Subsequent Siblings and Replacement Children

This is Part 1 of a three-part series.

Read Part 2: Replacement Children: The Inadequate Replacement

Read Part 3: Replacement Children: The Gift Child

Subsequent siblings, or subsequent children, are individuals who were born after the death of a brother or sister.

Subsequent siblings have a loss which is often disenfranchised. Their sibling’s death occurred before their birth, so it is a common assumption that it had no impact upon them. Their loss is also often invisible. The funeral (or other death rituals) took place before their birth, and their friends may be unaware that they have a deceased sibling. They are rarely given the opportunity to discuss or mourn for their loss. Even the clinical literature is limited about this group, because their loss is commonly unrecognized.

Research has shown that subsequent siblings are affected by their role in many ways. They are born into a family which has been forever changed by the death of a child. Their parents and siblings may grieving at the time of their birth, so they might be raised in an atmosphere of mourning. They have to contend with and perhaps mourn for the death of an unmet brother or sister, and they may experience survivor guilt or struggles with their identity formation.

Subsequent siblings may also be viewed as replacement children. Some parents, after losing a child, conceive another child with the intention of replacing their deceased child. Subsequent children are sometimes expected, consciously or unconsciously, to fill the void left by their deceased brother or sister.

Because the term “replacement child” does not allow for much ambiguity (either one is or is not viewed as a replacement) it is more accurate to think of replacement dynamics, which can differ in intensity or by relationship. In some families one parent considers their subsequent child to be a replacement while the other parent does not, and the severity of replacement dynamics can vary.

Continue reading to Part Two: Replacement Children: The Inadequate Replacement