Should I Punish My 13-Year-Old Son for Not Being Excited About the New Baby?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

I am pregnant with my second child. My son is 13. His father and I are divorced; it was a bad marriage and my son was rejected by his father. Since the divorce, his father fades in and out of his life. My son is very angry about the new baby and told my new husband and me that he wants no part of it. Do I punish him or try another way to get him to be less negative and hateful? All of this really upsets my new husband, who was trying to encourage my son to be a part of the new baby/family.

Second Time Around

Dear Second,

Your son is dealing with a lot of sorrow and pain right now; the last thing I would recommend is that you punish him for his negative feelings. You cannot force someone to be happy and excited. At best, you might convince your boy to hide his unhappiness, but that is a terrible idea; repressed feelings contribute to all kinds of mood and behavior problems.

Step back and try to see this situation from your son's point of view. His own father has been absent, and now he's watching your new husband eagerly await becoming a father to this new baby. In a sense, the very thing your 13-year old has longed for -- an involved and caring dad -- is being played out right in front of him, but just out of reach.

My advice is that you talk with your son -- perhaps at bedtime when he's more vulnerable -- and allow him to share his feelings about the new baby without editing or censoring his responses. Help him get in touch with the sadness underneath his negativity; if possible, help him have a good cry. He is dealing with another layer of loss -- more evidence that the fantasy of life with both of his parents is not going to happen -- as well as a reminder of his own father's indifference.

The more room you give your son to feel what he feels without taking it personally, the sooner he'll come around. Chances are, once the baby arrives, his heart will melt and a sweet bond between them will develop. But for now, give him the chance to cry, mourn and grieve the absence of his own fathering -- which is being stirred up by your pregnancy -- and reassure him that you'll always be there for him, through all the ups and downs of this new chapter in his life.

Your husband sounds like a good man. Encourage him to come toward your son with attention and care without trying to force him to be close. With time and patience, the four of you will become a family of your own.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.