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Telling Children From First Marriage
About New Baby

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 family relationships.

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 family unit.

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!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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