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Grandson Just Learned about His "Real" Father

QUESTION: My son and his wife are divorced, and my son has chosen not to see his children for over two years now. We use his visitation rights. My 11-year-old grandson recently found out that my son was not his biological father. He never knew another Dad other than my son. The "real" father died of a kidney disease, and so my grandson had to be tested. He now has met his other grandparents and knows he has a half-brother. We are trying everything to reassure him nothing has changed as far as we are concerned. We love this child as much as we love our other two grandsons. Suggestions?

ANSWER: At this point, it is likely not a matter of love, but a matter of truth. Your grandson has a right to know the reality of his biological origins, and now, by a turn of fate, he does. Naturally, he is experiencing many feelings right now, no doubt including a sense of betrayal.

The good news is that essential pieces of the puzzle have been brought forward. But it will be his job, with time and support, to put them together into a meaningful picture. But do not despair! Rest assured that your constant and unchanging love provides a powerful source of security that endures and helps him come to terms with this new information. Your love is part of the backbone of his family heritage, which will help him through this tumultuous period. He will also learn more deeply that family bonds are determined not by genetics, but by the commitment taken to love and care for someone.

Consider the following suggestions to help you on your journey:

  1. Speak with your grandson's mother about how you can be helpful. Make yourself available as a sounding board, if appropriate and as a source of comfort for the family. Follow her lead in helping your grandson accept and deal with the truth. But stop short of accepting any arrangement that suggests you avoid addressing this situation.

  2. Make room for feelings, however "negative" they may be. Accept your grandson's "unpopular" feelings, and encourage your grandson's mother to do so as well. Anger, sadness, and confusion will likely be part of what your grandson feels as he integrates the truth. Statements that reflect his feelings -- such as "You have a right to be upset" or "I understand how you could feel betrayed" -- will allow him to process rather than repress powerful emotions. Validating his feelings, rather than explaining why he was not told, should be paramount. Explaining why the truth was kept from him will have its place, but should not suppress expression of his feelings at this time.

  3. Consider family counseling to discuss this powerful family event. Suggest several family counseling sessions to help the family address this powerful event. It is a family affair, not merely an individual one. Your grandson should not be handling it on his own, but in the context of your loving support. Let him know you are all in this together. Make yourself available for a family session, if appropriate.

  4. Be patient. Healing will come with time. Your grandson will have different reactions over the course of his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Do not expect this all to be over at once. Instead, continue to express your love. He will see that you remain, as always, his family. Encourage his curiosity, but do not force information on him. Answer his questions honestly when he asks you for information. And be willing to recognize that withholding this information was a mistake.

Consider, too, that this family is now willing to face -- rather than run away from -- the truth. After all, the charade could have continued, with a lie about the kidney test, further delaying much-needed resolution. Perhaps this family is ready to deal with this information now and strengthen its bonds.

Your grandson is on the threshold of adolescence. The task of his teenage years is to find his true identity. Making knowledge about his biological roots available to him is not only timely, but essential to his growth. The old adage "The truth will set you free" is sage advice!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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