Grandma had a secret child.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

Dear Prudence,

A few months ago, I took a DNA test to find out my ethnic heritage and after looking at the results online, I saw that I shared a significant amount of DNA with a person who lives across the country (enough to be close relatives). I just received a message from that person explaining that my grandmother had a child decades ago and gave the child up for adoption, therefore one of my parents has a half-sibling and I have a half-cousin I had no idea existed.

The person who contacted me said that they contacted my grandmother in the past to see if she wanted to communicate; she said no, and they didn’t ask again. They then asked if I would like to communicate, but if I do not, they will not contact me again. I am interested in meeting a new cousin, but it is obvious that my still-living grandmother does not want me or my siblings to know about this part of her life. I have no idea if my father or uncle know about their half-sibling, or if my grandfather knows about his wife’s previous child.

Because my grandmother refused contact, should I do the same to respect her wishes? Should I risk my family dynamic falling apart to meet this cousin? Would it be acceptable to wait for my grandparents’ deaths to contact this person?

This is tricky! I can’t imagine the circumstances under which your grandmother surrendered her child for adoption were easy or ones that she’d like to remember, and I can understand your reluctance to reopen old family wounds. Yet this newly discovered cousin has also been fairly upfront about the fact that they’ve accepted your grandmother’s decision not to get in touch and has said they’ll respect your choice if you also decide not to meet or talk further. You two are also relatives in your own right, and if you want to exchange a few friendly messages catching one another up on your respective lives, I don’t think that’s necessarily violating your grandmother’s trust or her choice.

If part of you is anxious about potential fallout, ask yourself what you’re hoping to get out of this connection. Is it simply to satisfy a mutual sense of curiosity and wish one another well? You don’t sound like part of you wants to bring this cousin to the next family reunion and force everyone to deal with old trauma. You don’t have to share the fact that you’ve occasionally emailed this person with the rest of your family if you think it would be too painful.

Of course, if the idea of keeping even limited contact with your cousin private from the rest of your family sounds overwhelming or impossible, then you may want to write back and say you’re glad to hear from them, but you’re not able to start talking right now. I don’t think either option is a bad one—it depends on your particular family dynamic, and whether you feel comfortable at the idea of getting to know a brand-new cousin without sharing the details with your other relatives. —Danny M. Lavery

From: “Help! I Took a DNA Test—and Discovered My Grandmother’s Secret. Should I Tell the Family?” (Nov. 14, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

My young niece requires a liver transplant. It turns out that her mom—my SIL—and my husband are a match. We’ve done a lot of research into it and I feel incredibly uneasy about my husband being a live donor, due to the various risks and impact on his health. My SIL has stated she “can’t” donate because it means she can’t breastfeed her 1-year-old son or look after the other two kids immediately after the operation. My husband has always been the type of person who gives more than he can, willingly and without thinking. So without any contemplation, he readily agreed. If my SIL wasn’t a match either I would absolutely support him being a donor. But it seems that being a donor is too difficult and inconvenient for my SIL, yet she wants my husband to take all the risks. I told my SIL if she were to go through the operation I would take time off work to look after her and her children. Yet she stubbornly insists on my husband. Since I protested so strongly, my husband says he will go ahead only if I agree, and now my SIL is extremely angry and hostile toward me. Am I a terrible person or is my SIL being selfish?

Making a decision about organ donation is not something that should be done without thinking. Since your husband is contemplating this, he should sit down with an expert counselor who can outline the risks and the benefits—knowing one has saved a life has to be a pretty profound thing. Your sister-in-law should also get her own counselor who can lay out her risks and recovery process. Obviously, if she were to be the donor she would need an enormous amount of help caring for the children while she heals. But it sounds as if she has the family around to do it. (Weaning a 1-year-old is a trivial consideration in the context of what’s a stake here.) You need to do some major backing off. Of course your husband’s health is a concern for you, and a legitimate one. And yes it’s fine if you feel he was pressured into this and you want him to give it deeper consideration. But ultimately you must recognize he is an adult and this is not your decision to make. I’m sure time is an issue here, but all of you need to cool off, step back, and agree that you will act like rational adults. Once your husband and sister talk to transplant advisers, your family should hire a social worker with expertise in this subject and all of you, calmly and generously, should air things out to help you make the best decision for your niece and the entire family. —Emily Yoffe

From: “Help! Can I Stop My Husband From Donating His Liver to His Niece?” (Jan. 15, 2013)

Dear Prudence,

I accidentally overheard my fiancée telling a friend on the phone, “John might not have a lot of money, but at least he doesn’t have any parents to annoy me.” My parents both died in a car accident in my early 20s. Shocked by this comment, we took a short break afterward. My fiancée said that it was something stupid she said as a joke and that she was sincerely sorry and didn’t mean it. She and I have much history together, and I love her. Yet, even after getting back together, I can’t forget or totally forgive her for what she said. I may have been an adult when I lost my parents, but they were my whole world. Is it crazy to throw away a whole relationship based on this one comment?

It’s not crazy. I have a fair amount of sympathy for your fiancée, who I don’t think is necessarily a secretly callous monster for making a grim joke about not having to deal with in-laws to a friend of hers, but I can also understand why this would haunt you. If you have a long history together and she has always treated you kindly and well, you must know on some level that she does care about you and is not secretly rejoicing at the death of your parents—that moment of gallows humor was not necessarily a reveal of her true, callous character but a way of acknowledging the painful reality of your situation to a friend.

But if you don’t think you can forget it, tell her so. You can’t take her back only to secretly resent and suspect her for the rest of your lives. Tell her that what she said hit you very hard and that it hurt you to see her make light of the most painful experience of your life, even if she did not say it directly to you. You’re not crazy for entertaining doubts about your relationship, but I do think it would be a mistake not to at least try to move past this together. You would likely get a great deal out of a few weeks or months of couples counseling around this particular fight. Make it clear how much this has hurt you—don’t try to act like you’ve moved past it when you haven’t—and if her response is compassionate and apologetic, then I think you can trust her. Your parents may have been your whole world, but if she’s going to be a part of that world, you’re going to have to be able to fight and hurt one another and apologize and forgive. —D.L.

From: “Help! My Fiancée Made a Joke About My Dead Parents. Should I End Our Engagement?” (March 21, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I are expecting our first child in four months, and we’re really excited. The problem? My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their second baby two months after us, and we’re both really angry about it. I know I should be happy, but this particular brother has a history of constantly trying to one-up me and do things just because I’m doing them. I really think he planned this so that they could try to do a dual baby shower and cash in on our gifts (which would not be out of character). So, my question is twofold: How do I get over the anger about this and how do I politely tell my brother, since I know he will ask, that I do NOT want to do a dual baby shower?

It sounds as if you’re getting well-prepared for dealing with a toddler. You and your husband are already having tantrums, refusing to share, and stomping your feet and screaming, “Me, me, me!” Your brother may be an attention-hogging jerk, but you’re a petty, attention-hogging jerk yourself. You’re angry because your brother’s second child might impinge on your baby’s hour in the spotlight! You and your husband are spending a lot of time stoking each other over what you’ve both concluded is the malign purpose behind your brother’s reproductive choices! Wow and wow.

Since your brother and his girlfriend have a young child, it’s assumed they already have the baby equipment needed and a second shower is not necessary. I don’t know who’s throwing your shower, but usually it’s a friend, so all your friend has to do—if your brother tries to horn in—is to explain she’s just doing a shower for you. But why don’t you stop obsessing over a so far nonexistent problem, and start trying to open your heart to your new niece or nephew. —E.Y.

From: “Baby shower rivalry, dog adoption regret, and more.” (March 21, 2011)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

I am in my early 20s and still a student. I recently traveled to New York City with a friend (also a student) and stayed with her aunt for several days in her downtown apartment. The aunt was a lovely and generous host, and we enjoyed the trip immensely. Several days after getting home, my friend and I sat down to discuss what sort of thank-you we should send.

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