I just had a baby and my 17-year old daughter is very jealous of the baby. What can I do?
DR. RUTHERFORD: It’s an interesting situation when a 17-year old suddenly exhibits this kind of jealousy, but it sounds like a classic case of sibling rivalry.
MOLLY: This question was submitted by a mother in Des Moines, Iowa. What do you think is going on?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Well, there could be a number of things. Unfortunately we don’t have much information to work with. For instance, is this baby a product of a new marriage? If that’s the case, the older child might worry about her place in the family. Had she been an only child previously, used to getting all of the attention?
MOLLY: What other things should be considered?
DR. RUTHERFORD: I wonder if the older girl is expecting to leave home soon for college or for work. Is she afraid of being replaced? Also, infants require lots of attention; does the older girl feel left out? There may be a number of reasons playing into this difficult situation that we don’t know about.
MOLLY: Since we don’t know a lot of what’s going on, can we still offer some suggestions?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, sure. First on the list would be a calm conversation with the seventeen-year old about how she’s feeling about the baby and the time the Mom spends with her. This should be done when the baby is not present. Hopefully, the teen can put into words what she’s experiencing.
Bottom line, I expect it relates to a deep sense of loss with her mother. If they can talk about that, they will be ahead of the game. If the girl has not been playing an active role in the care of the baby, why not include her in the bathing, etc. She will need reassurance that her Mom is still there for her, no matter what.
MOLLY: What if she feels she’s being asked to do too much to help out with the new baby?
DR. RUTHERFORD: In that case, some of these responsibilities should be reduced for a while until the older child can develop a better bond with the baby and also feel reassured that her mother is “there” for her, too.
I would recommend that this mom plan some special “mother-daughter” time alone with the older daughter to maintain the bond between the two of them during all the changes that a new baby brings into the household. Maybe an outing or a lunch, or something that recognizes that the older daughter might still need some mom-time to herself. This is an action I always recommend when it comes to alleviating sibling rivalry.
MOLLY: Are there any long term effects that you see for the seventeen-year old?
DR. RUTHERFORD: She may grow to be even more resentful of the baby and never develop a relationship with her. She may also become estranged from her mother for a long period of time. She may even decide to never have her own children, depending on what’s at the core of this issue.
On the positive side, she may learn to “share” her mother in more positive ways and mature from a more dyadic relationship (between two people) to one that is inclusive of more people. This will be very important later in her life if she marries and has children of her own.