Q: I've recently struck up a friendship with a guy I lived with five years ago. I left when I was pregnant and never told him. Our son is now four, and after recently seeing my ex I think I should tell him that Randy is his son. At our last meeting, things got sort of flirty again, and I think Valentine's Day might be a good time to get his attention. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: There are so many red flags here; I'm not sure where to start. The most obvious – the absolute insanity of having a child and not telling the father that it is his. I always have to mention a disclaimer when I make a statement like this because if I don't, I'll get a barrage of letters citing examples of when it was the right decision. But, most of the time it's an incredibly selfish act to keep that kind of information to yourself – and the worst ex-etiquette possible. Yes, you decided to go forward with the pregnancy, but a father deserves to know, and a child has a right to have both of his parents in his life. So my answer is absolutely tell him as soon as possible, but don't use Valentine's Day as the catalyst. Do you want to get his attention? Tell him he has a child.
Valentines Day is not a day for exes. Although I advocate getting along after divorce for the sake of the kids, that doesn't mean you must revisit the past, and everyone should get back together. Memories are in your heart and marked by the fact that you had a child together. Once you've broken up, your responsibility to each other as partners ends, but not as parents. If no one has moved on, then attempting reconciliation is between the two of you – and Valentine's Day is a day steeped in romance, but you must consider that there are consequences if you reach out romantically to an ex. Another break-up may make co-parenting impossible, and that will affect your child.
In your case, your child doesn't know his father, and frankly, your attitude sounds quite frivolous and needs to be checked. Before you tell your child or his father, take note of how serious a decision this really is. Once your son knows, there is no going back. And, if dad isn't invested and doesn't follow-up, that could be more detrimental to your son than him not knowing.
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It's time to contact his father, get on the same page so when your child asks questions, you both have the same answers, and make a plan as to how to integrate dad into your child's life. If dad does not want to go forward, at least get his medical history and as much of his family tree information as possible. Your child will need this information as he grows.
Ex-Etiquette rule No. 8 is, "Be honest and straightforward." That's the same advice I would have given you five years ago.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)