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Should We Or Shouldn’t We?

Posted in Another Child?,Articles by Estalyn Thursday May 10, 2007 at about 1:00 pm

Your Stepfamily : Embrace The Journey, September/October 2002
By Anne C. Bernstein

In choosing to love again, another child may be the one thing farthest from the mind of a single parent. Yet, the very presence of children throughout a couple’s courtship makes the issue a hard one to ignore. As two people become more intimate, and their lives become more and more entwined, the relationship between your children and your partner becomes an important criterion for many when deciding to commit to the relationship.

For the childless partner, even one without a pronounced case of baby hunger, continued proximity to children and responsibility for their care gives rise ro nagging questions of what it would be like to be a biological parent with your new partner.

Why Rekindle The Desire?
Many parents of single children always assumed that they would have more children, and a courtship that is going well, rekindles that desire to finish the family building they had starred in an earlier union. Even for those who thought their childbearing years were over, falling in love again can give rise to a romantic vision of having a child as an important expression of their love and commitment.

Fantasies of a “love child” may begin to dance in the heads of all but the most confirmed “never again” parents. Even those who eventually decide not to have a baby may find themselves musing about what a child, who was the product of their union, would be like.

Because their first ventures into parenthood did not go as planned, parents may see a loving remarriage is an opportunity to “do it right”, and to have children who will be lucky enough to live with both of their parents. There are many reasons remarried couples cite for having a mutual child. These vary by person and can all press the remarrying parent toward agreeing to, or even lobbying for, a child of the new marriage. Some of these reasons include:

  • Completing the family-building process
  • Wanting to express the love of a new partner through the creation of a child
  • Seizing the opportunity to rehabilitate one’s sense of oneself as a parent

Despite their eagerness to pursue the baby bug, most parents see a yellow light of caution: “How will this affect the children we already have?” The biological parent worries that this “new” family will take precedence. Parents are concerned that having an “ours” child could be disloyal to children who have already suffered the disruptions of divorce and remarriage and that the ‘new’ family will take precedence.

Perhaps the most telling question when considering having a child with a new partner is whether that partnership will last. When children are involved, the pain of separation is extremely painful. The greatest nightmare for the remarrying parent is that history will repeat itself, leaving him juggling visitation with two sets of children, leaving her to raise two sets of children alone. It is this nightmare that puts the brakes on for many remarrying couples, delaying a commitment to having another child until the new relationship seems to be on solid ground, prolonging negotiations when there are divergent agendas.

This indecision may trouble some remarried couples. At times, in fact, the discussion may put partners on opposite sides of the bargaining table. For every would-be parent confident that his new partner is romantic enough to have a baby with him, there are others who anticipate a rocky road along the way. And if both partners are not in full agreement about the decision, it creates opportunities for intense disagreement in the future. Some couples may decide to put the decision on a back burner each believing the other will come around to his or her way of thinking in the end. This doesn’t reduce the complexity of the issue; it only delays the discussion.

The bottom line is this: When feelings about having a child together differ, the party who places the survival of the couple above the outcome of the decision about a mutual child generally finds a way to make peace with a partner’s greater need.

The Timing
Regardless of why remarried parents want to have a child, timing is also an issue. How soon after the remarriage the mutual child arrives will indeed have a profound effect on how stepfamily members, children and parents alike, ride with the changes. Patricia Papernow has described stages by which a group formed by remarriage begins to feel like a family. If a child comes into the family too soon, the stress can be very hard on the family. Three distinct stages mark the passing of time in a srepfamily:

Early Stage – Parents and stepparents try to enact the myth of an instant family, making whole what had been pulled apart, healing with their love. Children, however, hang on to their fantasies that their own two parents will somehow get back together again.

Middle Stage – This can be a tumultuous time for the family. The stepparent mobilizes to bring about changes that lead to his inclusion and recognition of his authority. When negotiated successfully, these actions produce a couple that works as a partnership of equal insiders, and each adult can be with each child without one or the other of them calling in a third party as an ally. Papernow estimates that it rakes five to seven years — and courage, understanding, and lots of support — for stepfamilies to reach the next stage.

Established Remarriage – This is die time when intimacy and authenticity in stepfamily relationships have been achieved. Both stepparent and stepchild can feel like insiders and the solidity of the couple provides a strong center to the stepfamily.

Clearly, it is better to wait until the stepfamily has ripened before having a mutual child. A rapid succession of changes is stressful for everyone. But, not all stepfamilies feel it is possible to wait the five or so years before relationships have settled into an easy intimacy. Sometimes a surprise pregnancy occurs; sometimes the woman’s age presents the risk that waiting to conceive may frustrate the eventual goal of a child together; and sometimes the parents want to narrow the age gap between children in the stepfamily. These factors may encourage the remarried couple to shoulder the added emotional work of having a mutual child earlier on.

And work it is. It takes determined effort not to retreat from the often-difficult task of working through the necessary stages of stepfamily life. An infant can be both a distraction and a refuge from any unfinished business in the stepfamily because acceptance, authority, and affection are not at issue with the new baby. Parents should take care not to give into the temptation to transfer all effort in the direction of the mutual child. That could make matters worse and set the stage for later strife.

“Should we or shouldn’t we?” Remarried couples will find the right answer only after considering the many changes an “ours” child will bring to all members of an evolving stepfamily.

Anne C. Bernstein, Ph.D., is a family psychologist and mediator in private practice, with more than 20 years of experience in working with stepfamilies. She is a faculty member of The Wright Institute and the clinical faculty of the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of “Yours, Mine and Ours: How Families Change When Remarried Parents Have a Child Together” and “Flight of the Stork: What Children Think (and When) About Sex and Family Building”. Anne serves on the SAA Board

of Directors and SAA Institute Faculty. For more information, write to her at 2955 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705 or email: anneberns@wrightinst.edu

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