Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have a 9-month-old son. In addition, I have two older kids—7 and 10—from a previous relationship who are with my wife and me 50% of the time. Early on, my older kids were crazy about the new baby. But now they seem resentful, as though I love the baby more than I love them. Is there some way to show them that I love them just as much as I always have?
As you’ve discovered, integrating your old family with your new one can be a pretty complicated undertaking for everyone involved. It’s quite common for older kids to feel jealous of any new sibling. But throw in the fact that your older kids are with you only half time—and you’re with the new baby full time—and normal jealousy may morph into exactly what you suspect: resentment. Until the new, little interloper showed up, they had a monopoly on your time, your love (and your money). Now, they may be afraid that all those things will be spent on the new baby, and they aren’t happy about it. Your older kids may also watch the way you interact with the baby and compare it to the way you were with them. If they think that their half-sibling is getting more from you than they did, again, they won’t be happy. Of course their perceptions may be completely wrong, but their feelings and reaction to those feelings are quite real.
Almost all children with divorced parents secretly (or not-so-secretly) wish that their parents will get back together. When you got remarried, they could still hope. But having a new family with a woman who’s not their mother pretty well destroyed their fantasy.
Another odd thing may be going on here as well. Your older kids feel very loyal to their mother (rightfully so). But as they begin to feel some love for the baby and some affection (or at least respect) for their stepmother, they may feel guilty, as if they’re somehow being disloyal to their mother. It’s as if they don’t have enough love to go around. That guilt may make them may lash out at you, the baby, and/or your wife.
Clearly, this is going to be tough on your kids and your wife. But it’s not any easier on you, and you’ll likely find yourself in a very uncomfortable spot. The more time you spend with your new family, the more you’ll have to deal with your older kids’ jealousy of all the things they aren’t getting and maybe never got (in their mind). You may start to feel guilty that you weren’t a better dad the first time ‘round. And, the more time you spend with your older kids, the more your wife will feel abandoned and excluded.
Being in the middle like this isn’t easy, and you’ll need to come up with a way to juggle the often-conflicting needs of your two families in a way that works for everyone—including you. One thing that should never be on the table (or even close to it) is to even consider severing ties with your older children. They need you and you need them, even if you can’t see each other as often as you’d like.
Your challenge is to create a brand new family unit that includes your new baby, your wife, and your older children. This doesn’t mean trying to make the older kids part of your new family or the new family part of the old one. You’ll just end up making one group or the other feel second best. Instead, both groups have to understand that they’re part of something bigger and that your loyalties are not divided but are spread out evenly.
Photo credit: unsplash.com/Daria Nepriakhina