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Parenting Step-Kids: Only-Child or Oldest Sibling or Both?

April 1, 2017
Parenting Step-Kids: Only-Child or Oldest Sibling or Both

Step-parenting is hard, plain and simple. Regardless of how old the child is when you meet them or how long their parents were divorced, there is an inevitable adjustment period. If you throw new children into the mix, especially half-siblings, the equation just got more complicated. This is especially true if the step-child thinks that their biological parent somehow loves the “new kids” more because they love the new spouse and (theoretically) not the ex-spouse. Add to all of that angst the fact that many kids of divorce have half-siblings with one biological parent and not the other and the stress factor has just multiplied.

Benefits of Being an Only Child

In theory, an only child has quite a few benefits. There is no one to have to share toys with or space with or even the attention of the parent (especially if the parent is not remarried). My step-daughter frequently mentions how nice it is to be able to watch whatever movie she wants to or gets new clothes because there is no one to pass clothes down to her. There are definitely times when she loves being an only child.

Drawbacks of Being an Only Child

The only child lifestyle can also be quite a lonely lifestyle. When there are no other kids, rainy days can be boring. When there are no other kids the only toys that exist are your own toys. With siblings there are lots more toys even if they aren’t all your own. Playing make-believe and hide-and-seek is pretty difficult by yourself. My step-daughter often speaks of how boring things are when her friends can’t come to play or her parent is too busy for much conversation or other activities.

The Transition

When a child spends most of their time as an only-child it is easy to get caught up in a me-centered universe. They have all of the attention, all of the snacks, all of the T.V. time. When they want to be alone it is pretty easy to do because they can go in their room and close the door. Going from being the only child to be the oldest of three or more kids can be overwhelming for some kids. My step-daughter does a pretty good job of tolerating her younger sisters but I can tell there are times when she just needs to be alone. We all need alone time but for a child who doesn’t have just one home, time to transition is even more critical.

How to Help

There are lots of benefits to having siblings and they pretty much go with the drawbacks of being an only child. More toys, more attention, less boredom, and more fun games top the list for sure. But understanding that a child that gets shuttled from one “home” to another, regardless of how frequently, is a stressed child is important. My step-daughter is a great girl and she obviously loves her biological mother and she equally seems to love her family with us: her father, me (her step-mother), and her two younger sisters. We even have dogs and a cat for her to entertain herself with. Life is never dull at our house but that is often the problem. We have made sure that she has her own room, even as the family grows. We make sure that her sisters understand what a closed door means and not to be offended by it. We make sure that she understands that it is okay to love all of us, even if we want to have her all to ourselves. The bottom-line is to make sure that a part-time only child feels secure, that they have a place to be alone if that is what they need, and that they will be loved no matter what.