Should I tell my adult daughter that her father may not be the man she has always called Dad?
I am not sure who the father of my daughter is. And I am not sure whether to tell her. She is in her 30s, and mother to a young boy. I was glad she had a boy, as it broke the rather toxic motherdaughter thread in my family. All the women seem to have hated their mothers, as far back as I know about.
My first husband was serially unfaithful, and it was at this time that I had sex with a friend of his (I’m not proud of this). When I got home, my husband forced me to have sex with him. That was the night my daughter was conceived. I divorced my first husband when she was a toddler, so she didn’t grow up with him.
My daughter and I had a fraught relationship, as I did with my mother. Both of us have worked really hard on it, and are now very appreciative of one another, and I think we are pretty honest with each other. Since having her son, she understands a lot more about the complexities of motherhood and has admitted as much to me. She had postnatal depression, and this also brought us closer together, as I have tried to be there for her and her lovely husband. She is having psychotherapy, which is great. Like me, she has always wanted to understand herself better, and become better herself.
We are talking about her childhood, about family heritage. Do I tell her that the man she has always called Dad may not be her father? She has a rather difficult relationship with him – he has always disappointed her and has not been there for her.
The other man had anxiety and depression that she might have inherited. But I have no idea where he is, or what his situation is. He was married and had a son, who is a few years older than my daughter. He got divorced not long after I divorced my first husband. He did come to see me once and asked if my daughter was his, but I told him it was best to leave things as they were, with her thinking my ex-husband was her father.
All things considered, I am incredibly grateful that we have as good a relationship as we do. But I recognise that it is fragile and can easily be broken.
I would welcome your thoughts on this. It has been bubbling under for ages, but now that she is in therapy, would it be useful to her to know?
Your much longer letter had a lot of information about your tumultuous life and I am pleased that you have got to where you are, especially with regard to the positive relationship you now have with your daughter. But you are right, what it boils down to is: do you tell her or not? If you don’t, you have to be absolutely sure she won’t find out some other way. If you do, you need to carefully manage how you tell her so as not to potentially damage a relationship you have both worked hard on.
I am a big fan of talking therapy, but especially so in this case: I strongly recommend you book yourself some sessions to talk this through so that if you do tell her, you do it in the best way possible and the first time you say this out loud isn’t to
Therapy doesn’t have to be expensive, and some places offer it free: ask locally and check out the link below.
Nicola McCarry, a family psychotherapist (www.aft.org.uk), came up with some things for you to think about. “Experience has taught me that it’s really important for children to know their heritage. If you knew who the father was – and I realise you don’t at this stage – it would be important to tell your daughter so she could trace her father [if it was the other man] before he dies and the opportunity is lost to her. But telling her it could be one of two men – would unburdening yourself be burdening your daughter?”
This is why we think it is vital you talk it through in therapy first because some of the details you shared with me need careful handling. You sound very caring and, as McCarry says, protective of your daughter; but I want you to be sure you are not, subconsciously, trying to sabotage a mother-daughter relationship that is going well, when all you have previously known is them going wrong.
Do you have any clues? “Does your daughter look like either man?” asks McCarry. “Has anyone else ever wondered about who her father is? The facts as you have told them are a brutal truth that no child would want to hear about their conception.”
On the one hand, you told us about a man who forced you to have sex (which is rape), and the other was a man who seemed to have few positive features. Your daughter will want to know what made you have sex with this other man. “Is there anything,” asks McCarry, “which you can bring forward to show his more attractive side? You don’t want to lie, but is there something a bit more positive a child, albeit an adult one, may want to hear?
“You need to think through the risks of telling her versus the risks of not telling her.”
Telling your daughter may expose her to “shock, despair, maybe betrayal”. But if she finds out by accident, these feelings will be stronger still.
If you get to the point of telling her, this link, gov.uk/get-dna-test, tells you about DNA and paternity testing.
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