Telling kids about a half-sibling

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 1, 2012 06:00 AM

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My husband and I have 2 boys aged 6 and 3 years. Before my husband and I met, he fathered a son with another women he had dated briefly. They were never together but he and I maintained a relationship with the child until the boy was about 17 years old (and our oldest boy was just a baby). At this time, the boy was going through some difficult adolescent issues and we lost contact with him. We haven't told our sons about their half brother yet, but I want to tell them now before they find out on their own. What is the best way to tell them? What questions might they have?

From: Heather, Toronto


Dear Heather,

Telling them now is a good idea, not only for the reason you mention but also because the older they are when they find out, the more betrayed they may feel, as in, "I have a half-brother? And you didn't tell me? What other secrets are you keeping? How can I trust you any more?"

Tell them in a matter-of-fact way -- without getting dramatic -- and keep it simple. By simple, I mean that they only need basic facts: "There's someone in our family you have never met. His name is X, and he's 19 years old, and he lives in Y. He's your half-brother. That means daddy is his father, but I'm not his mom." I know that feels like half the story. I is. At their ages, that's all they need to understand. It's also about all they can absorb.

After you say that, allow for a pause. Then tell them, "If you have any questions, just ask."

The 3-year-old will likely not have any, or if he does, it's likely to be unformed and ego-centric: "Are you still my daddy?" Answer that even though it doesn't get asked. "Of course, I'm still your daddy [good time for a bear hug] and I love you very much and I always will." The 6- year-old may have questions, but they will likely be very concrete and may even seem weird: Does he go to school? Does he like ___? (Fill in the blank with his favorite food.) Answer the questions truthfully if you can. If you don't know the answer, say so. Remember that kids are ego-centric. A question like, "Where's he gonna sleep?" is really, "Is my bedroom still gonna be my bedroom?" Answer it this way: "You'll always have your bedroom. He's not coming here to live."

If you act upset or weirded out, they will be, too. If you present this in a "There's-all-different- ways- to- be- a- family" kind of way, they will accept it that way, too.

The point of this first conversation is really to get the facts on the table. As they reach new stages of development, there will be new questions because they will come to grasp the facts and implications in different ways. If a question comes up out of the blue, that's a good clue that he is reaching a new understanding. Some day, they'll want to know about this boy's mom, and whether dad was married, and if he's coming to live with them, and where will he sleep, and can they see a picture.

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1 comments so far...
  1. Please help. My children are now 14 and 17. Their dad left when my daughter was 1 and my son 4 due to having an affair - he had another child while we were going through the divorce - he had 2 children with 2 other women prior to marrying me. I don't know if my children know, don't think he has ever told them. I feel they need to know - how do I do this or do I insist he tells them. He didn't even tell them when he got re-married. He has 6 children - our 2 are the only 2 illigimate children

    Posted by kerry February 14, 13 01:10 PM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. Please help. My children are now 14 and 17. Their dad left when my daughter was 1 and my son 4 due to having an affair - he had another child while we were going through the divorce - he had 2 children with 2 other women prior to marrying me. I don't know if my children know, don't think he has ever told them. I feel they need to know - how do I do this or do I insist he tells them. He didn't even tell them when he got re-married. He has 6 children - our 2 are the only 2 illigimate children

    Posted by kerry February 14, 13 01:10 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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