QUESTION: I was divorced after 11
years of marriage. In those 11 years, I had three beautiful children.
Then, the mother left with the kids. After 1 1/2 years., I was remarried.
My new wife had no children, but all of her life she wanted at least
one child. She was divorced out of an abusive situation. We talked
about it before we were remarried. She and I really wanted a child.
I wanted another because I love children and I love her. We are both
so excited and very happy about the news.
Anyway, now that we are expecting after 2 years
of remarriage, I'm not sure really how to tell my 11 year old daughter,
my 10 year old daughter and my 6 year old son. Right now, my oldest
daughter hardly comes to visit me because she resents the new stepmom.
My middle girl and my son come faithfully every other weekend. I also
am a faithful child supporter and have never missed one payment.
After the remarriage, the oldest daughter somewhat
resents her new stepmom. So, I'm not really sure how she is going
to react to the news that her stepmom is now expecting in January.
Do you have any suggestions concerning my dilemma.
ANSWER: Congratulations! It sounds like
you have taken some time between marriages and some time before adding
a new member to your stepfamily. This bodes well, as your younger
two children have been able to adjust to your new relationship and
visit you regularly.
Your eldest daughter is having greater difficulty
adjusting to the changes of divorce and your remarriage. Your sensitivity
to her feelings about the new baby on the way shows that you are thinking
of her needs. She is fortunate to have a thoughtful and responsible
Dad who cares about her. Now to get this love across to her!
There are many reasons why she may be expressing resentment
at this time. And she may also be expressing resentment for others
in the family (siblings or mother) if there has not been adequate
room to express negative feelings in the past, either about the divorce
or the remarriage.
Being the eldest and being one year apart from the
next sibling may also have special ramifications. The eldest child
in the family may experience more of the conflict in divorce, or be
caught in the middle of the original marriage conflict, particularly
if she is identifying with her mother.
Or she may be calling out for some special time and
attention from you in resolving her feelings at this time. Perhaps
she was very bonded to you and feels as though she were being replaced
in some way by your new wife. Getting to the bottom of the meaning
of her rejection is important. Be clear with her that you do not expect
her to "love" your new wife, or to replace her mother in any way.
Arrange for separate time with this eldest daughter, if she is not
able to accept sharing you at this time. Taking walks, going to the
movies or out to dinner to reestablish a connection with her could
help. Even talking on the phone, e-mail or letters asking about her
interests could be a start at reestablishing your bond.
In short, let her know that no matter how rejecting
she may be towards you, that you love her and are still there for
her. You are her father and nothing will change that! Give her time
to adjust and relate to you individually before bringing up the new
baby. Establish some activity that the two of you do together independently
of the other family members that will continue throughout the pregnancy
and birth of your fourth child. This will give your daughter some
built in space to express her feelings about this change. Invite her
negative feelings about this change. Expect it. Let her know it is
OK to feel angry and sad over changes she cannot control. But continue
to expect her to remain in contact with you, and include her in as
much stepfamily activity as she can tolerate. Small amounts may be
better at first rather than whole weekends. Perhaps coming for dinner
or an evening movie could begin the process of blending and building
It would also be helpful to do some family counseling
with your daughter to help move through the mourning over the divorce
and exploring specific feelings about the new situation. Other members
can be brought in as appropriate, to provide a safe place for airing
feelings about the changes in the family.
Be consistent in keeping up attention to the other
children at this time as well. And be open to negative feelings from
them, too. It is also possible that your eldest is holding the negative
feelings for the family, particularly if the other children only express
positive feelings and cooperation. By making room for negative and
positive feelings in the family, it is less likely that one person
will become the voice for unpopular feelings no one else is expressing.
It takes time to form a stepfamily. There are no "instant"
families when remarriage occurs. Be patient. Spend extra time with
your children now and reserve time for them that remains theirs after
the baby comes. Your children will be sensitive to exclusion during
this transition, as are all children when adding a new sibling. A
difference will be that your children will be more likely to express
insecurity about their place in the family before the baby comes,
instead of acting these feelings out primarily after the baby arrives.
However, be aware that your task as a parent remains
the same. Your job is to make each child feel the security of your
love and commitment to them through this transition. It is natural
for all children to struggle with securing their place in the family
when a new member arrives. Stepfamilies are no different, except that
this adjustment is magnified by the previous loss of the intact biological
Your children will be reassured of their individual
places in your new family through actions more than words. Since your
two children are with you every other weekend, it should be feasible
to have time for your new baby and your wife when your children are
with their mother. In the beginning, plan on focusing attention on
their needs when the baby arrives and they are sharing you with your
new son or daughter. Do not expect them to share your joy. But do
expect them to relate to you. Pacing is everything, so go slowly.
Do not push "instant love" for their new step-sibling. (Or step-Mom!)
Let their affection evolve naturally. Let them know that they remain
irreplaceable to you. If all goes well, your children can secure a
place in this new family system, resulting in a deeper sense of belonging
to you, your wife and their new sibling!