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This is weighing so heavy right now.

I had my daughter with my ex when I was 20. She is 8 now. To make things simple, my ex husband and I married at a young age and our relationship was rocky. Physical, mental, verbal abuse. He had a strong drug addiction, beat me when I was pregnant, and ultimately went to prison for manslaughter. He was sentenced 2 weeks before she was born. So I moved back in with my mom to have a stable environment and had my child. I lived at my mom's for a year and a half before meeting my now,fiance. Moved in with him when she was a year and a half and here we are almost 7 years together. He has a wonderful relationship with our daughter and she's told me more than once he is her bestfriend. My ex got released when she was 3, claiming he wanted to see her. I was hesitant and within a few months he went back to jail. He's been incarcerated the majority of her life. He's now jumping from female to female to support his drug habit and a place to stay. He hasn't reached out to me in over 4 years. He also had a son with his ex while we were married and now has a total of 3 kids who lives He is not involved in. His son actually went to foster care because he didn't step up.

We've never told her about her father and most of his family isn't in the picture.

Idk if she's piecing things together, but she asked my mom over the weekend if my fiance is her step dad.

My fiance, mom , and myself all agree it's best not to lie to her, yet I'm battling so hard inside to have this conversation with her.

What is the best way to go about this?

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  • just a nitpick, but her dad is her real dad. Adoptive, and step, fathers that have regularly loved and cared for a child are more 'father' for a kid that a biological father that doesn't do anything for the child. Make sure you don't use language with your daughter, or husband, that in any way implies that your husband is not her father just because it wasn't his sperm that made her. He is the dad in every way that truly matters and you don't want to confuse her, or potentially offend your husband, by implying anything else.
    – dsollen
    May 11 at 15:43
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At eight, she's certainly going to be curious, and I would say has the right to some of the information.

Many eight-year-olds experience some form of family breakdown, and while it is a little young to cope with the loss of structure in a completely healthy way, it's old enough to be aware when they do learn that things were hidden from them. Besides, as you said, she's piecing it together on her own, so you might as well be upfront.

Also, your family breakdown happened a long time ago, so you have much more room to manouver and gently communicate only what you need to.

That her dad is an abusive drug addict who's been in and out of jail for years is not a good thing to tell her now.

That her mom & dad split up early on because they needed to find other people, that your fiancé is that other person, and that the role of dad can be fulfilled by anyone who shows himself able and willing to fulfill it — these are good things to know. Focus on the status of the relationships, which is what matters to children. "He's not related to you, but he can absolutely still be your dad once he's part of our family."

Of course, being eight, she'll have questions. "Why did you and Dad split up after being married? Why didn't Dad stay when I was a baby? Where is he now? Can I meet him?"

I've found (in my limited experience) that children of that age do appreciate that there are things they won't understand or need to know till they're older, if that fact is communicated with sincerity and respect for them. That said, I would find this part harder and welcome any advice from others :)

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I like Luke's answer, I won't repeat all the good stuff he suggests, but I'd like to suggest a few alternatives at choosing words/expressions which are too long for a comment.

  • I agree it's a bad idea to tell your daughter that her biological father is an abusive, dangerous and irresponsible person who killed someone and spent much of her life in prison. But I would tell her that he is a person who made a lot of serious mistakes and bad decisions and that your fiancé is a much better person. Sooner or later you'll have to offer up an answer to the obvious question "Why has my "other" dad never visited me? / doesn't he love me?" and if you don't want to lie, there aren't many options except to admit that a) you don't want him in her life and b) he isn't much interested in her. And both of these facts are much easier to cope with when she knows that her biological father isn't a good person.

  • I wouldn't say you split up because you and her biological father needed to find other people. I would say you needed to split up because he wasn't a good enough person and you wanted her dad (fiancé...) to be a really good one (good role models etc)

  • I would not talk about "dad" when talking about the biological father. The dad is the person who is actually here to take care of her and raise her. This is what counts. I also wouldn't say that the fiancé "is not related to you", because while no DNA is shared, if I understood correctly, he's been your daughters de-facto father for as long as she remembers. I would say nothing that diminishes this or even hints at the fact that her biological father is somehow in a comparable or even a stronger position than your fiancé.

Since I suggest that you sail a bit closer to the truth than Luke, when you follow this, you might also want to start dropping hints about who you grow up to be depends much more on your upbringing than on your genes (of course, you'll have to put this in words she can understand, and it might not be 100% true, but I don't think it's a lie, either). You don't want her to think she'll grow up to be a bad person because her biological father is.

Finally, I wouldn't worry too much. You and your fiancé have provided a stable home for your daughter for her whole life. You're who she knows and loves. Knowing that your fiancé isn't her biological father won't invalidate any of this. Yes, she might be curious about her biological father, but he'll just be an abstract idea to her, while you're there every single day. It's not like you need to have a single perfect conversation with your daughter; most likely, many conversations will follow over the years and it won't all depend on the first one.

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  • +1, nice additions / alternatives. Apr 28 at 21:59

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