We recently had someone write with a request (slightly changed for confidentiality):
Can you write about how we should deal with discovering a sibling born out of adultery? In this case the Loyal Spouse was not aware there was a child conceived of adultery, as the child was hidden and never revealed. The Disloyal Spouse introduced their parents and siblings to the hidden child, and they helped the Disloyal hide the child until the marriage was over. How do I deal with this discovery?
We’re going to answer this request from two points of view. In our last blogpost we answered “How a Loyal Spouse, married several decades, would deal with discovering their Disloyal Spouse had a child that they didn’t know even existed from an affair in the past.” Today we will address “How a young adult would deal with discovering their parent had other children by other people.”
Before we go any further, let’s start with some definitions and statistics. A STEP sibling is when parents divorce and remarry other people-the children of the two remarried people are step-children or step-siblings. Step-siblings are not related to each other by blood but might be considered ‘family’ because they are living in the same home being raised by both the step-parent and their original parents. A HALF sibling is when one parent has a child with someone other than the other parent, so that the children ARE related to one parent by blood, and the other parent is not the same. Sometimes half-siblings are considered ‘family’ and are raised in the same households and sometimes half-siblings are raised in different houses.
Step and half siblings are becoming more and more common. According to Smart Stepfamilies:
- 40% of married couples with children (i.e., families) in the US are stepcouples (at least one partner had a child from a previous relationship before marriage; this includes full and part-time residential stepfamilies and those with children under and/or over the age of 18). The percentage of all married couple households is 35% (Karney, Garvan, & Thomas, 2003)
- 42% of adults have a steprelationship–either a stepparent, a step or half sibling, or a stepchild. This translates to 95.5 million adults. (When you add the more than 5 million stepchildren in the US, the total is over 100 million Americans have a steprelationship.)
- 40% of children are born out of wedlock; nearly 60% of these couples already have at least one child from a previous relationship. In other words, the majority of children being born out of wedlock are entering functional (nonmarital) stepfamilies (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006).
To put it simply, this means that if you’ve recently discovered that one of your parents had an affair and you have a half-brother or half-sister, you aren’t alone! We are not suggesting it isn’t shocking to discover a hidden sibling, but even though it feels like you are the only one who has had this happen, the statistics above assure us that there are other people who have experienced this same thing and have gotten through it. Hey–even OPRAH found out she had a hidden half-sister!
To help you cope with discovering a new half-brother or half-sister, here are a few applicable Bible verses and a short list of 10 practical issues you’ll have to address when you discover a new half-sibling.
Siblings are mentioned often throughout the Old and New Testaments; unfortunately, not all siblings express love for one another! Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers spring to mind–and yet the story of Joseph is a good place to start. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:12–28), but during his time as a slave in Egypt and when he saw his brothers again years later, Joseph did not act toward them in hate or shut them out of his life. He reacted to them in love.
Thus I think the next applicable verse here is Luke 6:27-36:
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
I believe our natural, sinful reaction would be to shut them out of the family or be resentful of them because they were the product of the actions that rocked the family’s world! Yet Jesus is clear here–we are to love OUR ENEMIES! So even though we don’t really know the half-sibling well enough to know if they are an enemy, what we do know is that we are to do good to them.
Here are a few more verses about how we are to treat people–half-siblings included!
a) We should not only respond gracefully when others react sinfully toward us, but also go out of the way to serve them – John 13:12–14
b) We are instructed to “live at peace with everyone” playing the role of peacemaker when disagreements arise – Romans 12:18
c) We are to show kindness to each other, compassion, and forgiveness – Ephesians 4:32
d) We are to love others in a way that reflects the love of Christ – I John 4: 7-8
10 PRACTICAL ISSUES YOU’LL HAVE TO ADDRESS:
1. Learn how to decid confusion over (a) “who is who” in the nuclear and extended families, (b) who decides who belongs. If you are a young adult, it may be time for YOU to decide for yourself who is in your family and who is not…and to take personal responsibility for what you choose.
2. Learn to accept that being a “half” does not mean they are somehow less loved, wanted, worthy, smart, normal, or valuable than “full” siblings, despite what some people may say.
3. Decide what to call your new half-sibling – e.g. “my brother,” “my half-brother,” “Jeremy,” “My Mom’s other son,” or something else, and why names are important to some family members and not to others (“I don’t care what you call me.”)
4. Learn that it’s OK if you don’t know or care about the half-sibling’s “other Mom” or “other Dad,” and don’t “have to” acknowledge them at holidays or birthdays, or expect acknowledgement from them.
5. Learn how to react when siblings and relatives get into “fights” (values and loyalty conflicts, and relationship triangles, etc.) about the half-sibling. Not everyone is going to make the choices that you do, and not everyone will feel like you do.
6. Learn how keep your own boundaries clear and to assert your needs if a your parent treats you differently than they treat the half-sibling or if their “other parent” does or does not discipline them the way that you’ve been taught, etc.
7. Learn to feel compassion for your half-sibling’s many family-adjustments–which you don’t have to understand. Just remember you aren’t the only one who’s having to adjust. Clarify what will change and what will not.
8. Learn why some (genetic) relatives may treat you”better” than your half-siblings (or vice versa), and how not to feel guilty about that. It’s their choice and they are adults! They will live with the benefits and the consequences of how they choose to live.
9. Learn why some or all of your other family members disagree on these issues, but ultimately remember that as a young adult, you are personally responsible for what you choose. It’s okay to disagree.
10. Learn that it’s OK to say how this makes you feel (“I wish you guys would stop fighting all the time!”), and that not everyone is going to understand how you feel. Share YOUR feelings and don’t expect everyone to think or feel “just like you.”