I had been killed. I now live with my 17 year old son and my daughter rang me this afternoon to tell me how much she loves me. Leave it open, please. Life is long, and things can change.

KNOWITALL's avatar

As a child who has only met her idiot sperm donor once, just keep information limited to what HE ASKS YOU as he grows. NEVER LIE to him and don’t talk bad about the man, just the facts as he needs them.

My mom did a great job with me in regards to this, but as I grew up, I started investigating and called my bio-dad, met my half-sibs, etc….without any negativity from mom at all. Basically, it’s already hard to deal with an absentee parent, so don’t make it harder on him by talking smack or giving him too much information.

I’d also advise counseling by the time he’s a teenager, that’s when my daddy issues really started affecting me.

As an adult, I could care less about my bio-dad. There’s a sense of curiosity but no negativity and I’ve forgiven him finally. Kids tend to think it’s ‘their fault’, so make sure when you talk to reassure him repeatedly that it’s his bio-dad’s drug addictions or issues.

adr's avatar

I have a good friend who was the child in this situation. Here’s her story:

Her mother explained to her at a very young age that her dad wasn’t her biological dad. That’s it. So, she grew up knowing this, and it all was fine until around puberty. At that age, there was a moment when, even though she had never been lied to, she became old enough to understand what biological really means.

She was old enough to begin understanding science and she definitely had a rough time accepting that her dad wasn’t genetically related to her. She had always known these facts, but it takes a certain maturity to fully understand the implications. During that time she became very angry at her dad (not biological). And he kept reassuring her that he loved her like his own, and that he would do whatever she needed for her to know that.

He offered to make it legal with adoption if it would assure her of his love and commitment as her father. That was all he needed to say. He never did end up making it legal, because she told him it wasn’t necessary. She realized that he was her dad, biological or not, and never again doubted his commitment to her.

Something to take away from this story is that more than anything, it will be the dad, not you, who will have to at some point really make it clear how much he loves the child as his own. Also, the fact that she had been told all along that her dad wasn’t biologically related allowed her to face the meaning of it when she was ready, not when someone else decided she was ready.

creative1's avatar

@adr my 5 year old daughter understands and comprehends what biological means it’s just a matter of coming down to a child’s comprehension level and as they understand more you slowly add more details, so I think its unfortunate for your friend was never given the information at her different maturity levels and that the adults in her life didn’t do this for her. At 3 my oldest was there at her adoption and I included her in the decisions about what name she wanted to be called and she is very proud of the fact she got to choose her name. But I did take advantage of the Adoption RI additional classes and was able talk to adults that had been adopted and was able to find out what information they wish they had and at what age.

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

Although my mom is still pushing for “what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him”, my boyfriend and I both agree that honestly is the way to go. We agree that after all the great advice from the jellies, he needs to know the truth when he’s ready. And he will be told just enough to satisfy his curiousity. I figure a good indicator of what age he is ready for information is whatever age he starts asking questions about his last name being different. This is all assuming custody court goes as well as I hope in a few months. I’m pushing for full custody of course and judging by the past court dates, he won’t show up again. But this time I will have a good lawyer.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@ItalianPrincess1217 Sounds like a good plan. Please keep an eye on the rebellion or anger issues as he matures though, for his own happiness.

adr's avatar

@creative1, I think you misunderstood what I meant by her understanding the meaning of biological. She was given the information, she understood what it meant technically, but there was a new level of understanding that happened when she was older. It’s kinda like how you can know that there are people dying of hunger in the world, but then, you can also KNOW that there are people dying of hunger… I don’t know how to explain it, except that there are certain things which simply take on new meaning once you mature.

zander101's avatar

It’s a strong choice your making concerning being honest with your son. As much as your ex boyfriend was an absentee father, your son when he reaches an age appropriate phase needs to know details/information about the other half of his bloodline. As he gets older and has his own family certain details would need to be disclosed. Your mom is right…to an extent “what he doesn’t know wont hurt him” however not knowing can affect him in so many different ways and information pertaining to paternity always has it’s way of presenting itself. Honesty is often a route less traveled and taking that route has it’s benefits.

Ettina's avatar

First, do not lie. Even if you knew for sure your son’s bio father would never want to be involved, what if your new husband develops a hereditary illness, and his biological kids would be at risk? Or what if your son needs a transplant or something? Or, with the increasing popularity of direct to consumer genetic testing (ancestry finder, 23andme, etc), what if your son gets tested someday and his ancestry results aren’t what he was expecting? You can’t guarantee he’ll never find out.

If he finds out now, at age 2, he’ll grow up knowing that his ‘Daddy’ is his stepfather and he’ll take it for granted. But if he finds out in his teens or adulthood, it will come as a big shock and he will feel lied to.

As for how to tell him, I’d suggest that you don’t just tell him once – he won’t remember if you do. Instead, make it a regular topic of conversation. You can start by explaining it with dolls or something, having a mummy and daddy doll have a baby, and then the daddy doll leaves and a new doll comes and says he’s the baby’s daddy now.

Also, when talking about his biological father, you need to strike a balance. Be honest in saying he was’t interested in being involved and that he has problems that made you unwilling to stay with him, but also make sure to point out his good features as well – particularly those features he shares with your son. After all, he is a part of your son’s make-up.

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