Many step families at some point consider, or choose to have, an ‘ours’ baby – a new baby with your new partner
How this might feel to you, and the other members of your step family, will depend on a number of different factors. Is it your first child? Is it your partner’s first child? How old are your existing children and/or step children?
Having a new baby is a wonderful thing, and for many step families it is something to celebrate and enjoy. For many couples, a new baby represents building and cementing their new family. In addition, babies can be lots of fun and give a family a very tangible common ground to bond over.
A baby can also provide a bridge between all the members of a step family – someone to whom everyone is related and has a connection with. Sometimes this connection to the new baby, can also help develop the relationship between a step parent and their step child/children, by default.
However, it is also true that the news of a new baby can still be a wonderful thing but trigger some less that celebratory responses and reactions from yourself, your partner and your children or step children. It is natural for every single family that the arrival of a new baby will generate mixed feelings, and in the more complex structure of a step family, some of those feelings may be a little more complex too!
How might you feel?
If this is your first child, you are likely to have a level of excitement and love for them (alongside some natural fears and worries of course!) that you never experienced before.
If your partner has had children already, and you have not, you might feel at times, as though they should or do take the lead, because they have done it all before, and already have their own ways of doing things. It is important to make sure that you do feel involved in making parenting decisions for your own child, so do consider talking to your partner about this. There are always lots of different parenting choices, and it is ok to now find ‘your way together’ which might be different from how she has done it in the past. It is important to make sure this doesn’t come across as a criticism of how she wants to do things, or has done things before, but more about you being positively involved and making this parenting experience a shared one.
If you have children or step children already, you might be worried that they may feel pushed out and get less attention than the baby. You might worry whether you can love your new baby the same as your other children, or the other children the same as the new baby. You might worry about whether you have enough time for everyone. To some extent, these are all a natural worry that all parents who have children experience, and time usually eases these fears.
Do remember that love is not limited, and there is always enough to go around. It is a common worry that all parents have, but you will find there is enough love to everyone.
Children and stepchildren emotions
“You’re going to have a new brother or sister.” These are words which are likely to cause a whole range of emotions for any child in your step family.
If the child/children of your step family are very young, the arrival of a new baby may in some ways be easier, although, even with very young children there can be some very natural jealous or insecure behaviour which can be noted after their arrival – this is normal in all families and usually short lived.
In families where there are older children from previous relationships, news of a new baby can cause a variety of complex feelings. Even in established step families, where the children appear settled and happy, a new baby can initiate mixed feelings and worries about potential changes.
In some step families, children may see it as a final sign that their mum and dad will never get back together – a subconscious hope they can hold for longer than many realise – and this can cause many different to handle emotions and reactions for them.
Linked to this, they may fear that they will once again lose their parent. It is helpful to be remember, that they already suffered a significant sense of loss when their parents’ relationship ended, and they will have dealt or are finally dealing with another kind of loss – as mentioned above, that of the hope of their parents reconciling. So, it is also possible that that these fears of loss may again be triggered, through the worry and fear that they will lose the love of you and your partner, because you might love the new baby more than them.
They may feel happy at the news, but also feel very conflicted and even guilt, because they can’t talk about the baby at their other house, or indeed because they see how the news may have caused upset to their other parent. Although they are only children, they may feel a burden of responsibility for keeping everyone happy, and this on top of all the changes at home, this can cause a lot of difficult situations and feelings for them to manage. You and your partner need to be aware and empathic to these potential complicating factors, and ensure that you encourage your stepchildren to talk to you about how they feel and are coping, and to ask you for help if they need it.
Children may worry that the ‘ours’ baby will be loved more by you and your partner, and will need reassurance through both your words and actions that you will always still love and care for them. It is natural that there may be some resentment from them in having to share your attention and time, but making sure that you still both make individuals time for them is an important way of overcoming this.
Your children and step children may be excited that they will have a new brother or sister and want to be involved.
How to help your children/stepchildren
Whatever you do – don’t assume how your children will feel – encourage your children to express their feelings and to let them know that it is ok if they have mixed feelings about it.
Make sure that both you and your partner reassure them and help them to see that, although there will be some changes to your lives together, you will still love and care for them just as much when the new baby arrives.
Over time, gently help them adjust to the news by giving them the opportunities to prepare for the new arrival – choosing names, toys and clothes.
When the baby arrives, again gently offer them the opportunity o get involved in helping you care for them, by helping with a bath or nappy change. But don’t force them if they’re reluctant – they may feel that they need more babying themselves if they are having difficulty with all the changes, so they may resent or feel ill-equipped to handle additional responsibility. It is important that you go at their pace, offer them opportunities, but respect if they don’t feel they can.
Remember that all families are different, and different children within the same family may feel or react differently, or indeed, that their feeling may even change over time. It is important to make sure you keep in touch with all the children’s feelings and needs during this time of transition
When should we tell the children?
There is no right and wrong on this – it is up to you when you feel is an appropriate time in the pregnancy to share the news. Do remember that children are not always the best secret keepers – so you may want to wait until you are ready to share the news before you tell them!
Do make sure that they find out from you, rather than through gossip or someone accidentally letting them know before you have. It can be very hurtful to not find out the news directly from you, and cause them to feel doubts about their place in the family at a time when it is important to be reassuring them of their place, which can make acceptance of the new addition much more difficult.
What about you as a new dad?
As any new dad does, whether this is your first baby or not, you will experience a whole mix of emotions, both during the pregnancy and after the arrival of your new baby. You may find there are times when you still feel on the side-lines, this is not uncommon for new dads to experience, as your partner, and the rest of the family concentrates on the new baby.
Use the Dad Info resources for Dads-to-be and New Dads to help you through this time, and talk to other dads on the Dad Info Forum. Although you might be a dad or step dad already, every new baby represents a new journey into fatherhood, and new challenges – so revisiting all the information and talking to other dads in the same boat can really help.
What about the ex?
Even where relationships with the exes are amicable, and both sides have moved on and have their own lives and families, the news of an ex having a new baby, can cause them to experience a mix of emotions too, including jealously, anger, hurt and sadness.
In some cases, your ex, or your partners ex, may refuse to let the children visit your new baby. Or it is not unheard of for an ex-husband to try to withhold money as he resents ‘supporting’ another man’s family. Don’t assume the worst will happen, but if it does, then understand it is part of them having difficulty in dealing with the news, that they themselves are also likely to need time to adjust to the news and give it some time to heal.
It might be the last thing you want to think about, but it can be in the best interests of you and your family, to consider the best way of letting your ex know the news of the new baby. Having them hear it from you might be easier than through the rumour mill, or indeed, putting your children in the position of being the messengers.
Remember that if it doesn’t all go smoothly, that getting some support can make a big difference – you will be juggling the feelings and reactions of so many people, and it is important to have some help to do that, as well as an opportunity to discuss and consider how YOU feel. So do consider talking to a relationship counsellor.
Having a baby is a wonderful experience, even though it comes with different challenges when it happens as part of a stepfamily. Stepfamily life is complicated, so make sure you and your partner keep talking to each other, keep talking to your children and step children, and take each day one day at a time!