Carolyn Hax: Being there for the stepkids when their mom gives birth

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: I’m a stepmom to two amazing elementary-age kids. Their mom and stepdad just announced they’re having a baby.

My feelings about this are complicated (I chose not to have biological kids due to a genetic condition, and it occasionally still hurts), but mostly I’m worried this will cause the kids’ other parents to sort of forget about our kids. The mom and stepdad are already pretty emotionally unavailable to the kids, so I’m worried they’ll sort of phase them out when their “shared” baby comes along.

My husband and I are very open with the kids and encourage them to always talk to us about their feelings. Other than continuing to keep lines of communication open, what can we do to support these incredible kids if the new baby isn’t entirely a blessing for them?

Worried: It sounds as if you’re doing right by them already — admirably so. It also sounds as if the new baby will solidify what was already true, that the kids are emotionally on their own in that home.

Your love and awareness are most of the support they need. As long as you’re not badmouthing the other set of parents, obviously, but it doesn’t sound as if you are.

The one thing I would add to your support plan now is a therapist, one to work mainly with you and your spouse to start, and maybe eventually the four of you as a family.

Often people think of therapy as something you’re “in.” But as long as the provider is willing, it can also be a solid on-call resource, where you have some sessions to become familiar to each other, then revert to meeting on an as-needed basis as things crop up. Even a quick phone or Zoom check-in can help you calibrate and coordinate your responses to things.

Dear Carolyn: A relative in their 20s has come out as nonbinary and asked that people refer to them with “they” pronouns. I can make the switch in writing, as I’m doing here, but getting past my ingrained binary patterns is harder in conversation, and I keep saying the wrong pronoun. With guidance from my relative, I’ve learned just to apologize quickly and correct myself, but I’d love to get better at getting it right the first time! Any advice, so I can give my relative the respect and acceptance I genuinely feel toward them?

Ingrained: Listen to your relative and apologize quickly and correct yourself. Repetition is the way to get better, and this is the formula for handling that repetition respectfully.

  • I suggest reading a novel with a nonbinary protagonist that uses they/them pronouns! It gives your brain plenty of practice adjusting to new gender concepts in a nonreality space.
  • Talk to yourself about your relative and use their correct pronouns as you talk about them. Talking to yourself out loud is best but you can just do it mentally as well. It’s a good way to get the repetition needed to identify them with their new pronouns. I’ve done this before with people in my life and it has helped immensely.
  • This can be hard to change. A way of getting in more practice is to have real conversations with another friend using the pronouns they/them (regardless of friend’s identification). Just keep at it — you’ll get there.



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