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Amy: Divorce complicates disclosure of birth father

  • Article by: AMY DICKINSON
  • July 5, 2013 - 2:49 PM

Dear Amy: After 20 years of marriage, my husband and I are getting a divorce. We have two kids — a 12-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. My husband adopted my daughter when she was 3. She believes my husband is her birth father.

How do I tell her he’s not her birth father? How do I help her if she wants to meet the birth father? How do I explain to my son that my daughter is his half-sister?

I want to handle this with compassion for both children.

Amy says: The way to have a difficult conversation is to prepare by thinking it through and finding the right way to express yourself, simply and truthfully — and then being brave and patient during the conversation and afterward.

Timing is also important, so I wonder why you are choosing to disclose this now. If it is out of anger or retaliation toward your ex during a heated period in your relationship, I urge you to wait until things are stable. Ideally this conversation would be held with you and your ex together, united by mutual love for your daughter as well as your desire for her to know the truth.

He should be involved because his job will be to tell your daughter that, no matter what, he will always be her dad. As her adoptive father and the man who helped raise her, he is her “real” father.

When the moment is right, sit with her and tell her that she has a different biological father from her brother. Answer questions truthfully. If she wants to meet him, help her to find him and play a supportive role throughout the process.

After you speak with her, you should convey this information to her brother, plainly and accurately. Do not emphasize the fact that they are “half” siblings, but focus on the wholeness of their relationship — now and moving forward.

A professional therapist with experience working with adolescents can help your daughter to process this information, along with helping her deal with complicated feelings and frustration with all of the adults in her life. She might feel confused and abandoned, and you should be patient and consistently kind — and always in her corner.

Time to end it?

Dear Amy: A few months ago, I started dating a wonderful woman. She is beautiful, educated and has a good job helping others. I had strong feelings for her but right from the start, she did not follow through on things she said she would do. It started with little things like promising to call and then not calling. I ignored this, even though it bothered me. After a few more episodes, I decided to tell her how it made me feel.

Rather than apologizing and making an effort to resolve this issue, she became defensive, making me feel even worse. I did my best to just ignore this part of her behavior.

The real kicker came a few nights ago when she called to let me know that she wanted to spend the evening with me. She then called to say she was running late — five hours late — too late to spend more than an hour together.

I passed on the opportunity to see her and haven’t spoken to her since.

In addition to what I perceive to be insensitive and rude behavior, I discovered she’s been withholding information from me. They are little things, but it makes me wonder what else she’s not telling me.

I’m on the verge of ending this relationship. Is that the right thing to do? I need a reality check.

Amy says: Quoting Maya Angelou here: “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Consider your reality checked.

Friends forgive

Dear Amy: I liked your response to the maid of honor who was being punished by a bridezilla for “causing drama” at the bachelorette party.

I had a bridesmaid who had a complete drunken meltdown at my party. She was very remorseful afterward. Friends forgive each other, especially when a mistake is out of character. I’d want my friends to forgive me if I acted like a fool.

Amy says: You’re a wise one.

Send questions via e-mail to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com.

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