Are You Prepared to Tell Your Kids "Big News"?
Kim and I started dating in September of 2000. We were engaged by Christmas and walking down the aisle on March 16, 2001!
Yes…today is our 18-Year Anniversary! (unless you're reading this someday long after it posts :-)
But, this story isn't really about us. It's about Annika.
Annika was just turning 5 years old when we began dating. I look back now and realize just how much change she had to adjust to in a very short period of time. The span of time between her meeting me and me marrying her mom was just a little over 6 months! That's a lot of change for a 5-year-old!
We were lucky though…for the most part she seemed to be able to roll with all the changes. When we told her we were getting married, she seemed genuinely excited. As we made all the plans, she was involved and typically happy.
But announcing our engagement wasn't the only "Big News" Annika has heard over the years. She's had to move multiple times, we added two more kids to the family in the first 5 years of our marriage…the list goes on.
Not Always a Happy Story
We're grateful for Annika's ability to handle big news over the years. But the more we connect with step-couples, the more realize that's not everyone's story.
Sometimes big news is met with tears, screaming, silence or panic. Other times the response is laughter, sarcasm or simply denial.
And here's the thing…you're probably not done delivering "Big News"…
…because it doesn't end with announcing an engagement. Kids are impacted by all kinds of news in stepfamily life and you might be blindsided by their reaction.
Different kids will react to different things, but every step-couple can minimize negative reactions by doing a little bit of prep work before the conversation.
4 Prep-Steps for Delivering Big News
Don't get caught off guard by an emotional "explosion". Even if you think your child will take the news you're delivering well, be prepared for the opposite.
Whether it's a wedding announcement or a new baby on the way, for kids things just aren't real until they're REAL. They likely have no idea that the next big thing is coming and that can catch them off guard.
If they freak out…you don't have to freak out.
Most likely they're responding to some kind of fear or insecurity. It's probably not a personal attack against you or your partner. They just need your help processing difficult emotions.
In that moment, don't jump in to "fix it" mode or try to convince them to feel differently than they do. Instead, listen to their worries and do your best to reassure them of your love and commitment to them.
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Acknowledge What's Changing…and What's Not
Your kids need to know that you empathize with the changes they have to navigate.
Gaining a new step-parent, moving to a new neighborhood, changing schools, living with step-siblings, experiencing new holiday traditions….the list of things that kids have to adjust to can go on and on. These adjustments are "Big News" for kids, even if they feel like little things to us.
Helping kids understand what will be changing and being clear on what WON'T change can help them accept the news much easier.
"I want you to know that we're getting married…but you and I are still going to have our Sunday morning breakfast just like we always have."
"We're moving to a new house, but you're still going to have your own bedroom and you won't have to change schools."
When you have Big News to share with your kids, make sure to think through as many things as you can that won't change and share them right away. This will help them feel a sense of stability and security which may minimize negative reactions.
Honor Their Other Loyalties
When big news comes, kids quickly begin to work out how the changes will impact other relationships that are important to them. How will the change impact time with their parent in the other home? How will it impact access to friends? How will it impact their time around extended family members?
You may be surprised by the relationships they worry about when they hear your big news. In that moment, do your best to stay focused on honoring those relationships (even if it's about your Ex!)
If you believe they'll still have the same access to those people…tell them exactly why you believe that. If you realize that something will have to change, then focus on how they can stay connected to those relationships and what you're willing to do to support that.
Telling kids things like "you'll make new friends" or "you'll still be able to FaceTime with Dad any time you want" might be true, but it won't help them process in the moment.
Instead, focus on statements like, "you've got some great friends here…how do you think you can stay connected with them?" or "I'm glad you and your dad are close…let's talk about ways you can connect with him even though we'll be farther apart".
Hanging in there with these conversations will help your kids discover that they can still be connected to the relationships they feel loyal to.
Don't Assume it's "One and Done"
Big news can take a while for kids to process. So, plan ahead for multiple conversations.
Remember that you've been thinking about your "Big News" for a while…but it may take them time to catch up.
Keep an ongoing dialog with the kids throughout the changes they're experiencing. They may have a delayed "explosion" or just need a little extra reassurance along the way.
Be intentional about checking in with them often to see how they're feeling. Remind them of the things that WON'T be changing to help them maintain a sense of stability. Plan with them the time and place they'll connect with those people they feel loyalty to.
Don't try to "Wing It"
Those times when I'm caught off-guard by our kid's reactions are the times I'm at my worst. I respond with words and attitudes that don't really help. And usually when I look back on those moments, I realize that just a little forethought would have gone a long way.
When you have "Big News" to share with your kids, don't just wing it…take the time to think through how the news will impact them and how you think they'll react. Be prepared to reassure them and be patient as they work through their worries and fears.
Approaching "Big News" with these 4 Prep-Steps will help you minimize those negative reactions!
QUESTION: What are some other ways you prepare yourself to deliver "Big News" to your kids? Leave a comment below…