When a man decides to start another family later in life with a second wife, it can often come as a shock to his existing children. But does a large gap between half-siblings mean they naturally get on, or are older children left feeling like it’s a case of ‘out with the old and in with the new’?
“When my sisters were younger I didn’t feel like they were my siblings at all, more like they were my nieces,” says Tracey Gough, 36 from Sydney.
With an age gap of 13 and 17 years, Gough eventually developed a close relationship with her half-siblings. She believes this helped cement a stronger relationship with her dad, too.
“We would all spend time together as a family, and I never felt like we were being cast aside or being replaced,” she says. “Things are obviously different now, but that’s only because I live in Australia and they are still living with Dad in the UK so, naturally, they are his priority.
“If I was still living near them, I believe our relationship would have remained the same. I consider them my blood, and feel blessed to have them.”
Sadly, it’s not always the case that half-siblings help dads and their older children form a stronger bond. In fact, it can sometimes go the other way, as Tara Mathews, 37, confirms.
“Dad moved to the USA when I was about 17 and has lived there ever since. I would have been in my late teens when he started dating his now wife, who is 12 years his junior, and they have three girls who are now 16, 12 and 10. I was 21 when the first one was born.”
While Matthews acknowledges that the physical distance between her and her dad plays a major part in their flailing relationship, she believes it was the announcement that his wife was expecting their first child that really changed things.
“When we found out it was a big blow for my sister and I, as we felt very left behind. It was already difficult enough to have a relationship with him before, but after the news it just felt like we were having obligatory, repetitive phone conversations. He didn’t know me, and it felt like we were trying to force a relationship that just wasn’t there.”
As a result, Matthews cut communication with her father two years ago.
“We didn’t have anything in common anymore, and very rarely saw each other,” she explains. “Early on when he asked what I thought about him starting a new family, I did suggest that he concentrate on getting to know the adult children he already had before having more. Needless to say, that never happened.”
Advice for those getting a new sibling
Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says a new baby can create a wonderful new sense of family, particularly if the older child has been longing for that and already has strong and secure bonds with their parents and step-parents.
Brewer offers the following tips for anyone welcoming a sibling into the family at a later stage in life.
- Talk it through: Let your Dad know how you are feeling and how you see the situation. When you share your feelings, people can listen, respond and then make plans to find a solution, or at least explain more about the situation to help you make sense of the feelings.
- Get involved: The more you take an active role (where you can) in the new baby's life and the activities of the family, the more time you have to connect with and bond to everyone in the family.
- Accept change: It’s a big lesson, but not very many things in life stay the same forever, including you! The more you can adapt to the changes and know that the change is not 'neglecting' you, but making space for caring for a new bub, the easier it will be. You don’t have to put all your needs to the side, but understand them in relation to the changes in the family. After all, no one stays a baby forever.
Read the first part of the story: Meet the 'start over dads'.