Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have been married two years; I am 20 weeks pregnant with my first child. We are both ecstatic.
He was married once before and has a tween child from that marriage. He and his ex have a tricky, acrimonious relationship. But we adore the child, who lives with us part time.
The other night we were sharing a tender moment (fluttery baby kicks) when my husband commented: “You know I love (older child), but knowing we made (baby) together makes me love her in a whole other way.” I understood this comment was intended to be sweet, loving and romantic, but days later I am left with this horrified feeling — that he loves one child more than the other, that he ties his love for his children at least partly to how he feels about their mothers, and that I reacted incorrectly. That I should have said something to discourage him from thinking or talking that way from now on.
I confided this in a friend whose father is remarried with younger kids, and she said this isn’t newsworthy, that fathers always feel that way when they remarry, and the best ones just work very hard to not obviously prioritize the children of their current marriages. Understanding that no generalization holds for all fathers, do you think there’s any truth to this one? Since I find it horrifying, what, if anything, can I do to advocate for my stepchild?
Uneasy in Virginia
Be watchful. That’s all I think you need at this point.
My take is that your husband is expressing his love for you, vs. one child over another. And he did say “whole other way” (my emphasis), right? That is about difference vs. magnitude, which most parents can say about different kids from the same marriage.
If a time comes that his love for you bathes his younger child while his ex-acrimony scalds the older, then you absolutely have to step in — both by talking to your husband privately and by continuing to adore (older child).
And if you really feel you have to say something now, or if he keeps saying things in this vein, then just say you’re stuck on his comment, and ask him: Does he worry about behaving differently toward his two children? Does he have a plan for preventing this? Could be he’s way ahead of you here.
Re: Stepchild: I’m a stepmom, plus my husband and I had a child together. The best thing we could do to advocate for my stepson was to banish the terms “step,” “half,” etc., and call the boys BROTHERS. Period. That puts them on equal footing — I love them both, so does their dad.
To Uneasy: Please challenge the thought that “fathers always feel that way when they remarry.” My father clearly has an order of preference: 1) first child (first wife — very contentious relationship), 2) third child (second wife), 3) fourth child (second wife), 4) second child (first wife). It mostly has to do with things we enjoy in common. All of us kids agree on this, but also know that he loves us all.
Yes, thanks – it’s rarely simple where parents and kids are involved.
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