Q: I’m a new mom—and the step-mother of a 6-year old from my husband’s previous marriage. I try to pay as much attention to my step-daughter as I can, but the minute I turn to my newborn son, she runs off in a fit. I don’t want to hurt my step-daughter’s feelings, but I want to feel free to enjoy my baby as well. What can I do?
A: Dealing with a stepchild’s jealousy may seem like it should be the same as dealing with any jealous older sibling, but there are other issues–particularly if the child doesn’t live in your house all the time. In cases like that, the stepchild may feel very upset that the new baby gets to be with you and daddy all the time while she can see her dad only part of the time. She may also be worried that her dad won’t love her as much as the new baby. After all, people are always fussing and cooing over infants and tend to ignore bigger kids.
It’s really important right now to make sure that your step-daughter understands that you love her just as much as before. Remind her often that she’s now a big sister and that you’re really proud at how big and mature she is and that you really need her help. Give her small tasks to do that are baby related–bringing you a bottle of milk from the fridge, helping change the baby, picking out the baby’s clothes, pushing the stroller, etc-anything to get her to feel less left out and more part of the process.
Also try to set aside some time where you and your step-daughter can be alone together doing an activity of her choice. This will reinforce idea that you’re not forgetting about her. But be careful not to rely too much on your step-daughter–you don’t want her to feel that the only reason you had this baby was to make her into a slave (which is exactly what she’ll tell you when she turns 13).
Finally, talk to your step-daughter and explain the reality of the situation-that babies take a lot of work and that you need to spend time doing that. Be sure to encourage the big kid to talk about what she’s feeling-let her say whatever she wants, even if it’s threatening or hateful-you want her to know that it’s okay to have strong feelings. You might even encourage her to draw how she feels or write a story about it. Be sure to help her understand the difference between having violent thoughts and actually doing anything about it.