As a high school class project, my granddaughter was assigned the task of making a family tree. When she asked me for help, I gave her some information — but not all of the facts. What is not known to her or to my grown daughters is that I became pregnant as a teen, gave birth to a baby boy, and gave him up for adoption immediately after he was born. Later, I met and married a wonderful man and we were blessed with three daughters. This is a great source of shame to me and, although my husband knew my history, he is now deceased. I hoped to take my secret to the grave. However, my granddaughter has become fascinated with genealogy and is pushing for DNA testing for our family. Now I live in fear that my secret is about to be spilled and believe my loved ones will never think of me the same way again.

School project complications

My heart goes out to you for what must have been a painful situation. At such a young age, you were faced with making a wrenching, but courageous decision. I empathize with your plight and assure you that family tree surprises are more common than you know. For users of such sites as Ancestry and 23andme, technology has frequently revealed more than our genealogical roots. The databases, which boast millions of subscribers, have also exposed family secrets long hidden from view. If your family proceeds with DNA testing, it would not be surprising if your biological son is identified and, even, that he or his offspring may contact some of his blood relatives.

The question for you becomes one of how you wish to handle this possibility. You have two choices. You can wait in dread and apprehension of your secret being found out or you can tell your family this piece of your history. In my opinion, it would be far better for your family to hear this news from you rather than to be blindsided by an email from an unknown party. Even if you take these facts to the grave, it is probable that someone will discover the truth eventually. Secrets have a way of coming out. I believe it’s best for you to share your story so you have some control over the narrative rather than to leave unanswered questions for future generations. 

If you choose to share this knowledge, I suggest you plan carefully on how to reveal the facts to your family. If possible, perhaps it would be best to tell your daughters at the same time but without other parties present. Your daughters will be the ones with the most questions and the most at stake. That way, you can avoid too many overwhelming comments or questions from other family members at a time when you are most vulnerable. This will also prevent one of your daughters telling the others in a manner that might not be accurate or received in the best possible manner. 

If this is geographically impossible, another alternative would be to use technology such as a group zoom call to break the news. A last resort would be to write a letter to your daughters. I don’t view this is an optimal choice because a letter, which may first seem easiest to you, does not convey tone or allow for questions. As we have probably all realized through the use of Email and texts, it is very easy to have our written words taken the wrong way. 

When imparting such news as this, it’s best to be direct and to keep it simple. A sample opening could be: There’s no easy way to say this but I want to share a piece of my history which is painful to me. When I was a teenager before I knew your father, I gave birth to a baby boy and gave him up for adoption. Be prepared for a host of reactions: Shock, disbelief, even possible anger that they have not known that they have a half-brother. At first, this news may rock your daughters. Allow them to ask questions but take a time out if you become overwhelmed or if the dialogue seems to be getting out of control. In that case, request that you talk at a later time after everyone has had time to digest the news. Make sure to follow up on that. Keep the lines of communication open.

Another option to consider would be to have a trusted advocate, such as a clergy member or counselor, with you when you speak to your daughters. Consulting one of these professionals first would give you emotional support and help you to work through the shame which you still experience. At some point, you and your loved ones will have to make decisions about what impact this will have on your family. Will contact with your biological son be attempted? What if he or his family should contact you? When would be the correct time to tell the next generation? Will others, such as friends or distant relatives, be privy to the facts?

These questions are ones that previous generations may have been able to dodge — with varying results — but today’s technology has upped the likelihood that all will be revealed. My hope is that you will find the courage to share this life-changing news with your daughters and that, given time, they will respond with compassion, love and respect for the difficult decision you made.

My passion is politics and I have very firm views on the polarizing issues facing our country. As a good citizen, I believe it’s my duty to try to overcome the ignorance of so many who are ill-informed or mislead by what they read or view on television. I welcome a feisty debate but I admit I’ve lost a few friends along the way who have not welcomed my opinions. How do I speak my mind without alienating others?

Political passion run amok

Apparently, you never attended the “Great Aunt Daisy” school of manners. My Great Aunt Daisy was a gracious lady who taught me that well-brought-up people never foisted their political or religious views on others. In fact, she insisted that we be sensitive and circumspect in such discussions, even with family members and our closest friends. More is the pity that we cannot send a whole lot of folks from both political parties to the same school today!

With round-the-clock news, the tendency to be insufferable about these matters in social situations is on the rise. We watch political commentators on television slugging it out on a regular basis. Still, this is no license to adopt the same behavior within our social or family circles. It simply does not make for harmonious relationships and is downright rude. If you don’t wish to alienate others, stop talking sensitive topics unless you are invited to do so by like-minded people.

For those of you with strong political beliefs who believe it is your duty to convert others, think again. It is never acceptable to shove your opinions onto someone else. Doing so is rude and is also an ineffective means of persuasion. Instead of torturing friends and family, channel your passion into donating time or money for your cause, write letters to the editor, and gently feel out others to find kindred spirits who enjoy the banter. If you find other willing partners, pontificate away. Just leave the rest of us poor souls in peace. 

Vicki Duncan is a licensed professional counselor and welcomes your questions. She can be reached at [email protected].

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