Care and Feeding

My Daughter Is in Love With Our Neighbor—Who Is Also Her Secret Half-Brother

My husband just revealed that he fathered the kid 16 years ago. How in the world do I sort this out?

Woman in shock looking right, cut off below her eyes.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by twinsterphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our daughter (17F) sat us down last night and explained that she was in love with the (16M) neighbor next door. Instead of being delighted, as we’ve known the boy since birth and they’ve been friends almost as long, my husband threw a fit and forbade her from seeing him ever again. An argument ensued and our daughter accused my husband of being racist (we’re Filipino and the neighbors are Black.)

When he shared his reasons for reacting the way he did, my world changed forever. And I don’t know what to do with this information.

Right after our daughter was born, my husband and I almost split up; I went through a really hard time between the hormones and the lack of sleep, and when I kicked him out of the house temporarily, he took refuge in other women. I knew this already, but I had no idea he’d slept with the young single mom next door and fathered the boy who would become our daughter’s best friend and, eventually, boyfriend. Our daughter’s new boyfriend is her half-brother.

I’m furious, not because of the cheating, but because neither of them told me (I’m friends with the woman and think she’s a fantastic mother, for the record), although they both knew he was the father, and because my husband has a child that he has never supported, financially or emotionally. Now, we have to explain this ridiculous situation to both kids, which will stir up a lot of feelings for them, and the boy, who has been a big, positive, part of all our lives for years, will find out not only who his absentee father is, but that he’s been next door and parenting his other family for years without acknowledgment.

Any advice for navigating this? We should reach out to the boy and try to make up for years of negligence and secrecy, right? My husband thinks that we should never tell the kids and that I’m making problems where there doesn’t need to be any, but I’m sick thinking about him having a child and ignoring him because he isn’t as “legitimate” as ours, as well as his mother struggling to be a single mom when the father lives right next door. I also think the kids deserve to know, and they’ll need all three of us to parent them through the heartbreak of this revelation. My husband disagrees, and the other mother of his child doesn’t want to make trouble and says she doesn’t need anything from us. What is the best way to get our kids through this with the least amount of trauma, and how can my family do right by this innocent boy we’ve been neglecting for 16 years? Should I be this angry at my husband? He says he did it for me and our kids, but I can’t wrap my head around him abandoning his child like this, and how he thinks he can just forbid the kids from seeing each other without dealing with anything.

—Incest Under Duress

Dear I.U.D.,

My heart breaks for you and these kids, and I’m trying really, really hard not to write out everything I’m thinking about your husband and his son’s mother, but most especially your husband, but also his son’s mother, because WHAT THE WHAT. Regardless of the logic behind their respective decisions to keep the paternity of this young man a secret, what these two people have done to you, and to their own children, is incredibly cruel, selfish, and short-sighted.

Your husband not only abdicated his responsibility to this child; he watched his mother raise him alone, watched you befriend this woman, watched his two children become so close to one another that they became romantically entangled, and did seemingly nothing to prevent this from happening (such as, I don’t know, moving the family away at the point when he’d established that he wasn’t going to be a father to his son).

I’m not saying your husband is a bitch, because you don’t need to hear me say that. You know your husband is a bitch. A cowardly, selfish, trifling-ass bitch. You all could have reckoned with the results of his indiscretion years ago. Maybe that would have led to a divorce, maybe it would have let to a harmonious co-parenting situation. But we’ll never get to know that because your husband is a weak-ass bitch, a weak-ass bitch of the highest order. Without knowing you, I’m confident that you deserve so much more from the person who shares your bed, and again, I am so sorry that you’ve found yourself left to sort through the mess these two people have made.

This is not a situation that you can, or should have to, fix or navigate on your own without some proper support. Furthermore, while you know that the right thing to do is to disclose this information to these kids so that they can begin the long journey toward healing, you are not this poor boy’s parent and you do not have the right to decide when his young world gets ripped from under his feet. I don’t know anything about how he feels about not having a father around (so he thought), but this is one of the most devastating scenarios I’ve come across in this column, and I can only imagine how he will react. He may want to beat up your husband, and who on earth would blame him.

If you do not have a therapist, you should get one ASAP. This is a lot for anyone to have to deal with, especially combined with the weight of knowing what these children do not.

You and your husband must enter counseling, if there is hope of salvaging your own relationship (it isn’t my place to advise you on that, but I don’t think anyone would blame you if you wanted to move on) and, most urgently, in order to figure out a way to move forward with this information so that you can put an end to the romantic relationship between these siblings and create as much peace for them as possible. I don’t know a scenario in which you convince the kids to accept that they cannot date without telling them the truth, for why else (short of your daughter’s very logical guess, racism) would you want to keep them apart? (Also, if your daughter’s mind immediately went to racism, I wonder if there have been any past indications that her dad has a problem with Black people … while having a whole entire secret Black son next door. I hate this man for what he’s done to y’all, truly.)

I don’t think there’s anything she can say that would be a sufficient defense of her choices, but you ought to talk to your “friend” as well. Hear from her why she chose to raise her child alone as opposed to demanding your husband’s participation. Again, I am in agreement with you that the truth is the only story to tell the kids, but there also may be some things you don’t know about this woman’s life or emotional state that have to be taken into consideration. Do not try and manage this alone, I am pleading with you. Please look to the guidance of a professional, find a trusted loved one to confide in, and remember: You didn’t do this, the kids’ romance didn’t do this, and you must be as kind to yourself as possible as you work toward figuring out what comes next. Wishing you every bit of luck, please keep us posted.

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I live what would’ve once been considered a middle-class life. We both have full-time, white-collar jobs, and we own a small two-bedroom house in the suburbs, where we have a 13-month-old daughter and a cat. The thing is, we are not financially stable.

Our situation is pretty typical for members of our generation (we’re elder millennials): student loan debt, wage stagnation, periods of unemployment during the 2008 financial crisis, the cost of child care, etc. Most of the time, we manage, and we’re extremely lucky in many respects. We both inherited small amounts of money from our grandmothers, which allowed us to put a down payment on our house. And my parents are loaning us funds to upgrade our very-dated electrical and HVAC systems. Since our daughter was born, I can count on one hand the number of brand-new items I’ve purchased for her. Everything she has was gifted, handed-down, or purchased secondhand. Lately, I’ve begun feeling frustrated and sad that we can’t just have nice things.

When my daughter outgrew her infant stroller, my sister passed down the one both her kids used. It works fine, but it’s grungy even after a thorough cleaning, and the tires are worn. I saw what looked like a better condition used stroller on my local Facebook garage sale group and purchased it for $30. Unfortunately, the condition is not as advertised, and it’s nearly just as bad. This seems like a small thing, but for us, $30 is a lot of money to waste. I just want to be able to go to Buy Buy Baby and pick out a stroller I like for my kid.

I ran into an old friend the other day, and she had just moved to a new house. She was saying that they got it for such a great price, and I was flabbergasted to learn it was near twice the cost of our home! Her house is bigger and in a “nicer” part of town. I like my small house and my current neighborhood, but the thing that stabbed me in the heart was the look of pity she gave me when I told her about all of the work our house needs. She basically asked why we didn’t just move to a nicer, more updated house. Our house was at the top of our budget, and we could never have afforded a house in move-in ready condition. We’ve lived in our house nearly a year, and between being new parents, the pandemic, etc., we haven’t even managed to paint the walls a nicer color. I know that I should be grateful for everything we have, and I am, but sometimes, I’m just so jealous of the people in my life who can just go and buy the things they want without having a panic attack every time. Plus, given how money is still such a taboo subject, I never know how to respond when I talk to people, and they suggest I just get something better than the thing I have. How can I be OK with what I have?

—Not the Joneses

Dear N.t.J.,

It can be difficult to quiet your class anxiety and (very human) feelings of envy of those who seem to have so much more than you, but I hope that a bit of perspective will do the trick.

Millennials make up less of the nation’s homeowners than our Gen X predecessors did at our age, just as the Xers were unable to match Baby Boomers’ rates of ownership. You own a house! An old house, a house with some issues, sure. But that is an achievement that a shrinking number of Americans will get to experience if our economy continues to trend as it has. That you were able to count on family support for both the down payment and needed improvements is also quite a blessing. At a time in which people are losing their homes, jobs, and even their lives at devastating rates, you are very fortunate to have a house at all—especially one that is filled with love.

That doesn’t mean that you must be satisfied by the current circumstances of your life, but rather, that you should appreciate them to the best of your ability. Counting your blessings when you’d rather be counting some shopping bags does suck; I’m not asking you to act as if you’re satisfied. But just consider for a moment how much many, many people have lost in the last year and be grateful for what you do have.

With that in mind, are you currently working toward building a life that more closely resembles the one you wish to have? Have you and your husband talked seriously about ways to increase your household income? It may not be a great time to return to school or to try a certification program that may qualify you for a higher rate at your current job(s) or elsewhere, but it’s not too soon to start planning to do so when it’s actually feasible.

Consider searching for used goods from wealthier households. I’ve found listings in the past for strollers and other high-quality items available for sale at rates that were comparable to what one may pay for a recycled item that came from a discount store. Search more affluent areas on Facebook Marketplace, Letgo, Craigslist, and other online hubs, and look into estate sales as well—you’d be surprised, trust me. Resale shops in well-off communities are also great.

As far as talking about your financial situation with folks like your friend, she is the one who should be writing to someone about your encounter, for you have to be a special kind of disconnected from reality to ask someone, in the year 2020, why they didn’t purchase a more expensive … anything! When those conversations come up, offer that you found a home that you loved that was in your budget. You don’t owe anyone more than that.

It’s OK to be dissatisfied with some of your circumstances, and to acknowledge it. You don’t have to feel guilty about that, even as you remember that there are millions and millions of people who are desperate for a life as comfortable as your own. Show gratitude for what you do have, think creatively about how you can increase your bounty, and do your best to access the joys of the world that don’t come with a big price tag: your baby’s smile, a perfectly scrambled egg, the feeling of removing your bra at the end of a long day (can’t just be me, but that feels like gold). Wishing you all the best.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m young (the early 20s), single, and find myself ardently—sometimes desperately—wanting a baby. I work with kids, and when I’m not at work, I’m frequently thinking and reading about pregnancy and children. Since I was a child, I’ve been very interested in these things, but is it normal to be my age and so broody? It seems like everyone these days is waiting until their 30s to start settling down, and I’m over here thinking I need to hurry up! If I want to have a baby before 30, I need to get married by 28, engaged by 27 … you can see where I’m going with this. (I should mention that my parents were older than most, and that definitely colors my vision for my own family.)

I don’t think I’ll ever be in the financial position to adopt or go through fertility treatments on my own—not to mention the costs of raising a child on a single income. I’m scared that I’ll settle for a partner who isn’t ideal just because I want to get married and have a baby. Not to mention, now isn’t exactly a great time to be dating! I’ve used an app to chat with a few people, but I don’t think I should be meeting strangers with a pandemic raging. I feel like I already have a few strikes against me in terms of desirability (religion, history of trauma, etc.), and now I just feel so discouraged. I’ve tried throwing myself into my work, volunteering in my free time, reminding myself that I barely make enough money to support myself—let alone a child—but I still can’t shake these thoughts. Help!

—Broody in Buffalo

Dear B.i.B.,

It is totally normal to experience baby fever in your early 20s. It may be a matter of hormones, it could be a longing for a family structure that you can design, or perhaps it could simply be that parenthood is one of your biggest aspirations and something that you want very badly in your life, regardless of how ill-timed these urges may be. Also, we are living through a really complicated, miserable, and emotionally charged time that has robbed most of us of the ability to safely link with friends and loved ones, so it isn’t super shocking that you’d be daydreaming about something that feels like love.

As you acknowledge, you don’t want to end up partnering with someone whom you don’t actually wish to spend your life just to have a baby, nor is it easy to meet potential partners these days. But I hate that you think of your religion and past experiences as making you less desirable as a candidate for someone’s affection; while both of those things may make the process of finding a partner a bit more difficult, I urge you to disabuse yourself of the notion that you aren’t easily desired and instead, think of it as being a more discerning dater than most. You require a mature, compassionate, and understanding partner, and it’s important that you don’t forget that, especially when someone who doesn’t have those qualities shows up.

Have you spoken to a therapist about those traumas, and/or about some of the feelings you have about finding someone to start a family with? I think it would be wise for you to spend some time preparing for the relationship (and family) that you want in the future, which may lessen your anxiety about what may feel like distance between you and your goals because you’ll be working toward them. Also, take some time to write down the qualities you want in a partner and spend time continuing to think about that.

Consider getting a pet if you don’t have one. While the process of caring for a fur baby is different in nearly every way from parenting, a pet may provide both a needed dose of love and affection along with the opportunity to flex those nurturing skills that may be sitting dormant right now—while also getting you in the habit of making sure that someone aside from yourself eats regularly, gets her check-ups, and has a comfortable place to live.

Date with intention; if you meet a great person who doesn’t want kids, do you want to risk falling deeply in love with them and then being forced to choose between them and your desires for a child? Work on becoming the healthiest, happiest version of yourself so that when these new people, a partner and a baby, come into your world, you are equipped to care for them and yourself all at once.

It may seem like your late 20s is the ideal timeline for starting your family, but you may find that you’re settled down and thinking of baby names two years from now—or, you may begin exploring some other passions that lead you to decide that you’d rather have a child a little later in life. Continue to listen to the voice inside of you and do your best to honor your desires and your needs. Good luck to you!

For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 6-year-old daughter is allergic to cashews and pistachios, and we’ve taught her to ask, “Are there cashews/pistachios in this?” at ice cream shops and to check the label when buying snacks with nuts. But I think she’s been being a little too cautious lately, and it’s getting annoying. I gave her some Ritz crackers and some cheese for a snack, which she has had many times, and she had me check both of the ingredients labels several times to make sure there were no cashews or pistachios before checking herself. She stands next to my husband or me when we order takeout and will repeatedly ask us to make sure there are no nuts.
She’s also asked her friend’s parents this (and asked to see ingredient labels) about homemade cookies, M&Ms, and even hummus! Her allergy is not life-threatening, and she hasn’t eaten those nuts since she was 2.

I’m glad she’s cautious, but this is worrying me. I’ve been trying to figure out where this is coming from:  She hasn’t watched any movies or TV shows where a character has an allergic reaction lately, so I don’t think it comes from that. We’ve tried talking about how allergies can be scary and have told her many times that it’s highly unlikely that pasta/sushi/lollipops have pistachios or cashews, but she’s still very worried. Will we just have to check ingredients labels forever?

—Concerned About Cashews (and Pistachios)

Dear C.A.C.,

I’m curious about how you all discovered your daughter’s allergy. Was there a dramatic event of some sort? Did she break out in hives and have to go to a hospital? Is it possible that she was somehow traumatized by the circumstances that led to the diagnosis, which have led her to be deeply concerned about the possibility of experiencing them—or something worse—in the future?

Even if that isn’t the case, your daughter may have become aware that some allergies can cause serious discomfort, illness, or even death, which is a pretty scary thought for a 6-year-old to shoulder. I’m still rattled by the allergy-related death of Macaulay Culkin’s character in the 1991 film My Girl, a movie I have not and will never see because of that storyline. “He needs his glasses!” haunts me to this day and I’m not even sure how I know that quote in the first place (maybe one of my freaked-out friends told me about it?).

Is your daughter worried or stressed when she’s inquiring about ingredients? Does she express fear that she’ll eat the wrong thing, or does she calmly check as if it’s just something mundane that she has to do? You can, and should, sit down with her and her pediatrician to talk about her concerns; perhaps the doctor can convince her to relax a bit when it comes to, at the very least, familiar foods. She may also be able to let you know if your child’s behavior is a sign of persistent anxiety or connected to some other issue that may require the support of a therapist.

In the meantime, be patient with your little girl and indulge her in checking those labels. It’s a small price to pay for her peace of mind. If you’re serving something she’s eaten before, remind her of that politely (“We don’t have to check the M&M’s label, they haven’t changed the recipe since last time, I promise!”), but be sure not to make her feel guilty or silly for having these worries. This may just be a passing phase, or perhaps something you’ll have to address as a family; either way, you don’t want to exacerbate things. Good luck to you!

— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My son, like an increasingly large number of kids, was conceived via in vitro fertilization as opposed to the more … canonical method, and I was wondering how and when to explain this to him. It was still my husband’s sperm and my egg, but I’m sure he’s going to find out eventually that his arrival took a little more heavy lifting than “normal,” so what’s the best way to handle that convo?