Q: About two months ago, I met a guy in an airport bar on my way across the country. We had a great evening, exchanged phone numbers afterward and went our separate ways. Here’s the problem: I’m pregnant – and I’ve decided to keep the baby. Here’s the question: Do I have to tell him? I don’t want anything from him. I do quite well financially and can easily support this child. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Before I answer this question (and assuming he isn’t married), I want to state that the answer will not contain a moral discussion about whether or not to keep a child. It will explore the question, “Do I have to tell the father?” and following the rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents, the simple answer is, yes. (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward.”)
More than the standard answer, “The father has a right to know,” your child has the right to both parents. (Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 1, “Put the child first.”) That means you call the father immediately and tell him you’re pregnant. You never know, he may think it’s just fine that you want to do this by yourself and change his phone number. Or he may be a stand-up guy and be there to support you and the baby. He needs to know, so you know what’s ahead. (Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 2, “Ask for help if you need it.”)
If the father stays where he lives and you stay where you live, it’s doubtful you will be able to co-parent simply because of distance. More likely, you will be doing most of the “parenting” and keeping him informed. The difficulty will be in problem-solving together.
Ironically, when people break up, professionals tell them that they need not talk to each other about anything but the children they share. The truth is, that’s all you have – and that will make it very tough to problem-solve. People who have a history have that history in common. Barring any domestic violence or drug addiction, etc., as awful as a breakup is, a couple that has been together has a familiarity that often fills in the gaps and gives that ex-couple additional incentive to problem-solve in the best interest of their children. It goes without saying that the turbulence associated with a breakup makes it difficult to negotiate, but it also supplies important information during disagreements. For example, you know if your ex lies. You know if your ex has a short fuse. You know if your ex clams up under pressure.
By the same token, not knowing your child’s father will truly allow you to approach problem-solving “in a businesslike manner,” which is also what professionals suggest helps exes negotiate in the best interest of their children. This implies that you keep the emotion out of things and problem-solve as you would in a business deal. In other words, both sides negotiate in good faith because they have a mutual interest in a successful outcome. Your mutual interest will be your child. The successful outcome will be his or her happiness. There’s more information on this subject in my book, “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.” You have a lot before you. Make that phone call as soon as possible.