Dad, just tell the kids a half-sib is on the way.

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 21, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hello Barbara,

I'm struggling with how to tell the children from my first marriage that they are going to have a new half-sibling and I hoped for some advice.

Over 4 years ago their mother and I split up and I moved out. It took quite a while for us to initiate and finalize a divorce but that was eventually done last summer, almost 3 1/2 years after we separated. Not long after the separation I began a long distance relationship with a wonderful woman (I lived on the East Coast and she lived in California). Almost a year ago I moved to California. We agreed not to tell my children (ages 21 and 18) about her until after the divorce was finalized. Finally, almost 6 months after the divorce and almost a year after I moved, they visited California and met my new partner for the first time. The visit went well and was without drama. However, just before they visited, we learned that we are expecting (we are delighted). We didn't tell them at the time but we are now through the first trimester and I need to break the news. Would you please provide me with some advice on how to bring this up? My son is 21 and a senior in college on the east coast and my daughter is 18 and a freshman so it's not feasible for me to do this in person. My relationships with them are not great, we rarely speak, though not through lack of my trying. I'm very anxious about this and am deeply concerned that this will be a huge wedge in an already fragile relationship. My partner and I both feel that we would like my children to be part of our lives and to also have a relationship with their new half-sibling. Also, should I tell their mother directly or let the children break the news to her? If you suggest that I tell her directly, is that something I should do subsequent to telling my kids? What insights might you have for us?

From: AN, California

Dear AN,

There's no magic formula about how you "bring this up," other than to say, follow your heart. In fact, I would tell them exactly what you said here: You and your partner are expecting a baby; you both would like your children to be part of your lives and to also have a relationship with their new half-sibling. Since you rarely speak anyway, I would do this in an email or letter. That gives them time to absorb and process the information before they react. They aren't little kids. They are not going to be shocked at the news; at some level, they probably expect it, although that's not the same as embracing it.

Yes, their mom needs to know, too; in an ideal world, they would be able to count on her for support. Don't leave it up to your kids to tell her. As your ex-wife, she deserves the courtesy of hearing from you, also in an email or letter, for the same reasons. (Leaving it up to the kids gives her reason to say, "He didn't even have the decency to tell me himself," which will only turn the kids away.) I'm not suggesting you ask her permission to tell the kids, or even that you enlist her help, although, in the best scenario, you would and she would be willing. I get the sense that "ideal" is not an operative word here, however.

In fact, the bigger question seems to me to be in addition to the one you're asking. If you want your kids to be in your lives more, and to know their half-sib, how is that going to happen if you "rarely speak," and the relationship is so "fragile"? Before you write this letter/email, maybe give that some thought so you can offer some real possibilities. That would show just how sincere you are.

Any readers who are adult children of divorce who've been on the receiving end of this? What worked for you and what didn't?

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1 comments so far...
  1. Let me get this straight: as far as the kids know, you've had this woman in your life for less than a year and you're expecting? I realize you've been running this on two different timelines, but I think you have to brace yourself for a very difficult situation. I was 23 when my parents divorced and it was very amicable. Five years later, my father married a woman he'd known for 6 months and all four of us kids (late teens to late-20s) hit the roof. That's the problem for you with your kids. Your partner isn't part of their lives and it's not "oh great, Dad and Y are having a kid." Also, you don't live down the street. If you are serious that you want to have some sort of relationship with your kids -- let alone that you want them to have a relationship with a child who will be 20 years younger and a continent away – you need to get on a plane and go visit them. I know it’s inconvenient. Think of how inconvenient this will be for them! And think about what you mean by “a relationship with the kid” knowing the age and geography differences. Cards at holidays? Gifts on birthdays? The relationship you should worry about it yours with your kids, not your children’s. And as for the ex-wife, inform her but don’t expect her to support or welcome the news.

    Posted by vcwriter February 24, 12 01:53 PM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. Let me get this straight: as far as the kids know, you've had this woman in your life for less than a year and you're expecting? I realize you've been running this on two different timelines, but I think you have to brace yourself for a very difficult situation. I was 23 when my parents divorced and it was very amicable. Five years later, my father married a woman he'd known for 6 months and all four of us kids (late teens to late-20s) hit the roof. That's the problem for you with your kids. Your partner isn't part of their lives and it's not "oh great, Dad and Y are having a kid." Also, you don't live down the street. If you are serious that you want to have some sort of relationship with your kids -- let alone that you want them to have a relationship with a child who will be 20 years younger and a continent away – you need to get on a plane and go visit them. I know it’s inconvenient. Think of how inconvenient this will be for them! And think about what you mean by “a relationship with the kid” knowing the age and geography differences. Cards at holidays? Gifts on birthdays? The relationship you should worry about it yours with your kids, not your children’s. And as for the ex-wife, inform her but don’t expect her to support or welcome the news.

    Posted by vcwriter February 24, 12 01:53 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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