Bringing a New Baby into a Stepfamily
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Bringing a New Baby into a Stepfamily
Hoorah! You've decided, or you're pregnant, or the adoption papers have been filed. What now? Who tells the ex(es)? How are you going to tell the kids? And how are your kids and stepkids going to react?
Who Tells the Ex?
Don't leave this one to the kids; exes should call exes. Your partner should tell his ex, and you should tell yours. It doesn't matter that you aren't lovers or even friends anymore. No matter how bad the blood is now, the ex's children are about to have a sibling. What affects a child also affects a parent. Consider it a courtesy call to somebody you have a working relationship with, and consider that it will affect the ex emotionally.
A relationship breaking up is one thing, and a repartnering is another, but having a child with somebody else puts a finality to the former relationship. If, for some reason, the ex wanted (or wants) more children and it isn't likely to happen, she or he may have a nasty reaction. As I said before, nobody is neutral about babies.
That all said, the ex doesn't need to be the first person on the list. Waiting until the pregnancy is viable or the adoption papers are in order is always wise.
Telling the Kids
If the kids are old enough to understand, I suggest having the bioparent raise the subject of a new baby before the deed's been done, to get them used to the idea. Once again, this should be done by the bioparent. (Special warning: If you tell the kids you are thinking about having a baby, be prepared for them to tell their other bioparent.)
Bob told his daughters, Stephanie, 14, and Sophie, 10, that he and Katie were thinking about it as soon as they had decided to try for a baby, before she was pregnant. He let them voice their objections (which were many at first) and simply listened. When, a few months later, he came to them with the happy news that Katie was expecting, they didn't go into total shock because they'd already processed the idea.
Privacy? What's that? Have another kid and the tattered remnants of your privacy are gone (at least for a while). The ex will know if your wife miscarries; the stepkids may be in the delivery room, helping her pant. For private people, this can be hard. Revisit your expectations, establish your boundaries, and release the rest into the clear blue sky.
Your stepkids and kids may not react at all well at first, or they may be just fine about it. Walter was thrilled when he found out his stepmom was having baby. He began planning immediately how he'd teach it to read and write before it could walk, and he asked his dad if he could take it to school for Show and Tell. Walter's sister Paula, on the other hand, was horrified and devastated that she wouldn't be her Dad's baby anymore: “Well, it better be a boy,” she said, and stomped out of the room.
Jealousy and anxiety are common before the baby arrives. Kids may fear being displaced. “Where will we put it, Mom?” 5-year-old Lucy asked anxiously when she heard that her mom was pregnant. “I don't want it to sleep with me!”
Little kids often don't seem to react much to such an announcement. It's too vague, and they can't really understand it. They may, as time goes on, enjoy feeling the baby move in their mother or stepmother's belly.
Kids of all ages tend to get excited as well as anxious (though you may not know it from the blasé expressions many kids wear on their faces). Incorporate them into some of the planning. Solicit their input on names, and help them feel part of the process.
Kids' reactions to the infant are not always warm and welcoming. The eldest child may feel her family position is threatened, as here comes along a new “eldest.” The youngest child may mourn his lost position as “family baby” as he moves to a “middle child” position. If handled incorrectly, and if the parents are too wrapped up in their howling little bundle to reassure the older children, a new baby can block up the relationship between kid, bioparent, and stepparent.
Fortunately, the results are usually more positive. Once the baby is born, kids generally relate to their new half-sibling the same way kids always relate to siblings: with a combination of love and hate, interest and disinterest, connection and repulsion.
“It's fascinating to watch them relate,” says Paula's stepmother. “Paula is really into the baby. They have their own thing going, and it makes me realize that there's this relationship here that I have nothing to do with.” Half-siblings are brothers and sisters to each other. They'll build their own relationships, and they'll have their own pleasures and disappointments with each other. You don't have a lot of control over that.
Have you got a kid or stepkid who's reluctant to warm up to the baby? Don't beg, cajole, or bribe. Let the baby handle it. Babies are brilliant at seduction. The first time a half-sibling encounters a toothless smile, he'll be wooed!