This is Part 3 of a three-part series.
Read Part 1: Subsequent Siblings and Replacement Children
Read Part 2: Replacement Children: The Inadequate Replacement
In my research study about subsequent children I found that there seems to be two types of replacement children: the inadequate replacement child and the gift child. The clinical literature speaks predominantly about the inadequate replacement child, which I have discussed on another page. The gift child is less spoken about but I encountered many subjects who fell into that category. This type of replacement dynamic definitely deserves attention as well.
Inadequate replacement children are viewed as disappointing replacements for their deceased siblings. The deceased sibling is idealized, and the subsequent sibling cannot measure up.
Gift children, on the other hand, face a very different dynamic. They are the ones who are idealized. They are seen as the child who came into the family and made things better. Several subjects told me that their parents thought of them as a gift.
Most of the gift children in my study were born after the death of an infant sibling. Some were born after a still birth. This means that the personality and identity of their deceased sibling was not yet fully formed or apparent yet. It might be easier for a subsequent child to be seen as a successful replacement if comparisons of personality are less possible.
We could easily jump to the conclusion that being in the gift child role would be easy or beneficial, but it is still a replacement role which carries its own set of complexities. Many gift children believe that they gained extra love and attention because of the death of their sibling; this can lead to feelings of guilt. Gift children may also feel burdened with an ongoing sense of responsibility to be a good replacement and to help heal their bereaved family. Finally, some gift children might fear becoming an inadequate replacement. They may feel pressure to maintain their status as an idealized and beloved child, or to live up to a standard which they imagine that their deceased sibling would have upheld.
Replacement dynamics vary in intensity, and they often shift as the family grows. In some families a child may be seen as a gift child by one parent but not by the other. As the subsequent child surpasses the age of the deceased child comparisons become more difficult and the replacement dynamics might lessen.
Please refer to the page Replacement Children: The Inadequate Replacement for information about that type of replacement dynamic.