My two oldest children, 15 year old J and 12 year old E alternate weeks between their two houses. Their father and I live about 5-8 miles away from each other in the same town, and every Sunday night for just about as long as they can remember at this point, the two of them – and before he died, including their brother H – pack up their backpacks and whatever else they want to take with them, and the parent with whom they happen to be that week drives them over to their other house to start the week. The rest of their lives remain the same – schools, friends, activities, etc – except for the fact that they live in two different houses in the same city.
This is obviously the best solution of bad ones; no kid wants to shuffle back and forth between two houses, but it’s been their reality for long enough at this point (their father and I broke up in 2002) that it just feels normal. If you were to ask E or J whether they would rather live in one house full time, I suspect that they would both say no. There are actually some things about having two households that they like and appreciate.
There have been library shelves full of books written about the experience of growing up as the child of divorced parents (and I suspect I’ve read most of them in my quest to make things okay for my own kids with divorced parents). But there isn’t much info or data or even anecdotal sharing out there about what it’s like for a child born to a mother (or father) who is divorced from her older children’s other parent. In other words, there isn’t much info out there about what it’s like to be my daughters C (age 3) and G (age 4 months), both of whom were born to me and my second husband, Jon.
I worried a lot before C was born how my three older children, H, J and E would relate to their new baby sister. She was the culmination of a huge amount of change for them, and in many ways, she was proof positive of the one thing kids with divorced parents probably all secretly hope – she was the final, irrefutable evidence that their mother and father really were broken up for good.
But it turns out I really didn’t have anything to worry about. Although H took a little longer to warm up to the new baby, the older kids pretty much immediately embraced their new little sister. And yes, she is their little sister, not their “half sister.” Everyone in our family has shoed away from that term, which I find to be pejorative in tone, even if it’s technically correct. The big kids took to having a new little sister happily and easily, and they’ve been wonderful with her – and with their newest sibling, baby G – ever since.
While my older kids’ reality is what it is – two households, two stepparents and all the rest – C is now old enough at 3 years old to begin getting her head around what HER reality is. And what it is is that every other week, her older siblings, whom she adores, go away to another house for a week. She knows J and E’s father and stepmother very well; they spend time with our branch of the family and we spend time at their house. We all frequently eat meals or attend kid activities as a group. And C has played with J and E at their father’s house many times. It’s not like she doesn’t understand where they go when they go away all week. But she still misses them. And as she gets older, she misses them more.
Recently, on the weeks when J and E are at their dad’s, C has started wanting to call one or both of the big kids before she goes to sleep at night, just to tell them about her day and tell them she loves them. J and E are super sweet about this, and let her chatter into the phone as long as she likes before cheerily wishing her a good night. Last week, she actually asked me if she could go with them to their dad’s for the week, and she asked why they get two houses, while she only gets one.
I don’t think she clearly understands yet what the relationship is – or was – between J and E’s father and me. She just thinks he’s a funny, friendly guy who happens to be J and E’s dad. As for J and E’s stepmother, well C kind of worships her. She gets very excited when M is at our house visiting, and always wants to go in and give M a hug when I take J and E to their dad’s house. M treats her like a little princess, which is incredibly sweet.
I would be very interested to hear from others about what it was like growing up as the younger sibling of older brothers and sisters from a parent’s earlier marriage. If any of you have had that experience, or are currently raising kids who are living that experience, tell me what you’ve observed. Let’s talk about this under-discussed viewpoint from inside blended families in the comments below.
READ KATIE’S PERSONAL B LOG