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I have said this before but it’s worth repeating. Almost 40% of the questions I get from parents deal with a broken family: divorce, custody, a father who has never met the child or left when the child was very young and now wants re-entry into the child’s life plus variations on these themes. (Yes, occasionally mothers leave their children, often die to drugs or mental illness, and then wish to return) This troubles me because children need and deserve a stable family in which to grow up and thrive.
Example from a mother: “I recently reconnected with my 7-year-old daughter’s father, who has never been in her life since day one. He was not aware of my being pregnant 8 years ago. He handled the fact that he has a daughter very well and is eager to establish a strong relationship with her as well as to reestablish our own relationship. I am fearful of rushing this but do not know the best way to handle this situation. My daughter will absolutely latch on to him very quickly as she has felt a void for a long time… she latches onto a male friend or family member with fondness. We are very excited but I want to make sure we do this right.”
On the surface this seemed like the ending to a happy movie . How wonderful that this little girl could finally meet her father and that he WANTS to see her! A child who grows up without a father in the home longs for a father and wonders why he or she doesn’t have one even if the child does not speak of it…or does not seek out male figures as this child did.
But the letter was disturbing. The father wanted to connect with the daughter he did not know existed AND was interested in re-establishing a relationship with the mother. But eight years have gone by. I can infer that the relationship back then was neither long-standing nor solid. The mother has no idea how this man has changed, what sort of person he is now, or what kind of father he will be.
In my answer I begged the mother to separate her daughter’s needs from her own. This man will always be her father, he may or not be become or continue to be the mother’s love interest. I am pretty sure the mother cannot help fantasizing how great it would be if, at long last, her daughter had a father, she had a partner, and they all lived happily after in a pretty house with a picket fence.
I urged her for her daughter’s sake to not date this man until she the daughter has a chance to get to know her father as a father, not her mother’s boyfriend who may or may not stay in her life. If a Hollywood ending is meant to be, waiting six months more before dating is a small price to pay.
I suggested introducing the daughter to her father in a public place like a restaurant. And to meet in public places with both parents present for the first few visits. This little girl has a lot to process so I advised the mother to take things slowly.
The mother did not ask about this but I advised her to be ready to answer the child’s many questions which would arise immediately or bubble up at a later time. The daughter will have questions about why her mother did not tell this man about her. And the mother would have to prepare herself for some resentment.
How do you tell a seven-year-old child about what I assume was casual sex? Ticklish, difficult questions like this deserve a truthful answer but this answer must be tempered with an understanding of the child’s developmental age. By the time a child is 7, the mother should have answered all questions about sex (and brought the subject up herself if perchance the child did not). So the child knows where babies come from and how a baby is started.
The mother will one day have to explain why she did not tell the man about her pregnancy. I can only conjecture what the reason was but I assume it has to do with being young and I also assume the mother will have to tell her daughter and the father that it was wrong.
But people do wrong things all the time. When you realize an act of yours was wrong you apologize and ask for forgiveness. I won’t hurt to emphasize contraception and put in a word for avoiding casual sex.
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