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Dad Substitutes?

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We often talk to single moms whose exes are not in their kids' lives. And we understand this experience firsthand.

father and son thinking of another dad

Single Mom Seeking: Many single moms refer to a father who's absent by choice as a "genetic donor" (GD).

Quite often, these single moms find that a male relative offers to step in as the "dad substitute." He might be a grandfather, an uncle, a brother. If he's from your ex's family, however, it can get complicated.

One single mom who recently wrote to us finds herself in a dilemma. Maybe you can offer some advice?

This woman's ex -- the father of her daughter -- left the relationship during the pregnancy.

"He made it very clear that he wasn't going to be involved," she says. "I decided to move forward with the pregnancy, knowing full well I'd raise this baby 100 percent solo.

"I also cut all ties with anyone connected to the GD -- including my friend who is married to his brother. I just couldn't see how we could still be friends when her brother-in-law was keeping my pregnancy a secret. Actually, the GD had reunited with the mother of his first child and got her pregnant again. I wasn't even aware of this until I was six months pregnant. Our children are now two weeks apart.

"Maybe I was wrong for cutting my friend off," she adds. "But I just couldn't see how our friendship could continue."

Now, here's the dilemma:

"The GD's brother -- my friend's husband -- called me out of the blue recently to ask to be in my five-month-old daughter's life. He said he doesn't agree with his brother's decision. 'I want to be a dad substitute for my niece,' he said. 'I want to be there for her.'"

But this mom says: "I'm scared to allow him into our lives, and I'm not even sure why. The GD and his brother have an up-and-down relationship (right now they're not on speaking terms). I've steered clear of the GD's girlfriend and new baby -- I just don't want the drama. The GD lives literally four blocks from us and has yet to see my daughter.

"I've come to accept that the GD will likely never be in my daughter's life."

So, here's her question: "Should I allow his brother into my daughter's life? Is it better to cut off all ties? Or is it worth the risk to let this uncle assume a 'dad substitute' role?"

We're wondering how other single moms handle the offer of a "dad substitute"?

8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Michelle December 4, 2009, 8:48 AM

I don’t think you should cut ties with the uncle. He’s willing to be involved in your child’s life and it’s the right of your child to know both sides of her family. You don’t have to allow the uncle to be a “daddy” figure, but he could be a supportive role model. I know I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the support and love I received from my uncles growing up.

Anna December 4, 2009, 11:16 AM

You should absolutely allow the uncle into your daughter’s life. However, you should first be very confident that he will want to be there for the long-term. If he has an up-and-down relationship with his brother the GD, I would be concerned that the uncle might stop coming around when he is friends with his brother again. That could be hurtful and confusing to your daughter.

Logical December 11, 2009, 1:46 PM

There is no such thing as a substitute father. Either he is in the life of the child or he is not. Just as there is no such thing as a substitute mother.

A male role model in the life of a child is absolutely necessary. For boys, a role model offers something they can mimic, they can aspire to be. For girls, they offer a comparative figure (caring, trustworthy, a safety blanket) so they can make better choices about their own future relationships.

If you don’t provide it (and you don’t have to), they will find one. Whether it be a relative, a professional sports figure or the drug dealer down the street. You would be wise to help them discover a male role model; but it certainly does NOT have to be the uncle. He seems willing, but only you can decide if he is the one your child should look up to. If he is, then saying “no” just because he is related to your child’s biological father is a poor reason indeed. But remember, there will be many men in her life, not all become the role model…so that choice would be up to him. So make the choice that is best for your daughter, not necessarily the one that is best for you and whatever baggage exists out of the old relationship. You are the gatekeeper…your daughter counts on you to choose wisely.

JohnnyO December 11, 2009, 11:47 PM

Logical, correct. Other than that, what would Dr Laura say? I think she would use SD(sperm donor) as opposed to GD(genetic dad).

Logical December 14, 2009, 5:16 PM

Unless you are talking about going to the local sperm bank for becoming a single parent by choice (which by the way is NOT in the best interest of a child), using either SD or GD is only way to dehumanize, belittle, or condescend to someone you no longer have a relationship with. To put it in perspective, we could just start referring to women who either give up their children, or lose them through divorce as SD (sperm depositories). It objectifies your target, creating a spiteful way of getting even while pretending to be PC.

So unless it comes from a bank, “biological father” would be the appropriate, human way to reference.

Quita December 29, 2009, 10:13 AM

At some point in her life (although it may be years from now), your daughter is going to want to know where she comes from. Also, I believe that she has a right to know who her father is. I understand that he left on his own terms & does not want to be involved, but he is not the only who has a say here. Yes, the uncle should be given the opportunity to get to know his neice (& she get to know him). Every girl (every child for that matter) needs positive male and female role models in their lives. Rather than stepping in as a “father” figure, I believe he should step in as “uncle” because that’s what he is.

Sarah March 3, 2010, 1:18 AM

I think you should let the child’s uncle be apart of their life. My husband constantly visits his neice and nephew that his SD brother neglects and I like his niece and nephew and would like our future children to get to know there cousins. Just because they’re dad wants nothing to do with them doesn’t mean we need to make the same mistake.

Bobby Duplaga February 11, 2011, 3:42 AM

I am continually browsing online for posts that can help me. Thx!

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