Q: My daughter recently turned 18. Her mother and I split up when she was just 1 and I signed my rights away when she was 2. In 2008 I told my ex I wanted to get to know our daughter. She told me that she and her husband never told our daughter that I exist and she thinks he is her biological father. My ex suggested we wait until our daughter was done with high school so it wouldn’t be a distraction from her schooling. As my daughter’s 18th birthday grew closer I sent her mother an e-mail asking when we would tell our daughter the news. She then said she wanted to wait two to three more years to tell her. My feeling is that my ex will never tell our daughter, and although I would prefer her to hear this information from her mother, I feel like I’m going to have to let her know myself. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: We often hear stories like this. The one difference is that you signed your parental rights away so your child’s mother rightly figured you wouldn’t be in the picture. However, as you have very plainly demonstrated, signing your rights away does not mean the child won’t know you exist, it just means you give up your say about the child’s upbringing. Once the child becomes an adult, there’s no law stating you cannot interact with your child and the relationship you build from that point on is between you and the child.

It’s unfortunate that mom is taking this approach, but she’s probably afraid of her daughter’s reaction, plus she may be trying to protect the relationship her husband has built with your daughter over the years.

But, your reappearance does not have to slight bonus dad. If you approach the subject with respect and not as though you are there to replace him, you may get the support you need to go forward. How well your daughter adjusts to the news ultimately depends on how well she is prepared. The more the adults can put her first in their approach and, more important, their follow-up, the easier it will be for her to adjust.

Let’s be honest, if your daughter really has no idea, she’ll be shocked, and since she knows mom and bonus dad best, the news should come from them.

We hesitate to suggest you contact her alone for fear she will think you are a stalker and simply not believe you. If Mom will not be supportive, you may want to enlist the help of someone unbiased who can offer a neutral environment, like with the family’s minister or a therapist, where you can all meet for the first time. After that — it’s up to you and her.

Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband’s ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of “Exetiquette for Parents,” are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com).

— McClatchy-Tribune


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