I have one daughter who is 13 years old. Her father left us both when she was 6 months old and we were on our own together for some time until my fiancé came along two years ago. She’s a wonderful girl – I love her so much – and it was wonderful to see how well the two of have them have got on. Everything was wonderful until two months ago when we told her we were expecting a baby of our own. Since then, she refuses to talk to us, she shouts and slams doors. We’ve tried to tell her it won’t make any difference in her life or between us – we’ll still be the same. And that she’ll love the baby when it arrives. But any mention of the baby and she bursts into tears. I’ve got to the point where I could slap her, she’s being so unlike my lovely daughter and such a pain. She’s ruining what should be one of the happiest times of our lives. What can we do?
I can understand how worrying and upsetting this situation must feel. As you say, this ‘should’ be such a happy time for you. It must feel as if your daughter is being so unreasonable and so unfair to be acting this way.
There are two tricks to finding a solution when people begin to act apparently unreasonably. One is to put yourself in their shoes. The other is to see it as a situation you need to solve without putting labels or judgements on what people are doing. You and your partner are so happy that you’re irritated with your daughter being like this – you could ‘slap her’. You’re – understandably – seeing this as a situation in which she is being unreasonable or unfair or selfish. Labeling her like that doesn’t help. So let’s see what you could do to deal with her feelings about what is going on.
Firstly; step into her shoes – see it from her point of view. The fact is that emotions are something you have absolutely no control over. You can control what you do about them but you can’t control having them. And as far as your daughter is concerned, something really painful and awful has happened. For 13 years, she’s been the centre of her Mum’s life. She’s been the princess – the only princess. She seems to have made one very big and grown up step in being able to let your fiancé into her life as well as yours – she needs to be commended for that. But how do you think it must have felt to be told that the two of you are now having your own baby?
Let me tell you what I’d expect ANY child, no matter what age, to feel. Unwanted; second-best; hurt.
And let me add what ANY child who has grown up as an only-child – a child who has naturally developed a specially close relationship with their mother – would feel. Abandoned ; rejected; cheated.
Of course she’s upset. She’s scared, she feels she’s no longer important, she feels someone has crept in and swiped her Mum and even her stepdad away from her. She’s furious! There are absolutely no upsides to this situation, as far as she can see.
Now – you’ve been doing what feels right and natural to make amends. You’ve been telling her she’ll love the baby, her life will stay the same, you’ll carry on as usually with her. but of course she rejects this, because it’s not true. And she knows it.
Realistically, she won’t love the baby when it comes. She’s far too angry and hurt to do anything of the sort. This baby is taking her place – what’s to love? So she goes off in a huff because she feels to even suggest this means you simply aren’t listening to her or understanding her.
And of course her life won’t stay the same. How can it? From sharing a house with her Mum and the man she has accepted as her Dad, who both pay attention to her, she’s going to have to share with an extra person who will take up ALL the available attention from everyone – her Mum, her stepdad and anyone who visits – for some time.
And of course you won’t carry on with her as usual. How can you? You’re going to be caring for a helpless babe which will demand all your concentration and love. Why should your daughter believe you when she knows it’s not true?
So – what’s going to work? Don’t despair, because you can certainly make big changes and win her round. But you’re all going to have to be clever and skilled about it.
First up, acknowledge what she’s feeling. Say “I can see you’re angry about the baby. You feel it means you’ll miss out. You’re scared it means we won’t love you anymore or have any time for you anymore.”
You and your fiancé will have to help her face up to her anger, her pain and her feelings of loss. You have to accept she has them and that she has a right to them, for them to become manageable. Denying or ignoring what she feels WON’T make those feelings go away. Accepting and acknowledging negative feelings doesn’t make them stronger. On the contrary, talking them over and recognising they are there allows people to handle them and move on.
Above all, recognise that she isn’t ‘ruining’ anything. In a way, you may as well say you’re the one who is causing the upset – you’re the one who is pregnant! I’m not saying you’ve done the wrong thing – of course you haven’t. But you all need to recognise the genuine and understandable confusion, loss and pain your daughter is feeling and that there’s nothing wrong in her feeling this way. What you want to do is help her manage what she does about such feelings.
You do that by making real efforts – all of you – to give her what she needs; love, attention and respect. And to ask her what she might find the best way to work around the situation. She needs and deserves some special time with all of you, even when the baby has arrived – time with you, on her own, time with her stepdad and time with the two of you as a family of three, maybe while granny or a friend looks after baby. When she can trust the fact that she is still loved and hasn’t been consigned to the scrap heap as ‘no longer needed now we’ve got a better one’ then she will grow to accept and appreciate and maybe even love her new sibling.
Quite a bit of work for you to cope with, I know! I do know it feels daunting and hard…but you can do it.
It will take some time and effort and if you or your partner would like someone chat to, I highly recommend Parentlineplus. Their helpline on 0808 800 2222 is open 24/7, staffed by people who understand and sympathise, and so are their message boards and email support.
Best of luck!