Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 3 2006 7:05 AM

The Truth Will Out

Should I tell my grown children now something they should have known years ago?

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Dear Prudie,
I fathered a child when I was 15 and the mother was 22. The child was put up for adoption. I grew up, got married (yes, my wife knows), and had children. We decided we would tell the children when we felt the time was right. That time never came and they are now adults. I'm certain I don't want a relationship with my first child but I must admit to a strong curiosity. I know if I told my kids they would immediately begin a search. There are a lot of personal dynamics for everyone involved, though, and even today there is a chance that my first biological child may not know he or she was adopted. My parents and siblings have kept this quiet all these years, but there is always a chance that one of them might spill the beans to my kids. I've learned to live with that, but that possibility aside, am I under obligation to finally tell my children they have a half-sibling somewhere, or should I take this to my grave and let the relatives tell them after I'm gone?

—Father of an Unknown Child

Dear Father,
There are two parts to your dilemma: telling your kids and the possibility of looking for your first child. I sought the advice of Adam Pertman, head of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research organization. He says to think about how hurt and angry your children will be if they find out about their half-sibling from someone else. You should also consider the legacy of confusion and frustration you will leave if they learn about this after you die. If you decide to tell, and I think you should, before going ahead you must do a lot of reading and thinking. Your statement that you have a strong curiosity about your first child but know you don't want a relationship suggests you don't really know what you want. And as you recognize, this information could bring profound changes to your family—it is possible your children could locate their sibling with a short Internet search. This Web site (click on "adoption") is a clearinghouse that can direct you to a support group for people in your situation. Talk to others who have been through this, or a counselor, before you get your children together and say, "There's something I've been meaning to tell you."

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I graduated college a little over a year ago and moved back in with my parents while I looked for a job. I found one that I enjoy and that pays well, and my plan was to get an apartment with a girlfriend. She pulled out, so I stayed with my parents, who discouraged me from moving out and spending so much money on rent. A month ago, my wonderful boyfriend and I got engaged. We've set a wedding date in about a year. My parents and my fiance and I are planning to contribute equally. My parents insist that I officially can't move out now, since I'll have to save money to pay for my share of the wedding and my future. But I think it's even more important to be on my own now, because this will be my last chance to have my own space and because I need to learn a lot of the skills necessary for full-blown adult life. My fiance has his own apartment and supports my desire to move out—we're both old-fashioned, so we don't want to live together. Am I being irrational by wanting an apartment instead of saving for the future? Am I being selfish by spending money on rent, yet still asking my parents to foot half of my wedding?

—Apron Strung

Dear Strung,
Move out! Think of it not as a financial sacrifice but an investment. It's an investment in finding out who you are when you're not a daughter or wife. It's an investment in not bolting your marriage five years from now because you've never had a chance to live independently. It's also an investment in letting your parents know that you'll always be their daughter, but you're not their little girl. If your parents want to reduce the amount of money they contribute to the wedding or not contribute at all because you are "officially" defying them, then have a smaller wedding or put it off until you can pay for it yourselves. Even more important than learning to shop for your own groceries is learning to respectfully say no to your parents when they're standing in your way. So, shut the door on your old bedroom and hurry and find a new one of your own.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I did something I wasn't supposed to and it broke my heart. I snooped and read my boyfriend's e-mail. In the inbox was an e-mail from a woman he'd had an affair with two years ago. We have been together for about three and a half years now and he had promised me he would never talk to her again, but here the proof was in black and white that he'd lied to me yet again. I love him dearly and he is the one I want to be with forever (I have forgiven but not forgotten), but I am at loss about what to do. I will always feel like I'm competing with this woman and though he has made concerted efforts to show that he does want to be with me and eventually marry, I'm not sure if forgiving is enough to save my sanity.

—Wanting Serenity Now

Dear Wanting,
I know it's generally accepted that snooping is an equal offense to cheating, but given the precedent your boyfriend has set, I tend more toward the NSA "Let's mine some data!" side on this matter. The Fourth Amendment only protects against unreasonable search, and someone who cheats so early in a relationship almost asks to be checked up on. Since one quick spin through his inbox turned up evidence that he has been in touch with his paramour, you have to talk to him. Confess that you checked his e-mail and apologize for the violation of his privacy—you don't want the conversation to be about what you did, but about what you found. Then ask him to explain what's going on. Since you don't characterize the e-mail, is it possible she sends a note every now and then that he answers in a perfunctory way? Or did the exchange indicate they are still involved? If he is cheating on you or even emotionally bound up with this woman, it's still possible you two could eventually marry, but you'll probably never have a moment in which you're not dying to snoop. In that case, as painful as it may be, you have to recognize you'll never have serenity as long as you're together.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I used to be an administrator at a factory and never thought about what I brought daily for lunch—no one cared. Now I work in an upscale office, and when I sat in the lunchroom for the first time with the other women, I was the only person who was not eating a fancy salad and drinking bottled water—in fact, I was the only woman with a lunch bag consisting of a sandwich, fruit cup, chocolate pudding cup, and thermos of homemade iced tea, just like a child's lunch at school. Later on, I overheard one of my new co-workers express her surprise that I didn't bring my lunch in a Smurf lunchbox! We're not allowed to eat at our desks, so for the past few days I've been eating in the park and avoiding everyone. I'm afraid that if I start buying and eating salads like they do, I will look like a wannabe. I made a childish first impression, so how do I fix it?

—Sandwich Smurfette

Dear Smurfette,
You made a childish impression? How about the co-worker who got all "nyah-nyah" over chocolate pudding? Did she make up a funny rhyme about your fruit cup while playing hopscotch? Ignore her and go back to the lunchroom—think how much money you're saving by bringing your own food. However, since you're new to the office, and it sounds like lots of people go out and pick up something to eat, do join them from time to time. When you get to the restaurant, if you're moved to try the frisee and arugula with walnuts, don't worry about looking like a poseur. And if you'd prefer the turkey on rye, order it with confidence.

—Prudie