Best ways to discuss new pregnancy with stepchild?
April 25, 2014 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I have been married almost a year (lived together before that) and have a good relationship with his 12-year-old son, who lives about an hour away and is with us in summers and every other weekend. Now I am pregnant. We are excited to tell stepson this weekend, but I want to think a bit about...

a) how to explain that there is a possibility of miscarriage or other mishap (I'm barely pregnant- 6 weeks). My parents know and Husband and stepson will tell his grandparents, but otherwise we will keep it under wraps for another 6 weeks.
b) how much biology to get into. I feel like he could handle the full info about what is going on physically but I don't want to overwhelm or gross him out. Was considering possibly looking at an anatomy book that we have together, or one of those "what's happening this week of the pregnancy" websites together.
c) what other concerns we might expect. Husband and stepson have discussed this possibility before and stepson has said he is excited. Including him and having him feel that we are all one family is a top priority for us.

I wonder for those who might have experience with similar situations - do you have any suggestions for telling your older stepchild that they will have a younger sibling? Easing the transition? Things to watch out for? etc?

Another perhaps-relevant detail here is that he plans to live with us in high school and this might potentially be a reason for him to come live with us earlier than that.

I didnt see many metafilter questions on this topic, hence my emergence from lurker to poster. Would appreciate links to relevant sources too.
posted by bluedeans to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My first thought was congratulations! My second was, why even tell him you're pregnant before you're out of the first trimester? Will waiting another six weeks to talk to him be problematic in some way? While miscarriage is of course possible after 12 weeks, it's much less likely--so much so that you could avoid talking to him about the idea of miscarriage at all if you share this news with him after 12 weeks, neatly resolving the issue in a).

Of course you're excited about the idea of growing your family and want to make him a part of that as soon as possible, but waiting another six weeks to tell him could actually be the best thing for him (which appears, rightly, to be your priority, so yay for that!).
posted by jesourie at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would not tell him so early myself. If you were to miscarry, you presumably would not rely on him for support. Otherwise, pregnancy is boring and long except for the parents so it just means a longer wait for him between the news and the baby popping out. I just don't see how early news benefits him?
posted by saucysault at 11:43 AM on April 25, 2014

In the absence of a compelling reason (and you'll know a compelling reason when you see it), don't tell until you show.
posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on April 25, 2014

hmm, good points. I do remember now that my own mother thought she might be pregnant when I was about his age, and she was not jumping to tell me (turned out she wasn't anyway - she told me years later). I realize this might be more of a big deal in our minds than his at this time. I'd still be happy to read your advice for the rest of the question if we decide to wait another 6 weeks.
posted by bluedeans at 11:55 AM on April 25, 2014

I would also wait till you're further along toward the second trimester. And I'm not sure what he needs to know about the biology of what's happening -- I'm assuming he knows where babies come from in the general sense (unless that's what you're asking about?); other than that, I guess I find it hard to imagine that a 12-year-old boy is going to be actively interested in the details of what's happening to his stepmother's body or in the fetal development of his future sibling. If he has questions, of course, answer them at whatever level is appropriate for him. But I wouldn't sit him down with an anatomy book and start talking about your uterus, no.
posted by scody at 11:56 AM on April 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure why you'd feel compelled to get into any biology? He's 12. Surely he has a passing understanding that women can become pregnant? Getting into more detail than that is one of those borderline mortifying conversations with very little immediate payoff for a 12-year-old boy...

In any event, I also wouldn't tell until the normal "through most of the woods" timing. And I'd definitely stay away from anything approaching "when a step-mommy and daddy love each other very much..."
posted by disillusioned at 11:56 AM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm an Old, but is it really customary to get into the biology of the pregnancy with kids now? Unless you think that he personally is going to be curious about how this particular baby is developing, what happens during pregnancy, etc, I would not bring this up. Not least because "here is what is happening inside my body" is very close to "here is the consequence of how your father and I had sex", something that is difficult enough for any child, never mind one who is hearing this from his step-mother, even a great stepmother to whom he feels close.
posted by Frowner at 11:57 AM on April 25, 2014

Do you think he can keep it a secret for six weeks? For a 12-year old, I'm not sure it's realistic or fair to ask him to. Why not tell him when you're ready to tell everyone, so he can be a part of the reveal? Maybe he'd like to do a cheesy photoshoot.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:58 AM on April 25, 2014

I think it's a nice touch if your husband takes him out for a meal and tells him one-on-one. It'd be a nod to the primacy of the father-son relationship, and it would let your step-son react without having to worry about your feelings.

It's probably going to be a big positive. But it doesn't hurt for your husband to acknowledge that it will be a big change, and that a lot of it will be amazing and some of it will suck, welcome to big brotherhood!!
posted by vitabellosi at 12:00 PM on April 25, 2014 [15 favorites]

In my extended family the same scenario is ongoing. The pregnancy is a bit further along but not much and the stepson is a couple of years older. They decided to involve stepson in a few ways. They told family quite early on mainly because dad can't keep a secret to save his life. They let stepson come along to first ultrasound, which mum to be found more mind boggling that stepson. He was also allowed to 'decide' if they find out the baby's sex later. The assumption being that a young teen would not choose to wait to find out (and the parents want to find out). As expected he decided they should find out. So far he's pretty excited and he was chuffed to be allowed to be involved the way he is. Admittedly his mother remarried before his dad and she also has a younger child from that subsequent marriage so the concept of half brothers/sisters is very familiar to him.

Personally, I'd be guided by the son in terms of how much biology he wants to know-this may not be his primary concern when you tell him. He'll ask questions as they arise.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:04 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wait until 12 weeks if you're planning on telling everyone else around then, because you don't know if he'll blab or not.

I wouldn't bother talking to him about the biological stuff unless he shows a genuine interest. He almost certainly knows the basics of sex and pregnancy, and I guarantee you that all the weekly fetal development stuff is significantly less interesting to him than to you. A twelve-year-old kid probably wants to hear as little as humanly possible about his parents' reproductive systems.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:05 PM on April 25, 2014

My stepbrothers and I were tweens-to-teens when my dad and stepmom started having children together (two children, one miscarriage). The information was kept *very* basic and factual. Much more basic than you're describing. They told us that my stepmom was pregnant and that the baby would arrive sometime in $month. That was about it.

The miscarriage was likewise described in a very simple way, they told us that it was very common though not commonly discussed. They might've even told us about the miscarriage without having told us about the pregnancy beforehand. (Upon preview, I agree that he's not going to be more excited 2 months from now than he will be this weekend. I have no idea when they told us which shows how little awareness kids have of these things.)

We watched some "Where do babies come from" type videos at one point, which are still the source of family jokes. Most of our questions had to do with what would happen after the baby came--names, sleeping arrangements, at what age they would be able to walk, when would their birthday be, that sort of thing. Pregnancy, from a kid's perspective, is pretty boring. Just answer what he asks, I think.

The main thing I'd say to watch out for longer-term would be an overdependence on him as easy childcare and to make sure he has his own space to retreat to, even if he's just there on weekends. (I slept in my baby sister's room, including during an extended phase of sleep training. Ugh.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:06 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

a) wait another 6 weeks, unless there is an issue of other family members blabbing to him. If you do tell him sooner, don't mention the issue of miscarriage. That's more information than he needs to know unless it happens.
b) no need to get into any pregnancy biology unless he asks, because that almost immediately becomes TMI. Except maybe showing him ultrasounds if he seems interested in that? He is old enough to know how babies happen.
c) I'd suggest that instead of framing things as "we" (father and stepmom) are having a baby, try and frame them as "we" (father, stepmom and him) are going to have a baby. Emphasise the sibling for him. It should be clear that his status in the family does not change other than becoming a big brother, to try and avoid any concerns about being displaced or of lower status than the new baby.
posted by Joh at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

1) Wait until 12 weeks or even later

2) None. Be led by him but my guess is that he is going to be far, far less interested than you are.

3) What disruptions this will cause to his schedule (like if you normally all go to X at Y time of year but can't this year because infant, let him know and do something else instead that is centered around him.)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2014

I think it should be:
a. wait until a miscarriage is unlikely and don't mention potential problems at all -- only confirmed problems if there are any.
b. the expected due date (and possibly the fact that the due date is in fact a five week range) and nothing else
c. how will his life stay the same and how will it change. For instance, what room will be for the baby? Is he moving in full-time sooner than planned -- how will that work and is everyone on board? Does that mean that he would instead spend summers with his mom? How will that change things for him? (Are you planning on moving to a larger place?)

I'm sure he'll be delighted to meet the baby and be a good big brother, but the baby is pretty abstract right now and his concerns are probably going to be for himself at the moment.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:22 PM on April 25, 2014

A) Wait until after the first trimester

B) Leave the book on the coffee table. If he's a curious, smart, science-minded kid, he'll probably find it fascinating. But independently from talking about it with you. If, for some crazy reason, he hasn't had a detailed sex and pregnancy prevention talk with his Dad, he should have that - but it has nothing to do with this pregnancy.

"Another perhaps-relevant detail here is that he plans to live with us in high school and this might potentially be a reason for him to come live with us earlier than that."
What's the bedroom situation? Is the baby going to take the bedroom he has at your house, or do you have four bedrooms? This is important.

I would tell him together and then let his dad take him out for dinner or some errands afterward to chat privately. If his dad tells him alone without you there, it makes it seem like it is something separate rather than that the 4 of your are a family unit.

Be aware that this might be a very hard thing for his mom (for her ex to be having a child with his current wife, and for her son to be part of this new foursome-family that she is not a part of), and that she might express it by being irritable or negative about the baby to him. Be patient with that.
posted by amaire at 12:26 PM on April 25, 2014

lives about an hour away and is with us in summers and every other weekend.

Tell him once he's come for the summer and unpacked and spent some time with his dad. Then it's not a bombshell loaded with questions that he needs to take back home with him. It's an experience you all get to share and adjust to together over several months.
posted by headnsouth at 12:40 PM on April 25, 2014

thanks all. Since a few people asked, we moved into a new place recently that included his own room and a separate room that is now my office but which we made clear would be a baby's room if that happened. Chuckling to myself at the horrified reactions some of you have to the biology question. Message received!
posted by bluedeans at 12:50 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't have any kids, but I think 12 year old me would have been fascinated about the biology aspect of things! But then again, I posted this earlier this month.

And as far as I can tell the main recreational activity of 12 year olds is grossing out other 12 year olds.
posted by fontophilic at 1:46 PM on April 25, 2014

I am the oldest of four children and my mom never told me until she was 12 weeks along. (Actually, I was 12 when she was pregnant with my youngest brother!) I think the uncertainty of early pregnancy is a little much to ask a child in the family to deal with (regardless of their age); wait until you're pretty sure everything is going well. Obviously sometimes things still happen, and you deal with those things then, but try to give him a lot of the joyful parts of pregnancy and not too much of the worrying parts.

As for participating, I went to see my youngest brother's ultrasound (ultrasounds being kinda newish then) and it was AMAZING and very special, I still remember what shoes I wore because that day is so burned in my brain. Feeling the baby kick was also always a big deal, with all three of them. Especially since you're a step parent he might feel a little shy about putting his hand on your belly, so yank it on over there and place it firmly.

Some hospitals have "sibling" classes where they go for four hours and learn a little about babies and how to change a diaper and give a bottle and burp the kid. If there's an age-appropriate one he might enjoy that. (Sometimes they're geared at littler kids.)

I was unprepared for how ILL my mother looked in the hospital, both times I visited her in the hospital after a baby was born. She wasn't ill, just exhausted from giving birth and very pale. (And, the second time, when I was 12, still hooked up to the IV, which I was not prepared for.) Now that everyone has digital cameras and facebook, I don't think that's quite such a big deal because kids have usually seen pictures of mom before they go visit the new baby at the hospital, but do make sure he knows that you'll be worn out not just in the hospital for that the first six weeks with a new baby, everyone is exhausted and frazzled and babies are not very much fun right at first. (Fascinating and beautiful, but not much fun.)

When the baby is newborn, kids his age can definitely do one of baby's favorite things, which is hold the baby while she sleeps. He can sit and watch TV or read a book and cuddle the baby. People don't often ask kids to do that, thinking it'll be boring for them, but it's an actual useful baby-care task that children can perform when babies are too little to interact much. I was also a champion baby-burper when I was 12.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:50 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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