Care and Feeding

I Announced I’m Pregnant. There’s One Person Devastated by the News.

We’ve had the “love is infinite” talk.

A woman with an illustrated speech bubble with a heart in it faces a little girl.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jupiterimages/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am thrilled to say I’m 14 weeks pregnant! I married a wonderful man with an equally wonderful daughter—who is now 13—from a previous marriage. My stepdaughter and I have had a close relationship and spend a lot of time together, but she’s (understandably) having a hard time with our family growing. She’s generally a sweet, even-tempered kid, but she got so upset when we told her the good news that she yelled and stomped up to her room, which is very out of character for her.

We’ve talked a lot since then, and most of the time she seems fine, but if anything pregnancy-related comes up she gets moody and hides in her room. I love being around her, but she’s become especially clingy, and I worry it’s because she doesn’t feel a secure attachment to me anymore. I’m only going to get more visibly pregnant, and I worry that this will get more distressing for her, especially when so much attention will inevitably be focused on the baby once they’re born. We’ve had the “Love is as infinite and expanding as the universe and my love for this baby will not affect my love for you” talk several times, and I’m spending as much time and affection on her as humanly possible with our schedules, but she still gets stormy when she’s reminded that I’m pregnant in some way. What can I do to help this soon-to-be older sibling feel secure in her place in our lives and come to love our new family member?

—Secure Attachment Stepmom

Dear Secure Attachment Stepmom,

You seem to be taking great strides toward reassuring your stepdaughter about her place in the family. Spending time with her, expressing affection, and giving her space to be upset are all wonderful ways to support her during this transition.

Try asking her to express how she thinks things might change after the baby is born. What is her greatest worry or fear about it? She already has some experience with family restructuring because of her parents’ divorce and her father’s remarriage. Your pregnancy may be triggering some of the complicated emotions she felt during that time. It’s impossible to know how best to address her feelings if she hasn’t been able to articulate them clearly.

While it’s great to reassure her that your love for her won’t change, she knows at 13 that her responsibilities will. She’ll be expected to share her time with you and her father. She’ll have to cede some attention. She’ll likely have to pitch in with baby-related tasks, too. All of that may be unpleasant for her to consider. Have that conversation, too. Let her know that you understand why this might be hard for her. Remind her that accepting change, even when you don’t want to, is part of growing up. Family roles evolve, and that can be scary, but it can also be exciting.

Try reassuring her that you’ll still need her after the baby’s born, not just for new-sisterly duties, or to be mature and understanding, but also for talking and laughing and hanging out, too. Some things won’t change.

In the end, it may also just take time. It’s impossible to know exactly how a new baby will change your family dynamic. Continue to extend patience and grace to your stepdaughter and to provide her the support she needs, even if the transition isn’t a smooth one.

—Stacia

More Advice From Slate

My little sister is having a baby with a man who’s divorcing his wife to be with her. Unbeknownst to all but a few of her close friends, she’s been seeing this man for almost three years. My sister is pretty ashamed of breaking up his family, so she doesn’t think she deserves a baby shower or should even discuss her baby in any positive way.