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I’ve recently found out that the man I thought was my daughter’s father isn’t. How do I tell my baby that someone else is her dad?

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    Please include more details. Is the person you thought was her dad active in her life? Why do you think she needs to know? Etc. Thanks. Nov 27, 2021 at 19:15
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    The person I thought was her father wants nothing to do with her now and her biological father wants to be apart of her life
    – Jellyfish
    Nov 27, 2021 at 19:51
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    How are both of these men currently involved in her and your life and what changes to that involvement would you be comfortable with? Nov 28, 2021 at 7:58
  • @Jellyfish: Has the bio dad been part of her life since before the revelation? Is he a complete stranger to your daughter?
    – Flater
    Dec 16, 2021 at 13:42
  • “Apart of her life” or “a part of her life”?
    – gnasher729
    Jan 10, 2022 at 23:44

4 Answers 4

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I think you need to separate the emotional and biological aspects for the time being. She will happily relate to any parent-figure provided, but is probably too young to understand the biology of parenthood.

Let her bio father be a part of her life to whatever extent you feel comfortable. She will probably start calling this guy "Daddy" without any prompting (the opposite case, where a step-parent can't be called "Daddy" seems to be a regular problem). Then in a year or three, when you judge her old enough, you can get an age-appropriate sex education book, and use that to explain to her how she came to be born and what "Father" really means.

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First, if you referred to him previously as Dad or Daddy or something like that, perhaps you could transition to referring to him as "John" or whatever his name is.

In terms of cognitive understanding of this news, it might help to lay some groundwork with picture books about aspects of genetics that small children can understand, medical science and testing in general, and conversations about nontraditional family configurations.

The way I paved the way for my son to understand that we had adopted him, is that I started telling him the story of his adoption very early on. He didn't understand yet -- that's how early. I didn't tell it every day or anything, but I repeated it from time to time, in a somewhat ritualistic way. As he got older, I gradually added more details. I would tell him the story while something else was going on, for example during dressing. You can't do exactly that, but I think you can abstract from that that not everything you tell her will be understood completely, at the time, but there is a paving the way going on.

Also you can draw a family tree. It's okay to have an important person in the picture who isn't related by blood, marriage or adoption in the tree. You can just draw that person without a standard connecting line. Maybe you could use a squiggly connecting line.

There is a good book that explains to a small child how human reproduction happens, Making Babies: An Open Family Book for Parents and Children Together by Sara Bonnett Stein. I read this with my children and I liked it. I don't remember what the terminology was but I think it might have been egg and sperm, but if not, you can introduce the terms yourself, and make simple pictures.

You can come back to the book from time to time, and when you see that she is understanding it pretty well, then you can tell your daughter, let's say her name is Rachel, the story of her birth, for example:

John wanted to make a baby with Mommy. And Fred wanted to make a baby with Mommy too! Then Rachel was born! Mommy was so happy when Baby Rachel was born. Mommy thought that Baby Rachel came from John's sperm, but then there was a surprise! John and Fred went to the doctor and had some tests, and the doctor said, "Surprise! Baby Rachel came from Fred's sperm!" Do you remember where Mommy kept Tiny Baby Rachel safe and warm, before being born?

This could be a warm way of finishing the story, with a cuddle and thinking about how safe she was in Mommy's tummy (or uterus if you prefer).

I hope you'll be careful how you talk about John pulling his disappearing act, and not connect the dots for her, until she's older. But if you feel sad about him disconnecting from you two, it's okay to say that -- as long as you're careful not to set her up for thinking that it's her fault. In other words, I hope you can find some unrelated reason for him not visiting any more. When she's older you might say that maybe he felt hurt when the surprise happened.

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In addition to volunteering with allot of kids I am a known sperm donor, which means I've donated sperm for women who want to have a child. Some times I'm lucky enough to have the parents choose to allow me to visit the child I donated for. A side effect of this is that I've had allot of experience with children who did and didn't know I was their sperm donor, as well as seeing how they responded to being told. I think I have a good idea how kids respond to this situation.

And the truth is...a 4 year old doesn't care. Seriously, at 4 years old they don't understand anything about biology or how they were born. Their genetics and where it came from is way over their head. Even if you explain that sort of thing to them explicitly they will just ignore it and ask if they can get back to playing now. I know because I've tried (when the parents allow/want it) to explain how I donated to a 4 year old and they don't care, one even gets annoyed at me for trying to talk about boring stuff when she wanted to play. They have 0% interest in biological parenthood at this phase.

What they do care about is who is in their lives. Who loves them, who cares for them, who tucks them in at night. Plenty of kids value me as an honorary Uncle or godfather, rather or not I'm their biological father. I know kids who I'm not related to who are deeply attached to me and kids I donated sperm for, but who the parent's didn't choose to allow me to be in the life of, who mostly don't care who I am even when the parents explain it to them.

To give an example I donated for a girl who has a brother two years older then her I didn't donate for. Both of them know me as Uncle Drew. Their parents didn't decide to tell them I donated for my 'niece' until she was 5 and he 7. Their response when they found out was a resounding 'meh'. Neither cared at all about the biological aspect. My nephew is now 8 going on 9 and better understands how I became a member of his family, but he still loves me just as much despite knowing I'm not biologically related to him, because all he, or any kid, cares about is that I spend time with him and care for him. Likewise the girl I did donate for still doesn't understand how I helped (she will tell you I helped get her 'out' of mommies tummy), despite multiple attempts to explain it. All she cares about is that I come over to visit once a month and spend time with her.

By contrast last year I was lucky enough to be invited to the birthday party of a 6 year old who I donated for but had never had a chance to meet before. Her mother's were planning to tell her who I was after the party, but in the meantime I asked her if I could play with her and we spent the day playing with all the other kids and having allot of fun. Eventually near the end of the party her older sister called her away for a moment and apparently told her who I was, this was not how the mom's planned to tell her. She came up to me and asked "are you my daddy?" and I had to explain how I was a donor but had promised her moms not to try to be a daddy. She looked at me and said in the cutest whimsical voice "but I've never had a daddy before". However despite her moment of whimsy when I asked if she wanted to go talk with her moms about it more she decided she would rather stay at the playground to play, and immediately forgot about all the biological stuff. She enjoyed my visit because I played with her all day, but outside of asking me 2 questions, she completely forgot about the revelation of biological relationship immediately. Kids just don't care about it at that age!

So what should you do with your daughter, I say let the biological father start to see her if he wants contact, assuming you aren't 100% oppose to it (and well legally he could still force it, so it's probably better to do it on your terms). If the other presumed father wasn't in the girls life then the girl won't miss him or care that he is gone. He will be quickly forgotten and be a non-issue to her. She doesn't understand what parenthood really means so even if you told her he was 'daddy' it was nothing but a word to use for the guy to her. You might want to consider using a different word for dad for the biological father then what you used for the presumed father at first though, just to avoid confusion on the labels; though I doubt it would be a problem for her anyways.

Now rather or not the biological father should be called 'father' is a bit more complicated, and depends allot on how much contact he wants and rather or not you are open to that level of contact. It may be safer to start her out with visits without trying to suggest any particular term for the biological father, just to make sure that the two get along and regular contact is something you want before explaining. If his involvement isn't going to be much you may want to stick with telling her that 'he helped me have you' without using the phrase father at first so as not to give her the idea he is going to be playing the role of father, ie a male regularly part of her life, like she sees on TV, if that isn't what you two want.

However, you have allot of leaway here. She will not ask questions, kids are shockingly indifferent to this stuff. I understand your concern, but please trust me as someone who's witness these discussions quite a few times she will accept whatever you tell her without batting an eye and move on. It will not be a shock or hardship to her in any way if you tell her now.

The only thing you don't want to do is wait. The longer you wait the harder it is to tell her, and the more likely she will take offense. It's best to tell her now while she is still very young.

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What role does the person who you thought was your daughter’s father play in her life? Do you know who the biological father is and what role he will play?

You first need to sort out the adults. Then you find out how your daughters’s life will change, and that’s what you talk about to her.

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