How do I tell my parents I'm pregnant?

Dear Alice,

I am pregnant and my ex-boyfriend is the father. He broke up with me before I found out I was pregnant. He's going out with another girl now and acts like he doesn't want anything to do with me or our baby! Neither my parents nor his parents know yet. How do I tell them? I don't want to go through this as a single parent. What should I do?


Dear IN, 

Finding out that you’re pregnant can bring a sudden whirlwind of questions and emotions. You ask, “What should I do?” and fortunately, there are many resources and options available to you. Reproductive health services (such as Planned Parenthood) or a health care provider can be a first step in finding information, getting an exam to make sure you and the baby are healthy, and talking about how you’re feeling. In the meantime, it sounds like communicating with your parents (and your ex's parents, if you choose) about your pregnancy is your main concern. Thinking through how you might broach the subject and their possible reactions may help you feel more prepared. Beyond that conversation, you may also have additional concerns about which path to take if the father doesn’t want to be involved. You're wise to take some time to think through how you might address each of these matters; read on for possible strategies for navigating these concerns. 

Although it’s difficult to predict how the conversation will go with your parents, you can do a little pre-conversation prep to calm your nerves. You may have some sense of how they might react to your news, but keep in mind that they could have an initial reaction that changes over time. As you prepare, try putting yourself in a few different imaginary scenarios: What’s your plan if they start yelling? Or what might you say if they have a lot of questions, or, conversely, fall completely silent? Depending on your relationship with them, it could help if you had a trusted friend or mentor come with you. If the conversation goes well, you might consider taking one or both of your parents with you to visit with a health care provider as they may be able to assist you when you speak with them. 

If you’re concerned about what you’re actually going to say, here are a few ideas you might try: 

  • “Mom and Dad, I have something that I want to talk to you about. I recently found out that I'm pregnant. Would you be willing to talk to me about this?” 
  • “Hey, I have some news I want to share. It may upset or confuse you, and I understand if it does. But I’m scared and not entirely sure what to do, so I would really appreciate your advice.” 
  • “Mom, Dad—I really value your support. It would mean a lot to me if you could help me figure this out.” 

If you would like to inform your ex’s parents, it may be worth having a discussion with the father of the child first. It may also be worth asking the father if he’s open to discussing how he’d like to be involved, if at all, so that you can be on the same page before speaking with his parents. 

One thing to consider may be establishing paternity; speaking to someone with a legal background may help if you decide to go through this process. On the other hand, he may not want to have a role as a parent at all, so it can be helpful to prepare for all the possibilities. Speaking with your ex may be as nerve-wracking as talking with parents but approaching the conversation with the same strategies (i.e., planning what you might say and preparing for potential reactions) may give you some useful tools for discussion. 

In addition to having a potentially difficult conversation with your parents and ex-boyfriend, you might also think about a few concerns on your own. While parenthood can be a time full of joy, it can also be full of challenges and sacrifices. Here are some of the major factors you may want to consider as you weigh your options: 

  • Time: Do you have the time to devote to raising a child, considering any work, school, or other responsibilities you may have?  In the United States (US), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), entitles eligible employees to parental bonding leave, which could provide you with up to twelve weeks of leave.  If you’re working, you may need to speak with a human resources officer to check if this applies to you. 
  • Energy: Do you have the energy, such as a willingness to be patient, even when things get tough? Having and raising a child can be amazing and enjoyable, but there will also be difficult times ahead. 
  • Planning: Are you ready to plan your days around a baby and their needs? 
  • Material resources: Will you have enough money for items such as diapers, clothes, and health care for a baby? Or do you have a network of friends and family members that could help provide these items or be a source of emotional and mental support if needed? 
  • Lifestyle changes: If it applies to you, are you willing to make lifestyle changes such as avoiding alcohol, drugs, modifying any current prescriptions during your pregnancy—or during lactation—to protect the baby? 

These questions are especially worth considering if you’re thinking about single parenthood; while it can be very rewarding, it can also mean more pressure and responsibilities. Your answers may also help you weigh your choices about whether to keep the baby, put it up for adoption, or have an abortion. To help inform your decision-making process at your own pace, consider checking out the frequently asked questions published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Walking through them with a medical professional might also be helpful. 

While a pregnancy can leave you with a lot of unknowns, talking with people in your life—whether it’s a health care provider, mental health professional, your parents, your ex, mentors, or friends—can help you navigate whatever path you decide to take from here. These conversations can be hard, but hopefully you can lean on your community, and remember to make the decision that best aligns with your life. 

Last updated Jan 05, 2024
Originally published Oct 31, 1996