The Family Project: Discussing biological father a concern
Q. My 11-year-old son has not seen his father in 10 years after I divorced his father when I learned he was a drug addict. I am happily remarried. My son has a stepbrother. As my son enters his teen years, should give him information about his biological father? I am also worried about awakening a possible genetic predisposition to addiction.
The panelists agreed that the mother’s concern about addiction is valid, but panelist Chad Stefanyak said he would like to know more about why the mother is binging up these concerns now, and what more information does she think she needs to provide, observing, “Sometimes we overthink these things.”
“There are so many connections between addictions and genetics that the son could become an addict,” panelist Denise Continenza said. “It is a logical concern.”
Referring to the debate between nature and nurture, panelist Vince Confalone said, “Parents can’t control their children’s genetic makeup. What they can control is the nurture part. The mother, stepson and stepfather need to be aware of their roles in being supportive of the 11-year-old, and helping provide him with healthy activities and peer influences.”
Confalone said that counseling for the son and for the family are options: “It’s nice to have that in your toolbox if it is ever needed.”
Continenza said that the mother should be a positive role model.
As for telling the son more about his father, panelist Pam Wallace said, “You don’t want to give the child more information than he can handle. He’s only 11. Wait until he asks. In the meantime, the mom can just tell him if he has questions about his father, she’ll be happy to answer them.”
“It is possible the son will get curious and want to reach out to his dad?” Stefanyak asked, adding, “The biological father may also want to connect with his son. The mother needs to be prepared for this. She also needs to be aware that she is not going to be involved in only a one-time conversation.”
“In talking about addiction, the parent doesn’t want to make this into a life sentence,” Continenza said, noting, “Wording also is important. Just say, ‘Your father struggled with addiction.’”
Stefanyak said that addiction isn’t only about drugs and alcohol. Addition can include smoking, overeating and playing too many videogames. “The mom needs to be vigilant for the next couple of years,” Stefanyak said.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Denise Continenza, extension educator, and Vince Confalone, Valley Youth House, family therapist.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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