DEAR AMY: I have an 11-year-old son who is adopted. A total stranger approached and suggested to us that getting DNA testing would be a wonderful gift. He went on and on about what a loving gift this would be. (My son does not look like me, so this man correctly assumed he was adopted.) I found this quite outrageous. Amy, we know who his birth parents are. My son’s birth father had 10 children with different mothers and his birth mother had several with different fathers. All of the children that his birth parents had together are in foster care. The birth parents themselves are currently in prison. The only thing the DNA testing could tell us is if my child’s parent of Cuban descent is of native Cuban descent or Spanish — or some combination of those (or other European ancestry), who ended up in Cuba. We could also learn of many half-siblings and other relatives. We don’t want them contacting us or our son. Our son is way too young to deal with the reality surrounding his birth family, and we have always told him that his parents loved him very much, but because of illness are unable to care for him (they are drug addicts, but we haven’t told him this). We were advised by the social worker that some members of his birth family are not safe and we should not allow contact. What he needs to know is that we are his family, and will stand by him no matter what. Now my son keeps bringing up DNA testing. I don’t know what to do. I don’t think he wants to meet family, but I do think he wants to know about his heritage. What should I tell him? What should I do when strangers contact me saying that they are related to my son?
DEAR MOTHER: You are the parent and you are in charge of this process, but I think you should consider letting your son get DNA testing, perhaps for his 12th birthday. I have many adopted family members and I can speak from experience that the curiosity about ethnicity is strong, and important. Even very young children can express this as part of their curiosity about their adoption. This is a crucial part of your son’s identity, and his story.
This testing would be done through you, with your contact information and you should share any ethnic information that is revealed, and then help your son to answer any questions about his DNA heritage.
Given how marginal his biological family seems to be, they are not likely to be in the DNA database and wouldn’t contact you, but you’ll have to handle any contact on a case-by-case basis. Whatever DNA testing reveals about his ethnicity, you should help your son to explore his roots.
DEAR AMY: I am bothered by a father-daughter interaction I observed at a recent extended family dinner. The father and his 13-year-old daughter sat apart from the rest of the relatives, who had gathered in the living room. The daughter was often on the father’s lap and they focused only on each other for most of the evening. The mother has little standing in the family; the father makes the decisions and often belittles the mother. While I don’t believe there is any sexual abuse going on, I do find the father/daughter dynamic inappropriate. I would like your perspective on this.
DEAR CONCERNED: My perspective is that you are right to be concerned. Whenever one partner dominates and demeans another and forms an exclusive relationship with one child, this creates an unhealthy family dynamic, and the entire extended family should be concerned.
You (and other family members) should make every effort to spend time with this younger family member, away from her parents, to empower her with the knowledge that she isn’t alone, and that she always has other adults she can count on and turn to. You should also offer any and all support to the child’s mother.
At this family event, the father and daughter should have been prompted to join the rest of the family.
DEAR AMY: “Torn” should either stay away from her affair partner and work on her marriage, or get a divorce. It’s like me with high heels; I know they’re bad for me and make me feel uncomfortable, but if I try on a pair at the store ... I’m buying them.
Now Flat-Footed Gal in Oklahoma
DEAR FLAT-FOOTED: Great analogy. Thank you.