Should You Tell Your Child They Were an Accident?

As many as half of pregnancies are “unintended.” Unprotected sex, birth control malfunctions, too much wine, “oops babies”. There are lots of ways to conceive a child and, just because you didn’t plan on getting pregnant doesn’t mean that you don’t want and love your child. But, should you tell them they were an accident?

A study in 2018 revealed that adults who believed they were unwanted or unplanned had insecure relationships and were more anxious and had attachment issues than adults who knew they were planned pregnancies. The authors of the study warned that telling your child that they were an accident, even as an adult, may harm their emotional and mental health. If you choose to tell them, try to support them and remove as much of the negative feelings around the situation as possible.

Still other experts tell parents that it’s not as important if you do or do not tell your child they were an accident, but it is important how you tell them. Reassure the child and make sure they know how much you love them. If there are siblings (planned or unplanned), make sure the child doesn’t feel like you love them more or less than the others just because of their beginning.

The why is also important: if your goal in telling your child they were unplanned is to reassure them just how much you love them and how glad you are that your plans weren’t the same as mother nature’s, go for it. Or, if you want to use your own experience to teach your teen why she shouldn’t have sex with her high school boyfriend unless she is ready to be a mom, then explain away. But, if you use the “unplanned-ness” of your child to punish them or make them feel guilty, then it’s better to keep that information to yourself.

As a general rule, children benefit greatly from open and honest relationships with their family. Children are much more perceptive than they get credit for and they may figure out (or at least strongly suspect) all on their own that they were unplanned. If they sense you are hiding something from them or lying to them about it, they will likely resent you and mistrust you.

Of course, age appropriateness and individual maturity levels have a lot to do with these conversations. Children who are too young to understand just how babies are made have no concept of being “wanted” or “planned.” These children only need love and reassurance. Older children may be able to handle more mature conversations about how and why they were conceived. Be accurate without providing too much information. If sex education is a normal part of your parenting discourse, your child will likely handle information about their own conception much better.

Let your child lead the conversation. Answer their questions but don’t overwhelm them. Let them have time to digest what they have learned and come back to you with more questions. This is probably a conversation that will take place over time as they grow.

This same advice applies when telling children you already have about a new pregnancy that wasn’t planned. Don’t hide things from them: be honest and explain your feelings – excitement, anxiety, and everything in between. Reassure them that they are loved and the new child will be loved. Make sure they have trusted family members and friends that can support them when they aren’t sure they want a sibling.

Some people find out they are pregnant and they are over the moon with excitement. Others are terrified. Most are somewhere in between. Yes, it’s exciting. Yes, it’s terrifying. All of the emotions that go along with a pregnancy – especially an unplanned one – are real and honest and probably shouldn’t be sugar-coated for the sake of the child that was born. It’s OK to tell your child that you weren’t sure you wanted to be a parent, or that you weren’t sure you’d be good at it, or that you didn’t know how much help and support you’d have from your friends and family. But it’s also OK to tell them that now that they are here, you’re sure glad you had them.

Jennifer Gibson
Dr. Jennifer Gibson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Clemson University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She trained as a hospital pharmacist and is the author of clinical textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, and continuing education programs for the medical community, as well as a contributor to award-winning healthcare blogs and websites. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.

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