Tell me about it: Do I tell my children about my husband’s daughter?
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Q My husband and I have been married for more 30 years and have grown up children, and young grandchildren. Before we met, my husband and his ex-girlfriend had a baby who was put up for adoption . I have known about this since before we married.
My husband knew nothing of where his daughter was adopted, or even her name. Recently, his ex got in touch, having traced and met her daughter, who is now in her 40s. My husband has written to his daughter but hasn’t heard from her yet. We know from the ex that my husband’s daughter had a happy childhood and is now happily married with children.
Our big problem is that our children don’t know anything . On the one hand, I feel they should know they have a half-sister, but I know they will be shocked and disappointed. They all have a very good relationship with their dad. Our daughter will be shocked as she’s always been the only girl. I think she will find it difficult to deal with the fact that her children were not my husband’s first grandchildren.
We have had many problems in our marriage but we are a strong unit. I was so upset when this kicked off, I had to ring the Samaritans, but have come to terms with i t. Naturally, my husband would like to meet his daughter.
A When family secrets long forgotten return full circle, it’s understandable to feel panic. Your husband was open with you about his adopted daughter from the beginning but, as many would, you pushed to the back of your mind what was probably inevitable: the search that many birth parents and adopted children undertake and its consequences.
The adopted daughter may or may not respond to your husband’s, her biological father’s, letter. “She has a lot of conflicting emotions to deal with. She may indeed respond but not wish to meet,” suggests psychotherapist Teresa Bergin.
Your own children – whether they should be told, and the impact on them of learning they have a half-sister – are your main worry. “Right now, you and your husband are, with the best possible intentions, holding a secret. Keeping a secret within a family means carefully guarding communication, which can lead to anxiety and awkwardness. If secret keeping continues over a long period of time it can disrupt the family dynamic,” says Bergin.
This secret isn’t safe. Even if your husband says nothing, the children will eventually find out, perhaps long after his death when it is too late for him to explain.
“Perhaps it would be better for all if your husband were the one to tell them personally,” Bergin suggests.
Your children may respond with shock at first, but may also offer grace, curiosity and support because they are grown adults with children of their own and therefore know that parenting is complicated. But you must also accept their confusion and distress.
“They have a good relationship with both of you, and this will help you to have an open and frank conversation about this news. They will need time to absorb and process this information,” says Bergin.
You feel protective towards your husband and do not wish your children to be disappointed in him, but why should they be? “It is more likely that they would be disappointed to learn this information at a much later stage or from another source. If it is discussed now they have the opportunity to ask questions and fill in the gaps,” Bergin says.
Should your husband’s daughter wish to meet, your children will have their own choices to make, which you should respect. Expectations may be high about a happy ending, but prepare for more complexity than that.
Q One of my oldest and best friends from college trained as a GP, and naturally when she set up a practice in the local area, we were delighted to have the back-up of a trustworthy family friend. She has gone beyond the call of duty many times over the years, seeing me through pregnancies and making housecalls when the children were small, but now, with my children on the cusp of puberty and my husband at the age where issues arise, I worry that they’d be too embarrassed to discuss intimate issues with her.
While I trust that she would never betray a confidence, I don’t think the rest of the family are so sure. I don’t want to repay her many years of dedicated service with disloyalty, but perhaps the time has come to switch to a GP who we’re a bit less close to as a family.
A Find another GP. “Your friend will be relieved,” says Dr John Ball, spokesman for the Irish College of General Practitioners. “It’s not recommended to have a friend as a doctor.”
A GP that you know outside of the consulting room can hesitate over intimate examinations, and does your husband really want a prostate check from a woman he knows socially? A GP in that situation tends to over-investigate because there is more pressure, which can create anxiety.
Apart from that, the friendship is affected when the patient/friend gives medical updates socially. If your friend has a practice partner, use that doctor; otherwise find someone else.
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