Saturday, August 15, 2009

Should Elizabeth Edwards accept her husband's illegitimate child?

According to North Carolina TV station WRAL, Senator John Edwards is set to admit that he actually is the father of his former mistress's 18-month-old daughter.

I heard the news on the radio this morning, and immediately wondered what the Edwards family would do. The senator's wife, Elizabeth, is faced with yet another terrible choice: Accept her children's newly acknowledged half sister, or punish the toddler for being the product of an affair, something over which the child had no control.

Senator Edwards acknowledged the affair with Rielle Hunter last year (a federal grand jury is reportedly investigating whether he illegally used his campaign funds to pay Hunter to keep quiet about it). But he has consistently denied being the father of her baby, insisting that the affair ended in 2006, before the baby was conceived. In fact, he told Bob Woodruff on ABC news last year that he would welcome the chance to take a paternity test to prove his innocence. "I know that it's not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events, so I know it's not possible. Happy to take a paternity test, and would love to see it happen."

Apparently, he took that test in secret recently -- and the results weren't quite what he expected. The National Enquirer, which initially broke the news of the affair, reported that the results of a paternity test prove Edwards is the toddler's dad. A positive result on a paternity test is usually 99.99 percent accurate. That means that the chances of someone else being the dad are slim-to-none. WRAL, citing anonymous sources, says that Edwards will confirm that he's the father at some point before the federal grand jury finishes its investigation.

There's bound to be some pretty severe fall out over the flip-flop, though I don't see how things could get any worse for Edwards than it already have, politically speaking, at least. When news of the affair broke, his supporters -- including his wife and children -- rallied around him, and a former aide, Andrew Young, claimed to be the child's father. (Hunter later agreed with the claim, though the birth certificate does not list a name for the father.) But now that Edwards seems poised to admit that 18-month-old Frances is really his own, what will his family do?

All married couples deal with the blending of families, to an extent. Stepparents deal with it most, having to knit together relationships between existing children. But when the new family member is the product of an affair, there are many other issues to contend with.

The Globe Magazine recently ran a great article, about being the child of a six-year affair, written by the now-adult child himself. In "The Son Who Wasn't," Stefan Hogan describes what it was like growing up in the shadow of his father's "real" family. "I am my father’s sixth child," he writes, "and none of his other children knew until this past December that I existed."

Little Frances doesn't face the same fate, if only because her parents' affair and its aftermath have played out in public. So, now what? Should Elizabeth Edwards accept little Frances while continuing to shun Rielle Hunter? Allow her own young children to meet their newly acknowledged half sister, and let her older kids decide for themselves? Is it fair to keep a child away from her siblings because of something her parents did?

It's a damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don't situation, don't you think? What would you do? The discussions are going on at Yahoo's Shine (where the focus seems to be on the affair) and at Child Caring (where the focus seems to be on the child).

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