Be truthful about a half-sibling

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 1, 2012 06:00 AM

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Barbara,
I have been divorced for 9 years and since remarried 4 years ago. My ex-husband has been with his wife for about 9 years. We have two beautiful boy ages 14 and 11. Last year my ex husband had a son which my boys adore. About 1 year ago I discovered that he had a daughter who is about 1 year younger than my youngest son and that [my ex]e gave up his parental rights.

The problem is that by coincidence, my oldest son and I were watching something on tv last night, and the subject was of a son being upset with his mother when he found out that his grandfather had died and he did not even get to know him. My son look over at me and said, "I hope you never do that to me. If I ever find out you that I had a family member out there and you never told me I would never forgive you." I was in shock at his response, but at the same time expected that when the time came and he found out about it, he would be very upset. Their father and I do not get along very well. I have been debating on when I should tell them about their sister but don't know how to do it without their father taking as I am doing this to hurt their relationship. My son will be devastated about this and I do not now how their relationship is going to be affected. Even though my ex and I do not get along, I have always pushed for their relationship to grow strong even when he wanted to give up on my youngest son.
I know that this news will upset my boys, but they have a right to know. Should I tell them, now that the subject was brought up, or should I tell their father about the conversation and let him tell them.
Im mostly concerned about my eldest son, especially because of what he said.
What would be the best way to do this and not make it into a big drama or hurt anyone.
Thank you.
From: Valeria, Nogales, AZ


Dear Valerie,
I'm not gonna say that your son has ESP but he's old enough to sense that this is a possibility. I suggest you grab onto this opportunity. Begin by telling your ex exactly what you wrote here and give him the opportunity to talk to your son(so). If he's not interested in doing that, then I suggest you be the one to tell him. Use the program as your teachable moment: "You know, we were watching that show and it got me to thinking, and I think you deserve to know that....."

Obviously, my wish for all of you is that his dad would be the one to tell him; it would be in everyone's best interest. We have this tendency to think that because our kids are kids -- as opposed to adults -- we don't owe them the same level of honesty. But, trust me, it will be much harder on everyone if he finds out the truth later in life from someone other than you or his father. He's given you warning: don't squander the opportunity. Of course, all of this depends on a child's level of maturity. Sounds like your son is there.

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5 comments so far...
  1. I disagree, respectfully. This half sister is not her daughter and her husband has chosen not to have a relationship with her, for whatever reason. The girl may not even be aware of her biological father or that she has siblings. I don't think it's this mother's place to tell her son about this. I'm all for honesty with your kids, but this is something the boy's father needs to decide as this is about HIM, not the ex-wife/mother of the son giving ultimatums.

    Posted by T's Mummy March 1, 12 10:24 AM
  1. It's not really about the half-sister; it's about mom maintaining a good relationship with her teenage son. Finding out years down the road that mom kept a secret of this magnitude from him could/will damage the relationship. Why should mom keep a secret and risk hurting her son just to protect an ex-husband who won't step up and do the right thing himself?

    The boy most likely will find out eventually. Better to find out from mom now than be blindsided later.

    Posted by Dawn March 1, 12 02:42 PM
  1. I agree with Dawn. The stakes here are just too high for mom. It's all fine to talk about how the ex has a right to keep his information to himself and not tell his son; but the son has flat-out told mom here that he would be furious and her relationship with her own son would suffer dramatically if she kept such a secret. The ex's "right" to keep it all quiet doesn't trump the family relationship here.

    Posted by jjlen March 1, 12 10:21 PM
  1. @T's Mummy - Whether or not there is, or will ever be, a relationship between the half-siblings is immaterial. The fact of the matter is that this child has a half-sister and at least has a right to know of her existence. No one is suggesting that this family, or the father, build a relationship with *her*. But to not let your children know about half-siblings is absolutely dishonest and will cause problems down the line.

    An interesting anecdote about this: Many years ago, a friend of mine met a girl at a party. They hit it off and began a physical and emotional relationship. What they discovered as they were starting to learn more about one another is that they were, in fact, half siblings with a family dynamic much the one that the OP describes here. My friend's mum and his dad never got along well, the father had a child he relinquished parental rights to, both parents knew about the daughter but neither thought it important to tell my friend because there was no "relationship" there between the father and daughter.

    See how well that worked out? Obviously, they were horrified when they found out what their relationship actually was - genetic. They're no longer friends and haven't been since the discovery, but at the time, neither one of them was inclined to forgive their parents for never letting the other know of their existence.

    Sure, it's like something out of a movie (and a bad one at that), but these are the things we never consider as parents when we lie by omission to our kids. So, t's Mummy - is that what you really would want for this OP because of the adult's immaturity and sensitivities involved?


    Posted by Stop Lying to Your Kids March 2, 12 08:11 AM
  1. Guys, the question here isn't "tell him or don't tell him." It's "should the LW tell him or should the dad?" The LW should absolutely insist that dad be the one to tell him, and follow up to make sure he did. If he doesn't, then the LW will have to do it.

    Posted by geocool March 2, 12 10:22 AM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. I disagree, respectfully. This half sister is not her daughter and her husband has chosen not to have a relationship with her, for whatever reason. The girl may not even be aware of her biological father or that she has siblings. I don't think it's this mother's place to tell her son about this. I'm all for honesty with your kids, but this is something the boy's father needs to decide as this is about HIM, not the ex-wife/mother of the son giving ultimatums.

    Posted by T's Mummy March 1, 12 10:24 AM
  1. It's not really about the half-sister; it's about mom maintaining a good relationship with her teenage son. Finding out years down the road that mom kept a secret of this magnitude from him could/will damage the relationship. Why should mom keep a secret and risk hurting her son just to protect an ex-husband who won't step up and do the right thing himself?

    The boy most likely will find out eventually. Better to find out from mom now than be blindsided later.

    Posted by Dawn March 1, 12 02:42 PM
  1. I agree with Dawn. The stakes here are just too high for mom. It's all fine to talk about how the ex has a right to keep his information to himself and not tell his son; but the son has flat-out told mom here that he would be furious and her relationship with her own son would suffer dramatically if she kept such a secret. The ex's "right" to keep it all quiet doesn't trump the family relationship here.

    Posted by jjlen March 1, 12 10:21 PM
  1. @T's Mummy - Whether or not there is, or will ever be, a relationship between the half-siblings is immaterial. The fact of the matter is that this child has a half-sister and at least has a right to know of her existence. No one is suggesting that this family, or the father, build a relationship with *her*. But to not let your children know about half-siblings is absolutely dishonest and will cause problems down the line.

    An interesting anecdote about this: Many years ago, a friend of mine met a girl at a party. They hit it off and began a physical and emotional relationship. What they discovered as they were starting to learn more about one another is that they were, in fact, half siblings with a family dynamic much the one that the OP describes here. My friend's mum and his dad never got along well, the father had a child he relinquished parental rights to, both parents knew about the daughter but neither thought it important to tell my friend because there was no "relationship" there between the father and daughter.

    See how well that worked out? Obviously, they were horrified when they found out what their relationship actually was - genetic. They're no longer friends and haven't been since the discovery, but at the time, neither one of them was inclined to forgive their parents for never letting the other know of their existence.

    Sure, it's like something out of a movie (and a bad one at that), but these are the things we never consider as parents when we lie by omission to our kids. So, t's Mummy - is that what you really would want for this OP because of the adult's immaturity and sensitivities involved?


    Posted by Stop Lying to Your Kids March 2, 12 08:11 AM
  1. Guys, the question here isn't "tell him or don't tell him." It's "should the LW tell him or should the dad?" The LW should absolutely insist that dad be the one to tell him, and follow up to make sure he did. If he doesn't, then the LW will have to do it.

    Posted by geocool March 2, 12 10:22 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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