Q. Re: Biological Father: Actually, if the child was born during the marriage of the mother and the nonbio father, the bio father may have no rights at all. Each state is different—but in Virginia, a nonparent cannot claim parental rights when a married couple had a child during that marriage. The husband is presumptively the father, and only the husband or the wife can contest that—not an outsider to the marriage (EVEN if he is the bio father!). If the child was born before the marriage, the bio father may have rights. But that depends on what evidence he has that he is actually the bio father.
A: Thanks for this update, which indicates the letter writer needs to clarify his legal understanding. Yes, we are missing crucial information as to whether this child is the result of an affair during the marriage and whether the husband even knows his paternity is in dispute. If the wife was married, unless she and her husband were sexually estranged, there's a question as to whether the letter writer can even be sure he is the biological father.
Q. Illegitimate Grandson: I found out that I have a 5-month-old grandson. His mother is not my daughter-in-law, but a woman with whom my son had a brief affair. My daughter-in-law and I have a fantastic relationship and I can't even begin to describe how furious I am with my son for hurting her. It is even more upsetting because my daughter-in-law has been unable to get pregnant for three years. My son and his wife have known since the first trimester about the baby's existence, but have decided to stay together and have nothing to do with the baby. I would really like to get to know my grandson and be a part of his life. I've talked to the mother and she said that while she's OK with being a single parent, she would love for her child to have a connection with his paternal grandmother. I know I need to be honest to my son and his wife if I were to continue my relationship with my grandson. How do I start such a difficult conversation?
A: I wonder how your son intends to have nothing to do with this child. Surely he understand he's going to have to at the very least financially support his boy. I had a letter last week from a young woman who was the out-of-wedlock child. She did have a relationship with her father, but one which was dictated by his still-angry wife. I reiterate, if your husband has a child by another woman your decent choices are either to divorce your husband or lovingly (to the best of your abilities) accept the child. Grandma, you need to have an honest conversation with your son and daughter-in-law and say that while you understand the pain the birth of this child has caused, you are concerned about an innocent child who doesn't deserve to grow up estranged from half his family. Say you intend to be a grandmother to this boy, but you understand if they wish that you don't inform then further about this relationship.
Q. Helping a Military Family: I live down the block from a military wife and her four young children. Her husband has been deployed pretty continuously for the past five years. I know my neighbor works more than one job and struggles to balance work and raising her kids. I want to help her in some way, because she's looked progressively more stressed over the past months. My parents have agreed I could bring her kids over to our house a few nights a week if I'm willing to watch them, and my brothers want to mow their lawn and do housework she might need. Would we be out of line to offer the military wife our services? We don't know her very well, and we don't want her to feel like we see her as a charity case. Our parents also want to make sure we set up some clear boundaries so everyone involved knows what's expected. Should we make the offer? Or maybe tone it down, so we don't come off as weirdos?
A: I endorse your impulse, just not the way you plan to go about it. You say you don't know this woman very well, so get to know her. Start by inviting her and the kids over for dinner. Say that you feel remiss as neighbors that you've never done this, then suggest a few nights that would work. With that start, you can begin to establish a neighborly friendship. Your brothers can offer to mow her lawn, you can offer to babysit. (I'm assuming you two are both teenagers, or living-back-at-home young adults.) If she says she wants to pay you can say that it would give you pleasure to do these things in honor of her husband's service. Don't be cloying, and don't offer more than you can actually do. But helping a family who has sacrificed so much should make all of you feel good.
Q. I'm Not Your Father: My ex-wife had an affair while I was serving overseas and became pregnant. She divorced me to be with her baby's father, but he left her and returned to his wife before the birth of their son. For reasons unknown to me, my ex-wife told her son (and I presume many other people in her life) I was his father and that I abandoned them. When her son turned 18, he sent me a long letter telling me about himself and insulting me for abandoning him and his mom. Since then he has sent me more letters, phoned me, and tried to get in contact with me several times a year. I am married with children of my own, and I ache for the loss this boy feels. At the same time, I do not want a relationship with him, and I don't think it's beneficial to anyone for him to continue to contact me. I have communicated with him briefly to tell him this, and I make sure to let him know he's done nothing to make me feel this way. I always stop short of telling him his mom lied to him. My wife thinks I should tell him the truth, but for some reason it feels spiteful to me. Obviously I've bungled my handling of this completely. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.
A: Oh the tangled web we weave when with DNA we do deceive. I agree with your wife that this boy is owed the truth, and you should finally spit it out, preferably in a phone conversation with him. It will hurt him to know that every parent in his life has behaved abominably, but at least he can start dealing with it. In order to emphasize that you think he is entitled to the truth about his origins, offer to take a DNA test. That at least will clarify for him who has let him down.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. And if you've neglected to tell your kids who their real fathers are, reread this chat!
In a new approach, we’re publishing the chat transcript in shorter, more digestible pieces. You will still be getting all the questions and answers, and we may even publish bonus letters Prudie didn’t get to address during the chat hour.