Virginia Ironside: The truth can be less painful than secrets, doubts and insecurities

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You can't keep a secret in a family. Well, you can try, but even if it's never actually discussed, and locked tightly away, most people can hear a secret's muffled yelling in the background, however deeply it's buried.

You can't keep a secret in a family. Well, you can try, but even if it's never actually discussed, and locked tightly away, most people can hear a secret's muffled yelling in the background, however deeply it's buried.

That's one of the reasons I think that children should be told the truth about their parents - and the younger the better. If one of their parents is an anonymous egg or sperm donor, their parents know about it, and however hard they try, they just won't be able to help betraying that knowledge in tiny, disconcerting ways - subtle ways, that often, after a few years, make a child suddenly think: "What's going on?" And if they find out - as they often do, because very few secrets remain secret for ever - they will always carry the burden of their parents' betrayal around with them. If they kept such a crucial fact away from their child, how can they ever be trusted about anything again?

The other reason that a child should know the truth is because so many children who share their genes with only one parent are aware, at some deep level, that they don't completely "belong". Of course, lots of us, when we're teenagers, have a sneaking suspicion that actually our parents found us in a rush basket in the river, and that we're nothing to do with them at all, but that feeling is nothing to that of children who really are the product of one parent and an Anonymous Other.

Telling them may be a shock (although not if they're told very young), but it must be a relief to know that your suspicious and uncomfortable feelings aren't because you're mad and different but, quite the reverse, because you have an excellent and reliable intuitive sense.

Telling children doesn't affect just them, of course. The truth might well affect the father (or mother). They might feel on shaky ground if their children knew that one of their parents wasn't "real". But it's better that a parent, an adult who should have some control over their feelings, should suffer, rather than a child who, if everything is swept under the carpet, may be tormented by mysterious doubts and confusions.

The only case for secrets is when telling them not only does no one any good but also may harm someone else. Revealing someone's true parentage won't hurt them, if it's done young enough. Rather, it will foster more loving, open and honest relationships in the family.

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