My stepdaughter is jealous that we’re having a new baby
Hi Dr Justin,
I am a stepparent to two teenage girls, 15 and 18. The girls’ mother passed away so there was no messy divorce or negativity around that, just a lot of pain and loss.
My husband and I are now having a baby boy and the eldest daughter is having issues with it. Do you have any advice on what I can do?
Dr Justin says:
Blending a family is one of the great challenges that some parents face. Your situation is particularly interesting because your husband’s daughters are so much older than the soon-to-arrive baby boy. There are a couple of strategies that you might pursue in working through the reactions your eldest stepdaughter is giving. These are:
1) Identify their feelings
In situations like this, a child may fear that the birth or introduction of someone new into the family will diminish her parent’s love for, and interest in, her. Being angry or upset about change comes from one of two places – either fear or sadness. In the girls’ cases, I suspect both are operating. There is sadness and grief over the loss of their mother. There is fear that the baby will be smothered with attention and they may be left out.
2) Spend time together
Time invested in the relationship is the central way through any challenge, including this one. I recommend that you and your husband find opportunities to spend one-on-one time with the two big girls. Don’t try to talk about big issues. In fact, leave any agenda you may have behind. Instead, go for walks, milkshakes, ice-cream or coffee, and just chat about their lives. Be interested in them. If talk of the baby comes up, be authentic about your excitement, but be sensitive to them as well.
3) Ask them how they are feeling
At the right time, you might venture to ask how they think it will affect things. You could ask them how they feel about it, how they’d like to be involved with the baby. Such a conversation can also be an opportunity for reassurance that you or their dad will still be heavily involved in their lives as well.
4) Involve them
This isn’t an answer for every family, but it may be interesting for you to contemplate. A family I knew invited their older children to attend the birth of their new sibling. For that family, they said it ‘bonded them’ and brought them together in a way they had not previously experienced. Of course, this is not for every family. Some parents see the birth experience as completely sacred and something to be shared only between husband and wife. Your values will guide you on this suggestion.
5) Let them be
Lastly, while time and understanding – and lots of conversations – are the central relationship builders (particularly during these sensitive times), there is only so much that you can do. Sometimes we simply need to let our kids make their own decisions. We’re talking about an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old. Certainly the elder daughter is now an adult and will form her own opinions and live life the way she wants to. If she chooses to remain guarded and wants to stay away from the family as you go through this change, sometimes giving her that space is the best thing you can do. Forcing her to engage and be involved is likely to simply drive her further away.
I also suspect that if she is resistant at first, over time she will come around and love cuddling her little brother.
Spending time together, chatting about normal stuff, and being patient and sensitive around issues that create sadness and fear are your best strategies. Invest in the relationship so that when sensitive topics arise (and they almost certainly will) you can ask gentle questions, involve your stepdaughters, and grow closer rather than further apart.
This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz