Prev Next
Toxic Family Ties

Toxic Families, Secret Pregnancies & Starting Over

By Amalah


I’ve been reading through your past advice on dealing with toxic families and wondered what you thought about just not telling my toxic family I’m pregnant.

Here’s the background: My parents divorced when I was in middle school. My mom has mental health issues, making it hard to have a relationship with her. I ended up living with my father and stepmother, both of whom were emotionally abusive, controlling and manipulative for over ten years.

I ended up moving to another country, cut off relations with my father and stepmother, got a great job, met a wonderful man and am now seven months’ pregnant.

The relatives back home have never supported anything I’ve done. The only emails or letters they send are to pressure me to “forgive” my father or to accuse me of abandoning family. I haven’t yet told them I’m pregnant because I know how much pressure they will heap onto me and how much stress that will bring on.

I’m seriously contemplating just not telling them about this kid at all. I don’t want my kid anywhere near these people anyway. I have no plans on moving back near any of them, and none of them have come here.

The only immediate problem is that my cousin, whom I adore, might come visit next year on her own. I have no idea what I’d do then.

What do you think?

-Fed up

If you’ve cut toxic people out of your life (and they know you’ve cut them out of your life), you are under no obligation to share anything with them going forward. I think you’ve got that part down, in regards to your father and stepmother, but other extended family members have continued to exist in a kind of gray area for you.

Given what you’re considering (not telling them the baby even exists, much less ever allow them to see the baby or be part of his/her life going forward), I’d say it’s probably time to move them out of the gray area and into the “I no longer have contact with these people or any emotional obligations to them” zone as well. Throw out the pleading/guilt-trip letters without opening them. Maybe even reply to their next email and tell them to no longer contact you, what’s done is done and their lack of support will no longer be tolerated. Or just add them to your blocked senders list so any future “WHY U ABANDON UR HORRIBLE FAMILY” emails go right into your spam folder.

As for your cousin, whom you “adore,” I assume she knows your situation and supports your continued estrangement, and thus would also support a request that she not discuss you or provide secondhand access to information about your life to the rest of the family. If you haven’t even told her about your pregnancy, I would, pronto. I don’t see a visit next year where you’re like, SURPRISE NINE-MONTH-OLD BABY! going particularly well.

I would also accept that it probably will inevitably get back to your relatives that you had a baby. Even if you’re not the one telling them, even if you pledge to never breathe a word or post a baby picture on Facebook. I think you can ask your cousin to not use her access/friendship to leak baby pictures or provide gossip-y ammunition about you to the rest of the family…but it would be unfair to order her to explicitly lie about the existence of a baby. I imagine she’s in a tough spot as well, remaining close to the “black sheep” of the family whom everybody else is essentially trying to guilt back into their manipulative, messed up world. I think you guys are due for a long heart-to-heart about what’s happening and what your life will look like going forward, baby and rest-of-the-family-wise, if you haven’t already.

But always remember: Just because these people are aware that your baby exists, that gives them NO RIGHTS to be part of his/her life and still puts ZERO OBLIGATION on you to accept or facilitate a relationship with them. Choosing to not tell them is simply Step One for you, and Step Two is following through with the long-term consequences of that choice, which is to finally and fully extricate yourself from them and their continued guilt and manipulation. So they find out you have a baby. So what? Doesn’t change the fact that you don’t want your kid anywhere near these people anyway. They are not welcome in your home or email inbox or brain space any longer. You’ve started over with a family of your own. A wonderful, hard-won, and fully earned fresh start.

Your cousin can remain the exception — not because she’s “family” but because she sounds like she’s been the only decent person to you, and you’ve chosen her as a FRIEND, almost in spite of the fact that she has ties to your toxic background. As long as she understands that, I think you’ll be fine.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon