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Family Forum: Telling the Truth

Should I tell my son the truth?

QUESTION:

Should we do anything? I accidentally got pregnant 23 years ago. It was a brief fling and I did not know I was pregnant when I started a new relationship with another man, the man I fell in love with. Fortunately, my new partner was very happy to take on the role of father, and we planned to tell our child the truth at the age of 12. Then when the time came, our marriage was not working, we were separating and getting a divorce, so we agreed it was not the right time after all. We have a great relationship with our child, he has loads of contact with his non-biological father. Is there any good reason why we should let our adult son know he has a biological father? I know the man’s name, but he does not appear to live in SA. He has made no attempt to contact me over the years, although a friend did inform him that he was the father when my son was born.

ANSWER:

The panel agrees you have a difficult decision to make. As a general rule in situations where a child is effectively adopted by a non-biological parent, it is advisable to tell them as soon as they are able to understand what this may mean. If the bond between the child and the “social parent” is strong then any adverse reaction may be minimal.

However, if for whatever reason, there is a delay in telling the child until they are an adult, then it is not possible to predict the reaction. The panel believes it would be helpful for you to consider the possible outcomes and weigh up the potential risks to the family before deciding.

Telling your son now may evoke feelings in him of anger and resentment. In effect you have denied him the opportunity to have contact with and get to know his biological father. He may try to contact his biological father, who may or may not welcome him. If your son is rejected he may blame you for this. If his biological father accepts him and they bond, he may still resent you for the “lost” years.

If you don’t tell him and he discovers the truth in some other way he is also likely to be upset and angry about your deception. In similar cases children may have felt for some time that they “don’t belong” or there is something “out of place” in their lives. Knowing the truth comes as a relief rather than a burden.

There is also the physical health issue. Given that some of his genes are inherited from a source other than the person he thought was his biological father, this may lead to an inaccurate family medical history if gene-based health problems occur.

As a general comment the panel believes that the benefits of being truthful outweigh the cost of continuing to maintain a falsehood. However, in the case you describe it is not possible to predict a reaction without a deeper insight into the people involved.

The panel believes you should seek professional help from a psychologist or relationship counsellor before making a final decision.

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

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