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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.
– Alex Haley
Suzie, now 6 years old, was only 3 when her parents, Jeremy and Jessica, separated. Jeremy has since remarried Fiona and they are expecting a new baby. Suzie spends a bit more time with Jessica as she shuttles between her two homes.
Recently, since the announcement of the new child, Suzie has shown signs of anxiety and stress. She has become resistant to her visits with dad and often is angry at his house
This may not be an uncommon reaction when faced with the prospect of a new step-sibling. Suzie may fear abandonment or loss of love as potential competition with the new baby. Clearly, parents don’t “divide” a finite ability to love their children. The capacity for love swells and each child should experience the fullness of love as the family grows. Sometimes parents wonder if they could love another human being like the love of a first child. But as any parent who has had that experience knows, it is true.
To facilitate this transition parents (both parents and step-parents) need to be sensitive to the child’s feelings as expressed in their behaviors. Support can take the form of reassurance of the child’s importance, involvement in the process of welcoming the new addition, and just understanding and acceptance of their struggle in this process. This is also an opportunity to facilitate two of the most important roles of a family: to nurture children (physically, emotionally and psychologically) and to teach them how to successfully be a part of society. Entries and exits in the family all create challenges. Learning how to deal with these challenges teach us how to deal with all relationships. Suzie wants to make sure she will still “fit in” dad’s world. Jeremy, Jessica and Fiona all have a role in helping Suzie to realize she has a place in both homes.
As in most post-divorce parenting issues, a cooperative front by the parents yields the best results.