My husband revealed he has a child from a previous relationship – how do I accept her into my family?

Hi Evie. This is a long story but I’ll try to keep it to the main details. I’ve been married for 13 years, together for 14. Last year my husband found out that an ex had fallen pregnant with his child but kept it a secret. She reached out to tell him on FB last year because her daughter was asking questions about who her dad was. The ex obviously felt bad and thought it best that they (father and daughter) start a relationship together. Now, my husband didn’t actually tell me about this until a few months later, once he’d already met his daughter (he told me at the time he was going on a fishing trip with his buddies). When he did tell me, I was really upset. Not because he has another child – I know he didn’t know about her. But the fact that he lied about where he was going and waited months before telling me what was going on. I’m also conflicted because we have 3 children, and his daughter wants to start regular visits. I don’t have any bad feelings towards her, she’s an innocent child, but I don’t really like the vibe of her mom. She’s quite pushy and entitled, she claims she never told my husband about the kid because she wanted to prove to her family and friends she could raise a child alone. So I guess my question is, how do I forgive my husband for not being upfront, and how do I accept a child I don’t really know into our lives (mom and all)? – Serena, US 

Dear Serena,

It sounds like life is throwing you a curveball right now, so it’s understandable that you’re struggling to picture what your “new normal” looks like. I’d like to start by addressing the anger you feel towards your husband for keeping his daughter a secret for a few months rather than telling you directly. 

You have every right to expect your partner to be upfront and honest, especially about something as life-changing as this. 

But, humans are far too complex to live up to this expectation all the time. By the sounds of it, your husband didn’t withhold this information to hurt you but rather to give himself time to figure out what was going on. Yes, it’s hurtful that he felt he had to do that alone instead of enlisting your support, but maybe he wanted time to get his head around having a child before having to deal with the emotional response of his wife and kids.

If this is the first instance of him withholding information, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. If it isn’t, a wider conversation is needed to understand why he doesn’t feel comfortable coming to you in times of difficulty. 

I also think it’s important to let your husband know how you’re feeling – betrayed, but also anxious about how to make this new family setup work. You shouldn’t have to worry in silence, ultimately, the main responsibility is on him to make this work. 

So now let’s move on to accepting the new child in your life – take your time.

Forming a new relationship with a child is difficult, let alone a teenager who has probably been raised very differently from how you’re raising your own children. Don’t expect things to magically fall into place overnight…This will be a process that could take years to settle. With that being said, approach her with an open mind. If anything, this could be the perfect opportunity to show love and support to your husband and his child, and to embody the values you cherish, showing your children the power of compassion and openness.

If you find that after a few months, there’s a struggle to adapt and get along (whether that’s from your end, your kids, or your new step-child), consider seeking family therapy. A professional can help you all work through your feelings and find a common ground rooted in respect as you work out your new roles within the family. 

Finally, when dealing with your step-child’s mom – boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! Aim to have an amicable relationship with her for the sake of the child, but don’t feel you need to invite this person into your life more than necessary (unless you want to). And always remember – it’s your husband who needs to keep his ex in check and ensure that she doesn’t put more of a strain on an already tense time. Yes, he must now prioritize his new daughter and give her the love and attention she needs, but he mustn’t forget to keep his family – you and your three children- at the forefront too. 

Best of luck, Serena!

Evie

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Ask Evie

Evie is on a mission to revolutionize relationships and help you sort through your emotional woes. Her popular column helps readers break free from societal restraints and create empowering relationships - both with their inner selves and with those around them. With a wealth of experience in relationship counseling, backed by several professional certifications, she’s open-minded, big-hearted, and extremely compassionate… But she’ll also be completely honest in telling you the (sometimes) brutal truth, so you can get straight to the heart of the matter. Maybe you’re trying to save a marriage that currently feels like a sinking ship? Or worrying that your new friend isn’t quite as nice as they seem? Perhaps you’ve accidentally killed your partner’s goldfish and are weighing up the pros and cons of going to the pet store and finding a doppelganger, or fessing up? Whatever the dilemma, Evie’s at the ready to help sort through the emotional turmoil and guide you towards the next best step. To get in touch with Evie, click here.

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