*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Having a positive relationship with your kids will take patience and determination, and sometimes, the way your life changes could make them feel upset even while you're only trying to keep your family together and give them more reasons to feel loved.
How would you react if your kids felt sad knowing they would have siblings? Would you get annoyed or just wait it out, hoping they would realize it doesn't mean you care less about them?
My friend Annie, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, has been married to Doug, her husband, for two years.
She'd been a single mom for three years before meeting Doug, and she has one daughter from her previous relationship.
"Dating and just wanting to start a relationship again wasn't easy at all because I kept thinking about what happened before. And I didn't want to confuse Lilly, my little girl. I could only introduce her to someone else once I was sure he was ok with committing long-term and being a stepdad, too," Annie said.
She met Doug at her birthday party when he dropped off one of her friends. Annie invited him to stay, and he agreed, even though he didn't expect to like such an event.
"I'm not usually someone who likes being in a crowded place, but talking to Annie felt great, and I didn't want to leave. I had no other plans, and when she asked me whether I wanted to stay, I agreed to have a snack, and we spent most of the evening talking and dancing," Doug said.
Things moved quite fast from there, and by the time Doug got ready to leave home, they also exchanged phone numbers. They called each other and texted for a week, and after that, Doug asked Annie on a date.
"I knew it was just a few days since I'd met him, but everything felt right. And what was the point of being friends for a long time if we wanted a relationship? I was cautious about telling him everything, though. There was no reason to bring my daughter into our talks until I was sure about his intentions and goals," Annie said.
Their first date in Phoenix was at lunch since Annie didn't have anyone to look after her little girl on that evening. They had a tasty meal and talked some more, trying to figure out what each of them needed to be happy.
"I felt he was honest and didn't care so much about looks and expensive things. And he liked me even though I wasn't comfortable getting all dressed up to impress him. We had a more casual date, and it went so well I felt confident about meeting him again," Annie said.
They kept dating two or three times a week for two months, and after that time, Annie felt she should tell him she was a single mom. Doug was a bit surprised when he found out, but he didn't reject Annie because she was a mom.
Instead, he wanted to know more about Lilly and felt like all three of them should have a close relationship.
"He did say he didn't know if he could be a stepdad since he had no parenting experience, but he was willing to be her friend and help her any way he could. That was good enough for me," the mom said.
Doug and Lilly met the following weekend when he came to Annie's home in Phoenix to spend the afternoon together. Lilly played with Doug and wasn't annoyed by his visit.
"She showed him her favorite plants in the garden and insisted he should have some flowers too. My daughter wasn't confused, and she saw him as a friend. When I asked if she'd like to see him again, she immediately agreed," Annie said.
From that day, Doug spent almost every weekend with the two of them as they tried to get used to being a family. Six months after he met Lilly, Doug asked Annie to marry him. She said yes, and their wedding took place in Phoenix just one month later.
"He wanted me to stay home after the wedding, but I didn't feel comfortable doing that. I told him I would if we had a baby, so I kept my job, and mom came by during the week to help with looking after Lilly," Annie said.
Both Annie and Doug focused on their careers and earning more, and one year and a half after they tied the knot, they were able to buy a new home in Phoenix.
"We'd been saving for several months, and it felt great to finally move to a place with more bedrooms and a bigger backyard. That was also when I thought about having a bigger family. I felt ready to be a mom again, and I wasn't stressed like before because Doug had been promoted, and we could easily afford what we needed just on one salary. It was the right time to take another step in our relationship, and being parents together would make all the difference," Annie said.
A few days after their second anniversary, Annie found out she was pregnant. She and Doug let their parents know, and they decided to organize a party next week.
Before then, Annie wanted to talk to Lilly too and explain to her that she would have a brother or a sister. Unfortunately, the little girl didn't react too well when she found out.
"She cried when I told her I was pregnant; she doesn't want siblings. I told her Doug and I will still love her, but she didn't want to talk to me again on that day. And now, every time I bring up my pregnancy, she will go to a corner and avoid everyone for a few hours. I don't want her to be sad," Annie said.
Gina, her mom, told Annie she just needed to be patient and reassure Lilly. Annie is trying to include Lilly in the party, but the little girl refuses to help her choose flowers or cakes on the menu.
"I think once she realizes she won't be left out and that our relationship will stay the same, she will warm up to the idea. It was just a long time for her to be an only child, and it's not easy to adjust," Annie said.
What do you think about this situation? Was Lilly's reaction to be expected, or does it show there will be more problems for the family later on? Should Doug and Annie wait it out and encourage Lilly to keep having a positive relationship with them and the baby so she understands she won't be in second place now that their family will get bigger?