My step-son is worried we won't love him if we have a kid: how can we reassure him?

September 26 2013 | offbeatbride
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By: SAM NasimCC BY 2.0
I'm engaged to marry the love of my life next year. We've been together for four years, and I've been a step-mother to his eleven-year-old for three-and-a-half of those four years. I really love this kid — I often feel like he could be my own child, and we have a special "just us" language we regularly use.

My step-son has repeatedly told us that he doesn't want us to have a child of our own. He's a very sensitive kid, and is really worried that we won't love him as much as we do now if we have another. His dad and I do plan to have a child, and since we're older it'll probably be sooner than later.

My question here is two-fold: 1) when it comes time, how can we tell my step-son that we're having a baby without worrying him, and 2) how will the thirteen-year (at the very least) age gap between the two children impact the kids and us? — Bageria

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  1. I have some advice from MY perspective, so if this offends anyone, understand that it isn't meant to. It's just my perspective. You won't love your baby and your stepson the same. I don't love my stepdaughter and my son the same. My son came into this world and I loved him with a fiery passion that requires no work to maintain. Stepchildren are different. They are not your biological child, the chemistry is different. You won't know it till you have your own baby, and you see them side by side. You will still love your stepson, but when you have your baby, you will know there is a difference. Your stepson probably knows this, deep down. It's ok, though. Do the best you can by him, involve him in the baby care, and things will be fine. Always keep an open heart to ALL forms of love.

    25 agree
  2. One approach you might take is to emphasize to him that it's not just you and his dad having a baby, you are ALL having this baby together. Let him know how much you and this new kid are going to need him. Being a big brother is a very important job. Siblings have a special relationship that is unique and different from the parent-child relationship. There are going to be things that only your stepson can teach and give to this new baby as he or she grows.
    Also let him know that there are no limits to the amount of love one can give. It doesn't matter how many kids a parent has; you love them all with your whole heart. Love does not divide. It only multiplies.
    My husband and his brother have a 10-year age difference. They are each other's best friend. My mother is the youngest of five, born into a blended family. She has always thought of her sisters as just her siblings, not step- or half- siblings. That part has never made a difference to her. She loves all her sisters equally.

    1 agrees
    • This post really makes me feel safer and more relaxed about the whole situation thank you so much for your words. We have been talking to him about it randomly and casually and I've even tried "bribing" him into liking the idea by telling him he'd get to "boss the little around". It is good advice to remind me to let him know that it is a family event and not just something that would be happening with his dad and I. I always try to make him feel like it is OUR family in everything we do (even in our upcoming wedding we are doing part of the ceremony to merge families.) Thanks again for giving me some positive histories.

      1 agrees
  3. My stepsons were 14 and 7 when my son was born. The oldest lived with us and was very teenager-y and grumpy throughout my pregnancy. I don't think he specifically thought we wouldn't love him as much, though I'm sure he felt a bit like he wasn't going to have as much time with his dad as before. I was a little worried about how he would treat the baby, but I shouldn't have been. He really loves babies in general and became absolutely SMITTEN with his new baby brother. It's so great to see them together now. My son gets sad when he is out of town at his mother's house and lights up when he comes back. My stepson adores playing with him and is a great help. And my husband has tried to carve out time for time just with him. That, I think, has been so essential.

    1 agrees
  4. Although I can't speak well to the step-sibling situation, I was 10 and my brother 13 when our sister was born. It was actually a great age gap in a lot of ways, although I think my sister "grew up" faster than her friends because of it. I'd say, in respect to the step-son, definitely keep him involved and invited in the baby's care and play, but be wary of taking for granted the availability of a live-in babysitter. And what LN said about dedicated one-on-one time (from both you and his father) will probably help the transition considerably.

    5 agree
    • Sadly, we don't have our kid full time so there would no fear of taking having a free baby-sitter for granted. And your age gap between you and your sister and how that effected your relationship is exactly what I wanted some insight into. Doesn't matter that you are or aren't step or half or anything else. I know if I'm lucky enough to have a child that after a short while passes our eldest will see that we care just as much for him as we always did and THEN I'm worried about the effect it will have on both of them. My man actually has an age gap between him and his eldest sister so big she was out of the house by the time he was 3 but he had a sister that was close to his age so Thanks for the input.

  5. My co-worker has a 12 age gap between her two girls and the one thing she does that I really admire is make sure that she treats her oldest child like she is still her child and not a built-in babysitter or nanny. It seems like a no-brainer, but it can be small things that start to build until suddenly the oldest is shouldering a lot of responsibility that, while they can handle it, they shouldn't have to. I've heard from so many friends that have much younger siblings that the one thing they hated growing up was how much they had to take care of the little ones, and how their siblings became just another chore they had to do. This can't always be helped, especially in large families, and often it can be beneficial to everyone. But my co-worker makes sure that when she asks for help that she truly needs it and not because it's easier for her.

    Someone mentioned that you'll love your baby differently, which may be true. But different does not mean any more or less; it's just different. Maybe if you explain to him how he loves you and his father is how you'll love him and his sibling; a heart isn't made up of parts, but has layers and your love for him will be right there next to his sibling's, just as big but different. 13 is a funky, funky age and I was a sensitive kid but I was also pretty wily and knew exactly how to sucker punch my parents emotionally. Maybe talking about it more, and more causally, will normalize the situation and make it less of a Thing To Deal With and more of a family situation that may happen in the future.

    15 agree
  6. My little sister is 12 years younger than me, and now I am 26 and she is 14, and she is my best friend. It was a big enough age difference when she was little that she was never "annoying". It was SO exciting to have a baby around, then a cute toddler saying the darndest things, and we never had a stage where it wasn't great. My family says that I was also a big help because I was old enough to actually be useful; entertain the baby, hold her, change her. I hope the same for you!

  7. I grew up in blended families. Neither of my parents had children with their spouses (my step parents) but I remember once my dad and step-mom asked us about it. All three of us (my step-sister and my biological brother) were NOT happy! We protested, we exclaimed our utter dissatisfaction, we stomped out feet NO! But when I think back to it, it was the same feeling as if my parents told us we were moving or we had to start mowing the lawn. I didn't think my parents would love me any less – we just didn't want to deal with the change. If my parents had gone through with it, I'm sure that when they sat us down and had a proper talk with us about how it was going to affect us and how it was our responsibility as older siblings to protect this new person, we would have embraced it like anything else.
    One thing I can say is that my stepmom treated us (my bro and I) very differently than her own daughter whereas my stepfather treated us the same as his own kids and you really notice that as a kid. Also, when your new baby comes along, try to attend to your stepson first when they both want your attention (if possible) – he'll remember it; new baby won't remember that you let her cry for a few minutes while you helped stepson.
    Good luck!

    1 agrees
  8. My husband and I are in a similar situation but with a much younger child, my stepdaughter is 5. She is pretty excited about it though – she asks me at least once a week if I have a baby in my tummy yet, because she wants a squishy thing to cuddle and nom on and has already nicknamed is Squidgy. I don't even know. With a much older kid though (my husband is 12 years older than his youngest brother), it seems to be more an uncle/nephew relationship than just brotherly. He always saw his little brother as his baby too, and now that little guy is off in college, they are close as can be. It might be tough at first, but I hope it will work out as well as it did in my husband's case.

    1 agrees
  9. It's great that you're planning ahead. Because you have a great relationship with your stepson, my advice would be to work on establishing an activity (maybe one with each parents) that your stepson enjoys doing with you. Make it something that is possible to continue when you have a small infant, like having a TV show you watch together, movie night, cooking together, building things together, etc. His world will surely be rocked by the arrival of a new baby, but the more consistent you can keep things, the better he will adapt and the more secure he will feel.

    2 agree
  10. I think it's good to just acknowledge his feelings and the potential reality rather than trying to convince him that it's going to be the same and he'll feel as loved. Because, truthfully, having siblings can suck. It can also be a really awesome and cool thing, too. But in the beginning it might be hard, and that's okay. Hard things don't always need to be avoided. They can be dealt with and coped with by focusing on the love and relationships you have. But focusing too much on the "but you get to be a big older brother/protector" thing isn't really that helpful. I'm an older sister. I didn't ask to be the older sister. I didn't want to be the protector. I wanted to be the only girl. I wanted the attention. And it felt invalidating to be told 'but yay you get this new role!' sorta like when your boss comes in and asks you to do things or changes your job description without really asking you about it.

    I love the suggestions of the one-one dates. I also think things like brainstorming what lessons they want the new baby to learn about how the world works or how their familyw orks. Maybe creating some project about favorite memories/stories you'll get to share, or things you might look forward to teaching the kiddo together. But listening and aknowledging that yeah it's scary, and it might suck, and it might be good, but it's certainly going to be different is really important and validating for anyone, but especially pretween/teens who've been the only child for a long time.

    2 agree
  11. I haven't been in this situation, but you might be able to talk more specifically with your stepson about what he's worried about. You could even write a contract–you promise to have one-on-one dates with him, you promise to help him with his homework, you promise to keep using the special "just us" language, whatever it is that makes him sure that you love him now. Ask for his help brainstorming ways that you can show him how much you love him even if/when you have a new baby in the house.

    1 agrees
  12. One thing that helped me when my dad and stepmom got pregnant (I was 14 at the time) was to tell me FIRST. I was the first to know, even before their parents, and I think that helped make me feel really special and involved. I remember, selfishly, being terrified they were having a little girl and that my dad wouldn't love me the same way, but they had my little brother and made sure I was involved in everything. I didn't live with them, so they sent me pictures of the ultrasounds and updated me on everything going on with him. They made it a big deal not just that they were having a baby, but that I was going to be the big sister. A hard aspect for me to deal with was always that I never lived with my dad full-time and that is something that my brother got to do — what helped was making sure I had a lot of alone time with my dad AND that all four of us were always referred to as a family. The birth announcement included me – "R, L, and R welcome N to the world!" and they made an effort to make sure their friends always addressed invitations, etc. to all four of us.

    Once, when my brother was in preschool he drew a "family" picture and I wasn't in it — I lost my shit. I think that is where a lot of the fear comes from, that suddenly, the child outside of the marriage will no longer be the "family."

    Now, my little brother is one of my best friends. We are super close despite our age difference and he is a wonderful uncle to my son. It took a lot of work and conversations, though. I think the most important thing is that your stepson knows that all four of you are a FAMILY and that this is his little brother/sister.

    2 agree
    • This post really gave me hope! I am engaged and will marry next year. We have been together for a little over 6 years so i watched our little one grow up from the age of about 7. She has several siblings and is already part of a blended family as her mom is also going to marry someone with children from a previous relationship and has also had two more daughters from another relationship. She is the only child between my fiance and her mom. The topic of us having children has not come up until recently and although she playfully laughed it off we were later told by her mom that she is hurting and is feeling she will be replaced. I feel so saddened that she is hurting, i love her and im also afraid that as a somewhat new addition to the family i would be the first she blames for her sadness. i had planned to ease her into the topic of future siblings with her father but unfortunately it didnt work out that way… based on my childhood and growing up with a stepdad i met also at about 7 y.o i realize at that age i was raging out n at the time really hated my stepdad, in retrospect i know it was irrational and i was just acting out due to the belief he was "taking my mom from me" as an adult I now have a great bond with him. so i guess my fear is that she will react how i did and hate me too…reading ur post really gives me hope, thank you so much for sharing

  13. I have so much to say about this, as a middle child!

    My older brother is my half brother. He's always lived with us, he's my brother, and though he's 9 years older than me, and 13 years older than my sister, we're so close. I wanted to be just like him when I was a kid. He always knew about all the coolest stuff, and would take the time to show me. Like your step son, my brother is a sensitive, sweet soul. My parents went to counseling before having me, to try to learn strategies for making sure he was included. My dad, his step dad, was a computer scientist, and bought my brother a Commodore 64, back when that was the thing. My brother learned to program games, with my dad's advice and input, and I, too small for most of this interaction, got to play the games, and see my brother be proud of them, and my dad be proud of him. I have a very clear memory of my dad and my teenaged brother putting together a desktop from scratch. My dad let my brother put the CPU in, which is a very delicate thing, because if any of the pins are bent, the whole thing becomes an expensive piece of junk. My brother is now a software developer. I think what was really key about all this is that while babies are cute, they're not much good at anything, so there are activities to make an older kid feel special that a younger kid just can't do, or can maybe peripherally watch, like me getting to play the simple computer games my brother made with help from my dad. My point is, I think my brother felt included because there were lots of activities just for him, which it sounds like you're already working on.

    Also, a line I was always told as a child with regard to my little sister is "You turned out so great, we wanted another just like you!" I was younger, and so a little more gullible, but this definitely let me feel less replaced and more honored.

    Just wanted to add a perspective from someone in the potential baby's shoes.

    1 agrees
  14. My step kids were 5 and 7 when my son was born a little over a year ago. We have the kids 50% of the time and we are VERY close (I also feel like they're mine so I understand) and it was incredibly important to me that they not feel replaced. We made sure they were the first to know and gave them the opportunity to be as involved as they wanted to be during my pregnancy. We never forced them, but they chose to attend all my ultrasounds and even were present during the birth. They go around still proudly telling everyone that they were there the second he was born. ­čÖé After the birth things were a little crazy and their dad really picked up the slack in provided them the one on one attention they still deserved while I was nursing around the clock in the beginning. The big thing I did was once my son started getting into a routine, he'd usually fall asleep and hour before the other two and no matter how tired I was I spent that last hour playing board games with my step kids. That hour they looked forward to all day and it eased up any jealousy regarding my time

    As for the differences between how I feel about my son and my step kids? It is different. With my son there's this biological link that's very special and yet very automatic. It comes natural to me and I don't really have a choice in the matter! As for my step kids, I had to earn their respect and love and vice versa. That too is incredibly special since we don't HAVE to love each other. I enjoy and appreciate both types of love and it doesn't effect the level of care I provide to any of them.

    Lastly, the thing that surprised me the most was how much my son ADORES the other two. I swear, there's no one in the world that loves my step kids more then my son. This, was definitely an unexpected gift the kids got and nothing makes me happier then seeing their relationship blossom.

    2 agree
    • I realize you wrote this a white ago, but I love everything you said. Thank you! Any updates on how your family is doing?

  15. I'm not a mom, but I do have a perspective to share. My partner was your stepson's age when his mom and stepdad had their first daughter. And to be perfectly honest I believe that he is closer to his two half-sisters (he's 23 and they are 9 and 2) then I am to my two brothers (I'm 23, they're 18 and 15). Just to be clear, he has never EVER referred to his sisters as anything less than what they are. His sisters. I've never heard him refer to them as his half-sisters. But, the thing that makes a huge difference with him is that he lives in the same house as his mom and stepdad, so he's always with his sisters. His father and his girlfriend also have a kid, a son (5), who my boyfriend doesn't live with and hardly sees. And that's a very different relationship. It took him a very long time to adjust to having a little brother because he didn't see him as much.

    But as a pseudo-sister-in-law to all of them I see that my partner loves them all very much and has never felt resentful in any way toward any of them. And I know the 9 year-old is absolutely tickled pink by having a big brother who is that much older then her because we pick her up from school sometimes and take her for ice cream and stuff. Though I always get this strange feeling that parents who don't know us at her school think we're her parents (yikes! Am I really that old?!) I'm sorry I don't really have any straight up advice for you, but hopefully my story will help you feel a little more at ease.

  16. Everything that has been said is great, and I second the advice on acknowledging his feelings instead of trying to change his mind. It's totally OK for him to be scared, angry, and worried about such a big change. And things will change. But none of that should be a reason you DON'T have a kid. He's just going to have to deal with it, and all the advice previously given are great ways to make sure that he copes well and that it will eventually be a really GOOD change.
    I would also add to have conversations about the specifics of having a baby in the house. Babies need more "attention" in that they need to be attended to; ass-wiping, feeding, everything. Older kids don't require that. But in his head, attention = love. It might be helpful to keep talking about the fact that just because you have to give more attention to a baby, this isn't the same thing as loving the baby more. It's a reality that happens if you have another child, but if he goes into it understanding that love is felt and expressed differently, and he sees the love that you have for him in other ways, he'll be better able to cope.

    1 agrees
  17. I hate to be a downer, but as a stepchild on both sides, I can speak from your son's perspective.

    My family situation was extra complicated. My mom married my stepdad when I was four; my brother and I are half-siblings, but he is not the biological father of either of us. My father married my stepmom when I was ten. Neither of my stepparents chose to have additional children, but my stepdad adopted my half-brother when he was 16.

    Is the biological mom in the picture at all? Although he isn't my stepdad's biological child, my brother has been treated more like a member of that stepfamily than I have, primarily because my father is still very much involved. I had to split holidays and weekends; my brother did not. They're closer to him because they know him better. So there is a fundamental issue of time to consider.

    And my stepmother's family never fully embraced me, for much the same reason. So even though my stepmom loves me and (I hope) thinks of me as her daughter, I didn't have a real place in that family either. Would this have been better if she and my father had a child of their own? I honestly don't know. It might have solidified our family unit even further. Or it might have made me even more of an outsider. I think either of these were equally likely.

    I think it's disingenuous to tell your stepson that you'll love him just as much as his half-sibling. You'll love him, but it will be different. And it will be very, very different for your extended family. They will never be able to see themselves in your stepson the way they will in your child. So you should seriously consider whether it's the right thing for your whole family, and not just you and your husband; if it is, then just make sure your husband is spending as much time as possible with his son throughout the entire process. Let your family know that your stepson is worried about it, and encourage them to spend time alone with him. And be prepared to deal with significant fall-out.

    2 agree
  18. I can't speak to the stepfamily part of this puzzle, but I'm the oldest of a ton of sibs, and I can say with confidence that the farther apart in age we are, the better relationships we have as adults. I think it's something about never having been close enough in age while young to be mean to each other in the vicious ways that children can have.

    So my experience makes me think that though he may have trouble at first, your son will have a close bond with the new (potential) sib when they are both grown.

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