Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when you were gifted an Ancestry DNA test for Christmas, but what you ended up finding out about your family was anything but a gift? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My mom and aunt are really into ancestry and tracing back their lineage. They gifted Ancestry.com’s DNA test kit to my brother and I for Christmas, I guess in hopes that we’d be as into that kind of stuff as they are after learning everything you can learn from just spitting in a tube and mailing it in. Well, we learned that our grandfather, who died two years ago, had a whole ass other kid aside from my mom and her sister, because there’s a slew of first and second cousins on there that we uh, didn’t know anything about! My brother and I are torn about telling them — I think we should, he doesn’t want any part of the awkwardness that will surely unfold. But my mom keeps asking me if I’ve received my results, so I know I can’t put it off forever. From what I can tell, the kid my grandfather had is a few years younger than my mom, when he was still very much married to my grandma (who died when I was a teen). Should I break the news that their dearly departed dad was a player?
If it’s any consolation at all, you are one of, like, a zillion people who have unearthed some skeletons in the ol’ family closet this way. There’s even an entire TikTok genre where people share said secrets, and many of them are downright wild.
You’re definitely in a bit of a pickle here because you didn’t initiate this whole DNA tracker thing — it was important to your mom and your aunt, and they’re eager to hear the results. I do think they should be told the truth about this, no matter how uncomfortable and painful it is. And if they’re super into heritage and genealogy, who’s to say they won’t take the test for themselves? I’m surprised they haven’t already. And you wouldn’t want them to find out that way, and risk them feeling betrayed by a lie of omission.
Your brother shouldn’t leave the burden for you to bear alone, because you’re both in this now. Brace yourself for your mom and aunt to be shocked, hurt, angry, and disappointed when they learn the news. They’re likely going to be feeling some big feelings, particularly because their parents are deceased and hearing not-so-great things about people who love who have died is really, really hard. Friends and family tend to glorify people they love after they die as a way to cope.
All you can do is give them all the information you have, present it factually but with compassion, and the rest is up to them. They’re allowed to feel however they want to feel. Considering they can’t confront their parents about this, it’ll probably be extra frustrating to always wonder who knew what and when, etc. But remember, you didn’t do anything wrong, your brother didn’t do anything wrong, and no one was expecting this.
Let them decide how to process it and how to move on. Maybe they’ll get to a point where they want to connect with other relatives about this, maybe they don’t want any further answers. It’s up to them. You and your brother are just the messenger, and you’re both also allowed to feel however you want to feel about it. I wish you the best of luck in this pending awkward, painful conversation and I’m sending your family a big virtual hug.