Is it really my child?
May 28, 2009 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I don't know if it's really my kid. It's our second and I see myself in our first, emphatically, but the second one, I don't recognize myself in at all.

The second one is four now and I thought I would have the gut feeling I had with the first - 'this is my child' - at some later point, but I haven't. I've tried to ignore it because how do you address a problem like this with your spouse? And there's no glaring, obvious dissimilarity.

When we found out we were pregnant the second time, there was a tremendous amount of anxiety on her part - though things were, I thought, going well and the first pregnancy had been good, and we were agreed we wanted a second child. She accounted for it by labeling it as plain old anxiety/uncertainty and I accepted it as such. But it has stuck in my mind.

How much does it matter anyway if it is mine or not? If I can love it, which I am trying to do?

It's the doubt, periodically, that I don't know how to manage. It can be overwhelming and is hampering our relationship. What should I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (72 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You could get a DNA test in secret, which would take care of the doubt either way.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:17 AM on May 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

The only thing you haven't mentioned is whether or not you suspect your wife had an affair just prior to your child being conceived.

Or, whether or not you and your wife have being undergoing through any marital problems.

It seems likely that the latter is true. Marital problems could amplify your wife's anxiety during pregnancy, and such stress could also hinder your attachment to your new child.

As a first step, why not you yourself go see a counsellor?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:20 AM on May 28, 2009

Sounds like a gateway question into much deeper relationship issues. You should confront your own feelings/reactions to those questions/possibilities before you make them realities through discussions or tests. You're basically saying she cheated on you and run the risk of constraining your relationship to the first child through litigation, etc. if all goes badly. Are those possibilities worth this suspicion? If they are, then the child's parentage is the least of your present worries.
posted by jefficator at 8:21 AM on May 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

you could get a secrtet dna test, but if it turns out that you're wrong, and that is your child, there is a high likelihood that you will (a) feel tremendous guilt at having done the test, or (b)your wife will eventually find out and will appropriately hurt and/or enraged.

could you talk to her about it?
posted by Kololo at 8:22 AM on May 28, 2009

could you talk to her about it?

OMG please don't do this.
posted by hermitosis at 8:24 AM on May 28, 2009 [13 favorites]

I'd vote for very, very secret DNA test. If you're wrong, your mind is eased, if you're right, you can make sure you don't get saddled with extra child support during your divorce. Judges have been known to saddle non-biological parents with child support if they acted as a father for a long enough period of time.
posted by Oktober at 8:27 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

You wanted a kid? You're raising the kid? Kid calls you daddy? Your kid.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:28 AM on May 28, 2009 [96 favorites]

I'd vote for very, very secret DNA test. If you're wrong, your mind is eased,

Of sorts. It doesn't really solve any of the trust problems or the lack of connection to the kid.
posted by smackfu at 8:30 AM on May 28, 2009

You wanted a kid? You're raising the kid? Kid calls you daddy? Your kid.

That's not the issue. He wants to know if he's the genetic father of the child. The only way to know is a DNA test, ergo it's the only thing that can solve this problem.

Contact a father's group in your area, they can help you in the right direction.
posted by unixrat at 8:38 AM on May 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh hells, anon, you need to address why this is eating at you so. For all you know, your wife could have been anxious because she was having second thoughts about coping with 2 kids, but didn't want to admit it because the baby was planned.

Also, I know some people that have no resemblance to either parent, both in appearance and in personality, but are without a doubt their biological kids. I'm sure you have known some people like that.

Also, what KokuRyu, jefficator and TheOnlyCoolTim said.

I think you need to see someone you can talk to about this in private, a neutral party, a therapist or counsellor, so you can hash out some of the issues you may be having with your marriage.
posted by gudrun at 8:38 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

What should I do?

Put your fears to rest, because they're clearly troubling you.

I think you're doing you and your wife a disservice by not talking to her about this. I'm not saying question whether the child is yours, but bring up that you're having trouble bonding, never mind the reason why.

You say you don't recognize yourself in the kid. Speaking as a step-parent I can emphasize with that feeling and even mentioned it the wife only to have her (and my parents) point out how much the kid had taken after me, to the point where it's an ongoing conversation among other family members about how much nature vs nurture affects a child. The point here is that you may not be seeing something that's obvious, so bring it up your wife, that's the whole point of having an SO, to talk things over with.

Either your fears and doubts will be resolved by these conversations or they won't. If they're not, then you proceed to secret paternity tests and what not. But before you go that route, you need to ask yourself whether it truly matters and what your reactions would be if the answer isn't one that you like. Seriously, think it through.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:38 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have never looked a thing like my younger sister, because my parents don't look alike and we both clearly got a majority share of our genes from different parents. You can tell I got hair and eye color from our dad, and she got hers from our mom, and yet no one in my family looks like someone you would pick out of a lineup as a relative of the others. We have quite different personalities, too. Genes are funny like that.

Unless you have more to go on than a sinking feeling and your recollection of your wife's anxiety, you need to banish the thought that it's not biologically your child. It's probably not uncommon for parents to feel more affinity for one kid over another because they share more genes with that child, but you should start appreciating your second for the person they are.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:38 AM on May 28, 2009

I'd vote for very, very secret DNA test. If you're wrong, your mind is eased, if you're right, you can make sure you don't get saddled with extra child support during your divorce. Judges have been known to saddle non-biological parents with child support if they acted as a father for a long enough period of time.

that is cold.

I feel like this is ambiguous 'feeling' is probably more a sign that the OP should find a therapist than a lawyer
posted by Think_Long at 8:39 AM on May 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Again, if it's just attachment issues, you can work on that with open communication, therapy, and time. If the kid really isn't yours, you have the right to know, and make your decisions based on fact.
posted by Oktober at 8:39 AM on May 28, 2009

Secret DNA test and therapy regardless of the results.

How much does it matter anyway if it is mine or not? If I can love it, which I am trying to do?

Your choice of pronouns suggests a disconnect with the child. The child, regardless of who his or her father is, is innocent. If you find out the child is not yours, therapy will help you deal with your wife's deceit and help you treat the child graciously, even if there is no biological relationship. If you find out the child is yours, you'll be wanting therapy to help you get over your doubt and resentment.

Just please don't take out your suspicions on the child.
posted by motsque at 8:42 AM on May 28, 2009 [16 favorites]

You wanted a kid? You're raising the kid? Kid calls you daddy? Your kid.

For the child's sake, please keep this in mind no matter what you decide to do. My sister is technically my half-sister, but my dad has never treated her any differently just because she is not biologically related to him. In my opinion person's real parents are the people who raise them and love them, not whoever happened to donate the DNA that was used in creating them.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:49 AM on May 28, 2009 [9 favorites]

Nthing the secret DNA test. If the kid is yours, let the test stay secret forever. And if not, then at least you'll know the truth, and if you choose to confront your wife, you'll do so with the confidence that you're right.

It is also possible that the whole thing is not really about the kid, but about your feelings that you're just not as close to your wife as you once were. But there is an easy way to find out which it is, i.e. the DNA test.
posted by bingo at 8:50 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whether or not it is your kid, it will help you to know for certain. You're not going to be able to move forward on a foundation of uncertainty.

If it is yours, you can put your fears to rest, reestablish trust with your wife, and focus on bonding with the kid, possibly through therapy. If it isn't, as sad as that is, you will know that you've been betrayed and can determine how best to move on from that. Carefully arrange for a secret DNA test.
posted by ignignokt at 8:53 AM on May 28, 2009

I don't know if it's really my kid. It's our second and I see myself in our first, emphatically, but the second one, I don't recognize myself in at all.

This is pretty ridiculous. Genetic relation has nothing to do with empathy or how well you connect with some child. Kids can be very different emotionally and personality wise even when they have the same parents.

Interestingly, the hormones and stress levels in a mother have a huge impact on a child's development in the womb, so the fact that your wife was stressed and anxious during pregnancy might have changed your kids personality as well.

But anyway, the point is the fact that you don't "see yourself" in the kid despite no "And there's no glaring, obvious dissimilarity." doesn't actually mean your kid isn't yours. Anyway, you should still be able to get a DNA test pretty easily. You just need a hair sample or something.

Freud would disagree.

Freud has long been discredited.
posted by delmoi at 8:55 AM on May 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

You have a lot of people here telling you to get a DNA test. If you choose to do that, please think very carefully first about how the two potential outcomes will affect you and your decisions. If the child is NOT yours, do you want a divorce? Or would you want to stay with your wife and work on bonding with the child regardless? If the outcome of the test doesn't really practically change what you might do, I'd say skip it, and focus on bonding with the child. I doubt that a DNA test indicated you to be the biological father would suddenly flip a paternal switch that hasn't been activated in four years of caring for your child.
posted by ferociouskitty at 8:56 AM on May 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Isn't there a practical reason to do the test? If he's not the biological father, the kid will probably need to know for medical purposes at some point.

At least that what I've learned from House.
posted by crickets at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

DNA test. Just be careful about it. Pay in cash if possible. If it is the doubt that you don't know how to manage, then eliminate the doubt.
posted by taliaferro at 9:02 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I can love it, which I am trying to do?

This is very upsetting. You have some vague notion that the kid may not be yours based on nothing factual, and because of that you don't love it? You need to do something, secret DNA test I guess, to figure this out so you don't screw this kid up for life. Do you think he won't feel that you don't care for him like you do his sibling?
posted by amro at 9:09 AM on May 28, 2009

I'm reluctant to admit it almost, but I had the same suspicions about my second child. He looks nothing like me, but (now that he's 16) suspiciously like a guy my wife socialised with a while before he was born. I went through a difficult patch a while ago and got more and more suspicious, despite telling myself I was being an asshole for even thinking like that.

In the end, I didn't go for the paternity test (tricky to arrange, could lead to long-term damage in my family relationships) or the outright question. I did however start a few conversations to discuss that time in our lives, when my son was conceived, and how things were back then.

The key question: "That guy S_____. Why was he always about the place? I remember seeing a lot of him but was never sure why he was calling round." She said "I can't remember. He was a bit weird. I can't remember much about him." etc, etc. I think if she had felt at all guilty about it, there would have been some indication. If she'd been sitting a polygraph, I'm sure it wouldn't even have registered a flicker.

My daughter looks nothing like her mother, but she does look very much like my mother. My son looks very much like his maternal grandfather, and not very much like me. I think that's how genes get distributed sometimes. If my daughter has a son, maybe the poor sod will end up looking like me.

Not sure why people feel the need to get judgemental about this. Passing on our genes does matter, whether we admit it or not. If we choose to adopt or look after someone else's child, the key thing is choice, so I can understand your concerns. At the end of the day, though, I love my son very dearly and I've made the choice the rest of it doesn't matter in the light of that realisation. And I'm pretty sure he is unfortunate enough to be related to me.

Good luck. Go gently.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 9:09 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

In addition to considering how you feel about the possible outcomes of a secret DNA test, should you choose to get it, please also consider what you will do and say if you are the biological father, but your wife or child finds out about the secret test someday down the line.

Sometimes it seems like the bigger the secret, the more like it is to be revealed.
posted by juliplease at 9:12 AM on May 28, 2009

I take after my dad and my little sister takes after my mom, to a huge degree. Sister has darker hair, an olive complexion to my pale one, a much slighter build. She also has a very different personality, and has ever since I can remember. She is much more like my mom, I more like my dad.

It's weird to talk about, in a way, but I absolutely am closer with my dad than my mom, and my sister bonded more with my mom. I have no idea why that is, if it had anything to do with our physical resemblance, but it definitely influenced our development. What's more, I think that our similarities to them led them to prefer the company of the more 'similar' child. Not favoritism, just... we get along better, personality-wise. We mesh. Of course we all love each other, but there's another level of connection between me and dad, and her and mom.

I think you need to talk about this with someone. Maybe a professional, maybe just a close friend. Unless you have a REALLY GOOD reason to think your wife was cheating, you are being very irrational, and it's not fair to your family.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:14 AM on May 28, 2009

You wanted a kid? You're raising the kid? Kid calls you daddy? Your kid.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim

Sure, provided everything is above board. But the poster has doubts about this. The issue is the possibility of deceit, or at least a nagging fear of deceit.
Suppose a poster had a suspicion that his wife was cheating on him, and you said, "You wanted a wife? You married this woman? She calls you 'hubby'? Your wife."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:18 AM on May 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

Secrets aren't some sort of mythical thing that reveal themselves. If you're careful, and cover all of the angles, you have nothing to worry about.

1) Pay in cash, and make sure when you withdraw the money for it, it's a large enough amount to conceal whatever the fee is. If it's a "night out with the guys" or "birthday gift for a friend", that should be a large enough amount of money to cover for, and a story easy enough to keep straight.

2) Set it up so that they contact you at your work address/phone number, or a free e-mail address. Nothing that your wife could check, or even notice that you were taking a call (ie, cell phone bills show numbers dialed).

3) Discreetly collect a hair sample from your child. This shouldn't be too hard, most new mothers would beg for an hour or two off. "Mind if I watch Pubert while the game is on, you could take a nap".

4) If the results show that the child is yours, never tell anyone. Not your priest, your doctor, your therapist, your best friend, your brother. Nobody.
posted by Oktober at 9:20 AM on May 28, 2009

I'm with those who think that "seeing yourself" in a kid or not is no indication of biological relationship. I "see myself, emphatically" in my best friend's kid. I never said anything for years, because I thought that she might be weirded out by that, since there is no biological relationship between us, and I wasn't even a very frequent presence in her kid's life. But then one day she turned to me and said "You know, I've always sort of thought of H. as your spiritual child, because you are so much alike."

On the other hand, while I see a lot of similarity between myself and my father, he always denied it, saying that I was my mother's child. He did sometimes make me feel like he didn't think I was exactly his, not necessarily biologically, but like there was some fundamental difference between us. He once told me that if I wasn't related to him, he wouldn't be my friend because he didn't really like me as a person. I haven't spoken to him in 14 years. So, I'll also go with people who are asking you what kind of outcome you are looking for: if you want a bond with the child, you might consider Brandon Blatcher's suggestion about how to talk to your wife about it, and counseling to help you figure out where these feelings are coming from and what outcomes you are looking for might be a good precursor to any secret DNA tests or direct questions to your wife about infidelity.

(and wgp: no, it's like if someone said "there's this woman I live with, is she my wife?" and someone responded "You wanted a wife? You married this woman? She calls you 'hubby'? Your wife." The poster has two concerns: one, that the child isn't his, and two, whether that matters in his relationship with the child. One perfectly valid opinion is that if you have a functional parent-child relationship, biology doesn't matter.)
posted by carmen at 9:26 AM on May 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oktober: "As humans, we are capable of keeping secrets."

This is not true. Even you might not be able to keep it.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:29 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Secrets aren't some sort of mythical thing that reveal themselves. If you're careful, and cover all of the angles, you have nothing to worry about.

... but you still have to consider it from all of the angles, one of which is "what happens if this gets out?" It's foolish to act as though that is impossible. It's not.
posted by juliplease at 9:36 AM on May 28, 2009

As a data point anyone considering the DNA test route should consider, unless you shell out big bucks for a test that is admissible in court, there is always a possibility of a mistake due to contamination, mislabeled specimen, or any of a number of types of human error. I recently had friends who this happened to-1st test said it wasn't his son when just about everyone agreed it was; the company was convinced to redo the test and lo and behold it came back that it was his son. With this in mind, the fact is if you are skeptical, is any test going to change that? What will you do with the results? Think carefully before you do anything.
posted by TedW at 9:39 AM on May 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, for crying out loud.

How does "I don't recognize myself in [second child] at all" + "tremendous amount of anxiety on her part" regarding a pregnancy = Kid Not Mine?

So the kid doesn't look like you. The kid doesn't behave like you. Well, guess what, the kid is not you! Maybe the kid is like someone else in your family, or for whatever reason maybe your second child is a lot more like Mom. Baby Zizzle right now doesn't look much like me or like his father (that we can see). Baby Zizzle does however look like an unholy mixture of my brother and brother-in-law. Perhaps he/she (I really hope the "it" is a feeble attempt at protecting your anonymity instead of how you really feel about the child) isn't like anyone in your family because, crazy as this sounds, he/she is his/her own person! It's entirely possible to have a child who is nothing in looks or personality like either parent. It happens.

You've given no indication that you suspect your wife cheated on you around the time she found out about her pregnancy, and I can tell you right now that I'm freaking out about a second pregnancy/child and Baby Zizzle isn't even six months! Many women think about kids and pregnancy a lot, so unless there's actually a reason you suspect the child isn't yours (as in, there were marital troubles at the time, there's a history of known infidelity, she's given you a legitimate reason not to trust her), I'm going to have to say I think it's all in your mind and you need to talk to someone about this right away. And, yes, eventually, you will have to bring your wife in on this because she deserves to know about the bonding difficulties and lack of trust. But before bringing her in, get thee to a therapist!
posted by zizzle at 9:40 AM on May 28, 2009 [13 favorites]

The advice to do a secretive test is so misguided. What if the fact that you didn't bond with your child is because you already had doubts about having a second kid, doubts about the strength of your marriage (not just your wife having a sexual affair) or doubts about the economy. People have doubts about kids (mothers AND fathers) all the time. ALL THE TIME. It's a myth that you can go through marriage, trying to conceive, pregnancy, and having young kids at home without ever going, 'gack, what have we/I done?". Shit, I felt that way about a puppy!

If you go through the secretive test, I'm predicting a second question here:
"I had doubts about the DNA of my second child. I had him secretly tested and it turns out and though he is my son, my wife is furious and I still haven't bonded with my kid. She thinks I'm a lying asshole because though I had doubts about things, I never even gave her the chance to talk about it. What can I do?"


"The test was negative - he's not my son. Now what?"

In either case, the test did nothing to deal with the underlying issue. That can only be done by talking with your wife or a therapist. The more secret stress you have about "not bonding" the more pressure there is, the harder it gets. If the kid isn't much like you in looks or personality, even more so.

Add another voice that my sibling and I looked NOTHING alike growing up. Opposite colouring, opposite face structures, vaguely similar build, totally opposite personalities. Now that we're full adults people can see some similarities, but you certainly wouldn't pick us out in a line-up.

I also want to point out that DNA itself is really not a great gage of look-alike-ness or bonding. All parents bond differently with kids - yes they all "love" them equally but bonding early can be different. Add in financial stress, marital problems, depression, seeing the kid as a burden, etc., and you have yourself a hard bonding difficult. None of which determine DNA connection. Adoptive and LGBT parents can prove this.
posted by barnone at 9:42 AM on May 28, 2009

You wanted a kid? You're raising the kid? Kid calls you daddy? Your kid.

Yes, I absolutely agree with this. My biological father went bonkers shortly after I was born, and my mother married my first step-father when I was two. That man was my daddy. He tucked me in at night. He made sure I ate my vegetables. He was by my bedside snoring his head off (and keeping me awake!) when I was in the hospital with a life-threatening illness. My biological father did none of these things because he was busy finding Jesus. Unfortunately, his relationship with my mother didn't go as well and I ended up with a second stepfather when I was in middle school.

For various reasons, my daddy fell out of touch when I was a teenager, even though I had visits with him just as much as with my biological father. That loss was the most devastating of my entire life. Divorce ranks as a close second, but still only second to the heartbreak of losing my daddy. He recently found me via FaceBook and being reunited was the biggest emotional high I've ever experienced. (Though it wasn't necessarily *easy.*) My life has literally changed since I've been in touch with him again. I'm more at peace than I have been in years. Having him in my life again brings me an endless amount of joy. I can forgive the years that he was out of touch due to his own issues because I'm just grateful that he found me again. I honestly believed that I would never see him again in my life, and it ate me apart. Having those fears gone was the biggest relief I've ever experienced. Seeing him again was like having my arm or some other necessary body part re-attached.

My point here is that my daddy was MY DADDY. I didn't care that he wasn't my biological father, and neither did he. He loved me like his own child from day one. Still does. It doesn't matter that his relationship with my mother didn't work out. He's still, of the three father figures I have, the only one that I ever call "daddy." (My biological father being my *father* and my second step-father being my *step-father* - there's definitely a concrete distinction between the three terms.) He's the one who is going to walk me down the aisle if/when I ever have a wedding.

Your relationship with your child is based on YOU and YOUR CHILD, not biology.

If you can't get past that, biology isn't the issue. A DNA test won't help, even if it does prove that the child is yours. Accept that your child is yours by virtue of spending his/her life with you as his/her father. Therapists can help with this if you need it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:42 AM on May 28, 2009 [27 favorites]

which came first? did you suspect your wife of an affair and then decide you couldn't see yourself in the child? or did you decide you weren't bonding with the child, so maybe the child wasn't yours? If it is the first, check into the dna test. If it is the second, check into therapy.
posted by domino at 9:47 AM on May 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

Much simpler than a DNA test would be a blood type comparison. If you know everyone's blood type you can determine if the child has a possible or impossible blood type. While a possible match isn't conclusive, an impossible match would be.
posted by borkencode at 9:48 AM on May 28, 2009

I think you should test only if you're confident that it's the uncertainty itself that's bothering you, and not the prospect of raising another man's child.

Parentage isn't the child's fault. Every child needs a loving home with competent caregiving, and if this would be jeopardized by your finding out s/he wasn't biologically yours, it would be better not to find out. Conversely, if knowing this would help you come to terms with it, then do the test. I guess what I'm saying is that you're the grownup here and you have options the child doesn't, so protect his/her interests first.
posted by lakeroon at 9:49 AM on May 28, 2009

The issue is the possibility of deceit, or at least a nagging fear of deceit.
Suppose a poster had a suspicion that his wife was cheating on him, and you said, "You wanted a wife? You married this woman? She calls you 'hubby'? Your wife."

The point is that there is not an equivalent to a divorce in this situation. You can't just say "Oops, sorry about the whole being your dad thing, that was all a misunderstanding" and have everyone move on with their lives as if nothing happened. From a legal standpoint, the person whose name is on the birth certificate is the father, and there are obligations that come along with that no matter who the biological father is (although that depends on the state). From an ethical standpoint, the child's best interests need to come into play when deciding what to do after functioning as a parent for so long.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:52 AM on May 28, 2009

My understanding (and it could very well be wrong) is that most at-home paternity tests are performed from a swap from the bucchal lining of the inside of the cheek. Using a hair sample is less effective unless removed under sterile conditions (too prone to contamination).

Either way your daughter will know somethings up and will not think twice about skipping up to Mum and telling her about the funny thing Daddy did the other day when he was looking after her.

Just another thing to consider.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 9:55 AM on May 28, 2009

One perfectly valid opinion is that if you have a functional parent-child relationship, biology doesn't matter.

I wasn't denying that opinion. Another perfectly valid opinion is that the poster wants to know if his wife conceived by another man before proceeding with total emotional and financial investment in the relationship and fatherhood. Wasn't that the question?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:01 AM on May 28, 2009

You know, your question assumes a certain causal relationship: "This might not be my biological kid" and so "I may not be able to love it." But I want to offer a different hypothesis, that the causal relationship may actually be: "I may not love my child" and so "This may not be my biological kid."

Look, there are several places in your question where you seem a little lost and confused about this child. You don't have a gut feeling of 'ownership,' if you will. You call the child 'it.' You are vaguely worried about the possibility that you just never will be attached to this child. You wouldn't be having these worries at all, if you had just immediately had an emotional connection with this kid... But you didn't, so you are worried.

The human mind is really great at coming up for explanations for things it doesn't like. You don't want to feel distant from your baby, so the fact that you do feel distant seems to imply that it isn't actually your baby... So you start looking for anything to help support this theory, and that leads to you to start thinking about your wife's nervousness at the start of the pregnancy in a new light. That helps you feel a bit more justified in feeling distant from the child, and so you feel a bit better, and the possibility the child isn't yours seems a bit more likely... It all originates in an emotional distance that you feel is inappropriate, and it all ends in your belief that the child is not, after all, yours. Could this be what's going on with you?

...I sure as heck don't know. I'm not a psychologist and I've only read a few paragraphs you've written anonymously online. But a real psychologist you spoke to in person would probably be able to tell you. A real therapist would be able to help you come to understand the nature of your worries and what the best possible course for action is -- whether that means confronting your wife, getting a secret test, or just working to establish the bond with the child you expected to be there immediately, effortlessly.

See a therapist. Get to the bottom of this.
posted by Ms. Saint at 10:02 AM on May 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

Someone should speak up dramatically for this child.

He or she believes you are his or her father. I have no reason to suspect you are particularly close to him or her, but he or she is presumptively more than a little attached to you. If it does turn out that the child is not yours via a DNA test, the results of that test (and more importantly, the fact that you had it performed will come out if you choose to act upon them. If you're not going to act, then why bother with the test? If you are going to act, then the test will not be secret.

Can you fathom the damage to a child's psyche, finding out that his or her Daddy cared so little for him or her that he required a laboratory to determine what their relationship would be?

If you don't trust your wife, then divorce her because of those issues and not because of this child. You've got to have some serious, serious issues with your wife to even touch your toe to a road that could lead to that sort of trauma for your child.

He or she is a person, not evidence for future legal proceedings.
posted by jefficator at 10:04 AM on May 28, 2009 [19 favorites]

Whatever you do, stop calling the child "it". You're purposefully keeping yourself from any chance of bonding.
posted by tzikeh at 10:24 AM on May 28, 2009

You wanted a kid? You're raising the kid? Kid calls you daddy? Your kid.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:28 AM on May 28

This is possibly the most please-walk-all-over-me answer I've seen in AskMe yet, and the unbelievable number of favorites it has accrued are a testament to the "anything goes/family is more important than reality/preserve appearances at all costs" answers that seem to dominate this forum. If it's not his biological child, it's not just his kid. It's his wife's kid and some other dude's kid and his kid. There's a big difference.

There are clearly serious marital issues here that will not be solved by a DNA test, regardless of the outcome. However, a DNA test will provide some answers and shape the future of this relationship. If the child is his, he has just learned that his paranoia was probably unjustified and he should chill the fuck out. If the child is not, well, he should probably get a divorce.

Does the child still deserve to be taken care of and loved? Yes, of course, regardless of the results: I don't think anyone is claiming otherwise. But no one who wrote the question we're trying to answer will be satisfied until he knows for sure.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:29 AM on May 28, 2009 [14 favorites]

I have 3 children that I am certain are my biological children because I have never cheated on my husband, they came out of my belly and immediately got matching bracelets with me, and never left my side before I could pick them out of a lineup.

However, they each look completely different, and nothing at all like me. One has green eyes, one has bright blue, one dark brown. One blonde, one brunette, one brown. I've had old ladies ask me if they all have different fathers.

So unless there is something else that you did not post in your original question, I can not understand why you are doubting the child is yours. Don't compare the success of your relationship with #2 with #1. It's not fair. They are different people and it would be natural for you to have more in common with one than the other. It doesn't indicate that one is yours and one isn't.

If you are having trouble loving this child, though, that is a problem that should be addressed immediately and taken very seriously for the emotional health of the child.
posted by agentwills at 10:35 AM on May 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

What is the argument against a non-secret DNA test? Paternity anxiety is older than monogamy, and this is a cheap reliable prophylactic for Dad's anxiety disorder. Is it not? If you were the asker's physician would it not be a far better idea to test the kid's DNA than to put the asker on prescription meds?

(I am not a doctor but I don't see how the wife or the kid would really have a BIG problem with this.)
posted by bukvich at 10:40 AM on May 28, 2009

I think you need to go to counseling no matter what, because if the child is biologically yours, you're going to feel really guilty for your suspicions. And they really do seem, at least from your question, to be specious. Unless there's a lot you aren't telling us, you are making this huge, irrational leap.

And if the child isn't biologically yours, you're going to need a counselor to deal with the issues of betrayal from your wife and how to deal with the daughter you have raised. Which I really hope you are still doing, and not distancing yourself from her simply because she doesn't look like you.
posted by misha at 10:41 AM on May 28, 2009

graprefruitmoon, as a father and a step-father, your post brought a tear to my eye. Thank you so much for that, and I am so happy for you that you have found your daddy again.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:46 AM on May 28, 2009

(I am not a doctor but I don't see how the wife or the kid would really have a BIG problem with this.)

I am a child of parents. Many, in fact, as previously mentioned. If my biological father decided at some point that he needed a DNA test, I would be hurt beyond measure, even though I'm now 27 years old and I've probably spent more collective time in my life pooping than in his presence.

Questioning a fundamental relationship between parent/child CAN NOT be taken lightly. I'm not advocating against doing this, if it's what the OP decides, but I am saying that it will likely have emotional consequences for the child, no matter what the result. Hearing the man that you know as your father say "I want to get a test to be absolutely 100% sure that you ARE my kid" will be traumatic. Especially since the child involved has an older sibling whose relationship is not being called into question.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:55 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

When we found out we were pregnant the second time, there was a tremendous amount of anxiety on her part - though things were, I thought, going well and the first pregnancy had been good, and we were agreed we wanted a second child. She accounted for it by labeling it as plain old anxiety/uncertainty and I accepted it as such

My first pregnancy was good. We want a second child. But the idea of getting pregnant a second time does make me a little anxious. The second time around, I know how much labor hurts. I remember not being able to sleep. Not being able to lie on my back. Being so sensitive to smells during my first trimester that I had to wear noseclips to feed the dog or the smell would make me puke. I remember getting all puffy and having to put on the surgical support stockings. I remember get so puffy that it gave me pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, and for the last two months of my pregnancy I couldn't walk the dog because I couldn't grip the leash. I couldn't trim my fingernails because I couldn't squeeze the clippers. And that's just the pregnancy. Then there is breastfeeding, being so horrendously constipated from breastfeeding that I actually feared pooping because of the pain. The midnight, 2am, 4am feedings.

I had by most standards an easy pregnancy, an easy delivery, and now I have an easy baby. I do want a second child, but now I know what I am getting myself into. A little anxiety about it is a far cry from proof that anything is amiss. Also, can I point out, this is baby #2. You don't say how old your first child is, but can I point out how logistically difficult it would be for a woman with a small child to have an affair? Really.

Please get therapy. Please explore these issues in your head thoroughly with a counselor before doing anything that will bring pain to your family.
posted by ambrosia at 11:10 AM on May 28, 2009 [12 favorites]

I would go for both therapy and a DNA test. Therapy will help you pre-plan how to handle either outcome of a DNA test and address issues you may develop with your wife and child after you get the test results. I feel that for your absolute assurance, you need a test. At the same time, after 4 years the child definitely considers you to be Daddy, so be very careful not to emotionally harm the innocent. If the test comes back that you are the biological father do not ever tell the child that you had the test done, ever.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:11 AM on May 28, 2009

You wanted a kid? You're raising the kid? Kid calls you daddy? Your kid.

Yes and no. If the kid is not your biological kid and you've been tricked into thinking it is your biological kid and you find out otherwise, fall out from that is natural. One of the biggest potential fallouts, which this answer glosses over, is how the kid would feel about you (and the mother) if they know you're not their biological parent (and they should know at some point ).

Yeah, yeah, everyone says the child won't care, but that's complete bullshit, the child will care, if for no other reason than to wonder "WTF?!" What the above response is glossing over is that the child has a choice in the matter and may not choose you or not in the way you expect or want. You may be dad or step-dad or (Insert your real name here) or "Not my fucking father".

That said, it's not an insurmountable barrier and it's up to you as an adult to work to overcome that roadblock, if it's there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2009

If you're not going to act, then why bother with the test?

Because he can't stop wondering. I can understand this. Sometimes we wish we could control our thoughts and can't. Here is my advice:

1) Is there ANY OTHER WAY to ease your mind? For example deciding to love the child and see her as your own regardless of parentage or addressing the underlying lack of trust in your relationship independent of this issue.
-If "yes" do that.
-If "no" proceed to question 2.

2) Are you absolutely sure that you can keep a positive (paternity = you) test a secret FOREVER?
-If "no", don't get the test. See a therapist or whatever it takes to get through the rest of your life but DO NOT GET THE TEST. If you think wondering about the paternity is hard, try wondering what life would have been like if you hadn't fucked up your marriage and your kids over NOTHING.
-If "yes", get the test and, if it's negative, proceed to question 3.

3) Are you willing to stay with your wife and raise this child anyway?
-If "no", do what you have to do, but don't forget that the child had nothing to do with it. She's as much of a victim as you are.
-If "yes" decide when/whether or not you want to tell your wife that you know, but (obviously) keep it a secret from the kids.
posted by originalname37 at 11:29 AM on May 28, 2009

A girlfriend of mine looks nothing like the rest of her family: she's a short pale redhead in a family of willowy olive-skinned people. In her teens, her mother finally confessed to a long affair and that she didn't know if my friend was biologically the child of the man whom she'd always called Daddy. In a heart-to-heart, her father said to her, "I've suspected since before you were born that your mother was having the affair, and that you aren't genetically mine. But you're my daughter and I don't care, I love you." My friend also thinks she's probably the genetic child of the affair, but she's decided she doesn't care either, has no interest in finding her probable bio-dad, and continues to call the man she grew up with Daddy. Just a data point.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:59 PM on May 28, 2009

To be fair, everyone, the OP calling the kid "it" might not mean he's objectifying the child; he might simply be trying to keep the child's gender secret for the sake of anonymity.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:03 PM on May 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'll offer a crass line of thinking, since it hasn't yet been addressed: If the biological father is someone else, and they can be identified, would it become possible to get child-support payments from them?
posted by -harlequin- at 2:11 PM on May 28, 2009

As a spouse, there are certain things that you can't unhear. One of those things is "I have been harboring secret doubts for years that this child is mine." Do not say this out loud to your partner unless you have evidence that you're right.
posted by hermitosis at 2:26 PM on May 28, 2009

Some great advice up above, so I just want to add this:

My brother and I were both the spit out of Mom's mouth when we were kids. Brown hair and hazel eyes to my dad's blonde hair and blue eyes. Only recently have I noticed that as adults, my brother and I (now 31 and 30) really do have a lot of Dad's features, but you'd never guess that by the number of "milkman" jokes circulating in our household when we were growing up.

A top secret paternity test might give you the answers you need, but either result won't solve the trust issues.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:44 PM on May 28, 2009

My children look nothing like me. My son finally manifested a personality trait I recognized as coming from me, for the very first time in his entire life, about a week ago. He is 23. It is bizarre, as I am the mother, so the provenance is indisputable. I'd say start with private therapy, then move to couples. Please do not share the specific source of your anxiety with your wife. It would kill me if I thought my husband doubted my fidelity.
posted by nax at 3:34 PM on May 28, 2009

follow-up from someone who would prefer to remain anonymous.
My father DNA-tested me and my sister when we were young children. It was after a contentious divorce so the situation was quite different.

When I found out at a young age, I was hurt. Now that I have some time and distance, I understand more and it doesn't bother me that much. My mother is a little out there and he felt the need to be certain.

However, much of his uncertainty was related to his own propensity for infidelity. He thought she must have been cheating because he was cheating. Is that relevant to you?

Another thing to think about--children have, in my opinion, the right to know who their biological parents are.
posted by jessamyn at 3:43 PM on May 28, 2009

Man I sympathize. One of my nightmares is imagining being married to someone who keeps on with an ex after the first child and can laugh and say 'what are you gonna do about it?' The good news is that its rare for this to happen and there are usually significant behaviours within months of dating that will tip you off that she's that kind of girl. Given that, I guess you have to ask yourself:
If it is not minre, what will I do?
Divorce? Then you get to visit your 'first' and possibly have him raised by another dad...maybe not the dad of the second either. The new stepdad of both children could be abusive in the most despicable way (NOTE: Very few stepdads ARE evil, but its not a secret that child molesters target single mothers). You never mentioned how old either of these kids are but the older they are the more they remember you as 'daddy' and the more trama they will suffer if you split up even if its justified. I won't go into the financial stuff like child support (you CAN pay for child support of a child not biologically yours but you need an attourney to examine your case in your state).
posted by CodeMonkey at 4:00 PM on May 28, 2009

Someone should speak up dramatically for this child.

Yes. I am the child of a similar situation. I harbored doubts about my biological relationship with my father for years. When I would tentatively present these doubts to my mother (I was never very close to my dad), she'd smack them down in various ways, overtly and covertly, and I'd walk away feeling guilty, disloyal, and crazy - that my questions were the problem, my problem. She'd tell me, "I don't know what you're looking for. Nothing I say will make any difference."

OP, I have no opinion on whether or not the your child is biologically your own, and neither should any of us - we cannot know from the information presented. That is not the issue at hand anyway (although, of course, it's a big issue). It's the suspicion itself. There's nothing wrong with suspicion - it's value-neutral - but it means something, about you, your marriage, your environment, something. With the information you have now, you don't know exactly what it means, so your option is to either accept that and work with the information you have, or try to obtain more information and open yourself up to the possible consequences. So you have to ask yourself - is it worth it?

About three years ago, my mom finally admitted that I was right all along. My parents had used a sperm donor. And let me tell you - it made a huge fucking difference. It wasn't even the revelation itself as much as the tremendous vindication I felt upon learning that I wasn't making shit up after all.

A lot of these replies assume that it hasn't occurred to the OP that he might just be a paranoid asshole. That's generally a concern that those with outlandish suspicions tend to have, along with a whole mess of guilt. Self-doubt is good in that it hones your intuition, keeps you from doing stupid things, and differentiates you from the average schizophrenic. But one reason why deception is so corrosive is that its success relies on playing up the self-doubt and guilt of the deceived. Which is not to say that you're being deceived - again, I have nooooo idea - but that your suspicions themselves don't mean you're crazy or a bad person. Just take them for what they are.
posted by twin1 at 6:10 PM on May 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

He might be using "it" to maintain anonymity.
posted by smorange at 6:24 PM on May 28, 2009

What really concerns me is that this second child is four years old and you're still at the point of "trying" to love it (and frankly, that makes me sad for the child). Four years is - to put it mildly, long enough, though I think finding out if you are related biologically is a valid choice. Not one that's going to be the magic ticket to loving this child, though. Joining the resounding chorus of recommending therapy on that one.
posted by lemniskate at 4:39 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the body knows things the mind doesn't. Go with your gut. Get the test.
posted by Hogshead at 6:14 AM on May 29, 2009

Four years old and you are still having issues "loving it"? Something is very, very wrong here.

You need some therapy yourself and you should try couples therapy too.

The DNA test, whatever, do it or don't. Regardless of the result its not going to fix the fundamental problem you have here.
posted by RajahKing at 9:38 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Reading the follow up, I think you are acting crazy because of what happened to you as a child. Covert DNA tests are crazy. I can't believe some of the advice I'm reading here.

Your child isn't an 'it'.

I think you should try talking to someone in the real world about your problems. MetaFilter can't fix everything.
posted by chunking express at 11:23 AM on May 29, 2009

chunking express, the follow-up was not from the OP as far as I can tell.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

God damn it.

That doesn't change the crux of my point: covert DNA tests are crazy. This seems like something you need to talk about. If you have serious doubts about your marriage -- since the implication here is that your wife had an affair -- you have to deal with that.
posted by chunking express at 11:48 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

@chungking express Your child isn't an 'it'

He's not entirely sure that it's his child.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:44 PM on June 4, 2009

The child isn't an it? Honestly, I think it's semantics. He's been raising the child since it was born. In Computer Science you might use the term Duck Typing.
posted by chunking express at 3:35 PM on June 4, 2009

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