Relationship Connection: Should I tell my children about their half-sibling they’ve never met?  

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Question

In 1980, I was raped and became pregnant. I placed the baby with an adoptive family. My husband knows about it, but I have not told my children. I have never wanted this incident to define me or them. Also, when I placed my child, I gave the adoptive parents strict instructions to never reveal the events surrounding my child’s conception. I didn’t want it to define my child’s life.

Recently, my oldest child mentioned getting an ancestry DNA test. Now I live in fear that if my child that was adopted has had a DNA test and my other children do too, they will find out about each other.

I have tried hard to make sure that the heinous action of one man not affect my life or my children. Now, because of a technology I never dreamed possible in the ’80s, I fear this trauma could infect all my offspring.

Should I tell my grown kids on the chance the truth could be revealed or wait and deal with the situation if it ever comes to light?

Answer

It’s so tragic that you ever had to make these agonizing decisions in the aftermath of such a traumatic experience. I commend you for your sensitivity to all of your children as you’ve tried to shield them from the horrors of this violent crime. At the same time, I think it’s important for you release this heavy secret, take control of your story and experience the freedom of not carrying this shame that was never yours to begin with.

I think it will be much more shocking and upsetting to your children to learn of their half-sibling through a DNA test instead of you telling them directly. Even though this is your child, it’s also their sibling, and they would surely want to know this person exists. You were put in a terrible dilemma almost 40 years ago, and I have no doubt you’ve been thorough and careful about how to handle this difficult situation. However, now that all of your children are older, there’s nothing to protect anymore.

It’s also important to say that keeping this a secret also can perpetuate the faulty belief that you did something shameful. The rape was not your fault and getting pregnant was not your fault. You don’t need to carry this heavy burden any longer. You have absolutely nothing for which to feel ashamed. I have nothing but respect and admiration for you as you’ve sought healing and normalcy after such a tragic series of events.

You are at a stage of life now where your children are mature and have more awareness of how messy and complex the world is. The reality of this sibling they’ve never met will naturally be a shock to them, but the backstory makes perfect sense and will likely open up the floodgates of compassion and support for you.

Of course, you’ll want to give them time to accept this new reality and adjust to the range of emotions they’ll likely experience. Ultimately, you will feel so much better knowing that your family knows and sees you completely.

You might worry that your children will then want to track down this sibling they’ve never met. I think it’s fair that you explain your rationale for giving the adoptive parents the instructions to keep this information private and ask your children to be respectful of the fact that this sibling may or may not know they exist.

This will require some mature and thoughtful considerations as they decide what to do with this new information. Of course, all you can do is tell them the truth and then hope they’ll be as thoughtful and careful as you’ve been all of these years.

Even though this news will send a shockwave through your family, eventually the dust will settle, and hopefully your children will understand the dilemmas and decisions you had to navigate with this completely unwanted and unexpected trauma you endured decades ago. Hopefully they’ll focus less on trying to track down the perpetrator and instead focus on extending compassion and love to you and each other with this new information.

My belief is that they will ultimately reaffirm the truth that you did the best you could, that your love and compassion for your children always led the way and that you still want to make sure they are treated with respect and dignity by telling them this information at this time.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

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