Getting engaged is one of the most exciting events in your life, but if your partner has children, the thought of a proposal might also be nerve-wracking. The kids may feel a lot of emotions about adding a new person to the family—good, bad, or otherwise—and it can be tricky to know how to talk to them in preparation for your upcoming marriage. Communicating with your partner about ways to handle these potentially difficult conversations beforehand will save you a lot of anxiety and frustration later on. But when and how should you or your partner talk to the kids about your upcoming marriage? Here are three common ways couples address this important question.
Before the Engagement
A wonderful option, if your soon-to-be fiance is up for it, is to include the children in the proposal plans from the beginning. Having the kids “in on the surprise” can be a great way to get them excited for the upcoming wedding and marriage instead of feeling apprehensive or upset about it. Younger children especially might enjoy giving input on the choice of engagement ring, proposal location, or other related details. This is a particularly good option if you have a strong bond with the children and they general feel good about your relationship with their parent.
Realize, of course, that this will mean that the engagement itself is more of a “family affair,” as opposed to an intimate moment shared just between you and your partner, so if you’d prefer that only the two of you share in this moment, it might be good to make that clear before anyone starts hinting about getting down on one knee.
After the Engagement
Another option is to keep the proposal itself between just the two of you and to talk with the children afterward. If you choose this method, it is a very good idea to keep the initial conversation between the kids and their biological parent. Children experience a lot of emotions when they find out their parent is remarrying, and not only do you want to make sure the kids are able to talk to their parent openly and honestly about those feelings, but you also don’t want your happy excitement from the proposal to be affected by the fact that the kids might not immediately express that same excitement.
Once your partner and his or her children have had some time to talk about it separately, join in on the conversation and start to chat about what this will mean! When my husband and I first got engaged, he spoke with my now stepdaughter about it separately, then we all came together to discuss what awesome things this would open up for our family. We talked about what she envisioned for the wedding (we have her to thank for the chocolate fountain!) and what role she would like to play in the ceremony. By giving her time to talk with her dad alone and process the situation before adding me to the mix, it allowed the group conversation to be focused in a positive direction on the excitement of the day. We framed our talk around the logistical aspects of how she would like to be involved (flower girl or bridesmaid, have her own part of our vows, etc.) rather than around any emotions she may be having about the marriage.
This option is fairly common and can work well, but it is still advisable that the news of the engagement doesn’t come out of nowhere and surprise the children. Although the children aren’t actively participating in the proposal itself, it is still a good idea to give a heads up to the kids, even months in advance, that the relationship is getting more serious and a marriage may be in the future. This will also help make the subsequent conversations much easier, as the kids are less likely to feel blindsided by the news.
After the Wedding
If you feel it is a good choice for your family, you may choose to get married first and tell the children about it later. This tends to happen when couples choose to forego an engagement altogether and elope. However, this isn’t the option generally recommended for step-families, as it could start the official familial relationship off in a potentially rocky place if the kids feel their emotions or needs weren’t being taken into account. If you choose to do this, it is more important than ever for the kids to have the initial conversation about the marriage with their biological parent only, as emotions are likely to be extra high and stepping in on that talk before anyone has time to process could be detrimental to your relationship with your stepchildren.
No matter how or when you decide to include your partner’s children in the conversation about your engagement and marriage, make sure you give them plenty of time and space to process this major change in their lives, but do keep an open dialogue about your plans for the future. You can converse together about the specifics of the wedding—it may make them feel extra invested if you can find a job specifically for them, like choosing candy types or picking the song for your cake cutting—or about traditions you’d like to start once you are officially a family. Many children find that their parent getting married brings up confusion, sadness, or fear, so by conversing with them openly and positively about what life will be like in your new family unit, you can help to turn those negative emotions into excitement and joy for what the future will bring!