Should step son meet his half-sib?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 11, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hi, we have just been contacted by my stepson's half brother's father. My ss's brother is still an infant. We are conflicted because he and his partner want the two children to meet. The father of ss's brother is still in contact with the Bio Mother and that situation is very volatile at best. We don't trust the father's motives. Would introducing the children be wise? What ill effects can this have on the children?

From: Tilly, Australia

Dear Tilly,

It is never in children's best interests to have unspoken truths about the family. At the very least, your step-son should know that he now has a half-brother. Help him to send a "Welcome" card or note or gift. Obviously that's not because the baby will understand the gesture but because your step-son will.

Why is it so important not to keep this a secret? Two words: acceptance and trust. When children grow up knowing the truth, they are more likely to accept the facts as just the facts, as in, "This is my life. This is my family. No big deal." When they learn about it later in life, whether "later is at age 10 or 15 or 35," there's a struggle:
Who is this person to me? What does this person mean to me? Is there a place for him/her in my life? There's also often an erosion of trust in their parents: "If you didn't tell me this, how can I trust that there aren't other secrets you aren't telling?"

You don't mention your step-son's age and, although you hint at extenuating circumstances, I don't know what they are or how difficult they might be, but nonethless, I would advocate for meeting the baby as well as for maintaining some kind of relationship over the years. You can be in control of what that is until your ss is old enough to influence that decision. Again, in general, openness is better. For more help on the subject, read this from The Guardian; and this, which I wrote last spring about how to tell your child about half-sibs.

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4 comments so far...
  1. Great advice. I found out very late I was the secret. www.alovechild.com

    Posted by Ellen September 11, 12 08:40 PM
  1. Barbara, how do you suggest coaching the kids to talk about their family situation in these cases? My daughter (5) has an older half-sib (21) who lives across the country that she's never met, for various reasons. The half-sib is a bit troubled and has 2 kids of her own already, one who is the same age as my daughter! Because of half-sibs' troubles, I hope that one day she'll live with us, and bring her kids - I feel like we could help in many ways. We've always told my daughter that she has a sister who lives far away but she 'self-identifies' as having no siblings, unsurprisingly, and honestly we don't talk about half-sib much. My only fear in my dream of her living with us is how my daughter can explain to others that, oh, these little kids her age are actually her niece and nephew! I know it's shallow but it's odd and makes me feel a little self-conscious. Sorry to hijack the original letter...

    Posted by janelle September 11, 12 09:11 PM
  1. 45 years ago I was friends with a kid whose nephew was only a couple of years younger than he was, so I don't understand why explaining a similarly aged niece or nephew would be a problem. It's unusual--and perhaps even more so now that families tend to be much smaller than in the Baby Boom generation--but it's hardly scandalous, especially with divorce & remarriage being so much more common now than then.

    Posted by Finn September 12, 12 04:50 PM
  1. Janelle,
    First, this is not as an unusual occurrence as you might think; I know at least two such families, and readers have indicated they do, too. We also don’t give kids enough credit. They will be perfectly able to accept, “This is our family,” as long as you do. If you are uncomfortable, then they will be.

    Posted by Barbara Meltz September 13, 12 11:13 AM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. Great advice. I found out very late I was the secret. www.alovechild.com

    Posted by Ellen September 11, 12 08:40 PM
  1. Barbara, how do you suggest coaching the kids to talk about their family situation in these cases? My daughter (5) has an older half-sib (21) who lives across the country that she's never met, for various reasons. The half-sib is a bit troubled and has 2 kids of her own already, one who is the same age as my daughter! Because of half-sibs' troubles, I hope that one day she'll live with us, and bring her kids - I feel like we could help in many ways. We've always told my daughter that she has a sister who lives far away but she 'self-identifies' as having no siblings, unsurprisingly, and honestly we don't talk about half-sib much. My only fear in my dream of her living with us is how my daughter can explain to others that, oh, these little kids her age are actually her niece and nephew! I know it's shallow but it's odd and makes me feel a little self-conscious. Sorry to hijack the original letter...

    Posted by janelle September 11, 12 09:11 PM
  1. 45 years ago I was friends with a kid whose nephew was only a couple of years younger than he was, so I don't understand why explaining a similarly aged niece or nephew would be a problem. It's unusual--and perhaps even more so now that families tend to be much smaller than in the Baby Boom generation--but it's hardly scandalous, especially with divorce & remarriage being so much more common now than then.

    Posted by Finn September 12, 12 04:50 PM
  1. Janelle,
    First, this is not as an unusual occurrence as you might think; I know at least two such families, and readers have indicated they do, too. We also don’t give kids enough credit. They will be perfectly able to accept, “This is our family,” as long as you do. If you are uncomfortable, then they will be.

    Posted by Barbara Meltz September 13, 12 11:13 AM
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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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