“Six years ago, my wife and I had a three-month trial separation. Soon after we reconciled, she told me she was pregnant. I didn’t think anything about the timing because we weren’t apart for too long. But now that we’re getting a divorce, I’m starting to wonder if our little daughter, Sara, is really mine. My spouse, our other two kids, and I have brown hair and eyes, but Sara has flaming red hair and blue eyes. I love her dearly, but I think I have aright to know whether she’s my child. How can I find out without damaging my relationship with Sara? And if I’m not actually her father, what are the implications in our custody and support negotiations?”
You are faced with quite a dilemma. If you find out that Sara is not your biological daughter, you will no doubt feel a variety of emotions that could complicate your relationships with family members. If you don’t find out who the real father is, then your relationship with Sara may become contaminated with doubt. This could easily be acted out in negative ways towards Sara, her mother, and even the other children.
I would recommend that you find out whether or not you’re Sara’s biological father. Regardless of the paternity results, you’d do well to see a counselor or therapist to process the feelings you and your wife have about this issue. Even though you’re going through a divorce, it’s imperative that you work through feelings of betrayal, anger, distrust, and other issues and feelings towards your wife, so you can continue to be an effective and loving father. The counseling should also focus on your individual issues and what the paternity means to you.
It seems to me that you have established a loving, nurturing relationship with Sara and that you have been the steady and stable father in her life. If you withdraw from her, she could experience your withdrawal as a punishing act of rejection. This would be damaging to her self-esteem and unfair: she had no role in or control over whether or not you’re her biological father; nor is she at fault for your feelings about the question of her paternity.
As you work through your own feelings, my hope is that you won’t recreate your wife’s possible betrayal by withdrawing from Sara. The challenge for you will be to remain connected to Sara and the other children while not discrediting their mother. This would only inflict pain to the children. As you digest your feelings about the situation, do everything in your power to give to your daughter and to honor your role of being her father — biological or not.
Rick Tivers, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Board Certified Diplomat, is the co-director of The Center For Divorce Recovery.