Telling a Step-Child that You are Not Her Real Parent; What to Teach Our Children About Other Religions
Jan 8, 1996
How, and when, do you tell a child you are her STEP-father, not her father? My wife's daughter (from a previous liaison, not marriage) is almost eight. My mother told me my "father" was my step-father when I was 12, and it turned my world upside down.
R.M. from New York
I spoke with a friend of mine who is a child-adoption professional. She had a number of things to say about this issue that made a lot of sense to me. The paramount issue, of course, is a child's confidence that she is loved, and the child's trust in her step-parent and parent or foster parents.
At first I thought that it might be better to wait until a child is twenty-one to tell her, so that she can have an experience of being raised by what she thinks are her parents. My friend pointed out to me that telling a child when she's an adult will still cause her to feel that her step-parent and parent kept something from her -- the "you should have told me" reaction.
My friend suggested telling the child as soon as possible. She mentioned examples where the child was informed as early as three years old. Children are less aware and more accepting at that early age. It gives them time to get used to the idea without devastating them. The trust issue is also taken care of. Your wife's child is almost eight, which is better than waiting until twelve, or her teens, when her emotions become even more tender and confused.
The critical factor is how you tell her. My friend stated that one method that has been used successfully with step-children is to tell the child (with lots of love), "I married your mother because I love her and because I love you! I really wanted to be your daddy, because you're so wonderful. Because of you, I can be a daddy. You're very special to me."
With this kind of approach, the child doesn't feel that she's just extra baggage along for the ride. Instead, she feels that you, her step-parent, directly love her, and married her mom partly because she was the daughter. Although she may never be able to forget that her physical father left her, your love for her will be her great solace.
What should we teach our children about other people's religion?
Carole, from Richmond
Answering this question is in itself controversial, because there are different religious beliefs about this issue. Some people believe that all other religions except their own are invalid (or worse). This belief has lead to religious wars and untold human suffering.
We should teach our children to respect other's beliefs and their right to believe the way that they do. Religious freedom is an intrinsic right. Ultimately, religious belief is between God and each person.
Ordinarily, I prefer to stay away from denominational debate in this column. This particular question, however, deserves an answer -- for it should be everyone's desire to build a harmonious "world of heart." Persecution of other religions will never get us there.
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”
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