From Stepmom to Mother
Creating a successful blended family starts during pregnancy. Here's expert advice on making it work.
You also should create an "alone-time" schedule with the stepchild before your baby is born. Continuing this routine once the baby arrives helps the stepchild know she is loved and has a special place in the family. "Make sure the stepchildren don't feel like an afterthought," stresses divorce and stepfamily mediator Jann Blackstone-Ford, M.A., co-author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents (Chicago Review Press). She also suggests anticipating what will upset the stepchild most and getting her input on these issues before the new baby arrives. Along these lines, Blackstone-Ford says, try not to make changes that the older child will equate with the new baby's arrival, such as saying, "Now that the baby's here, it's time for the big girl to start preschool."
Avoid trying too hard
Making time for your husband's other child doesn't mean you should expect to feel the same way about her as you do about your baby. The truth is, you will have an incredible physical and emotional connection to the baby, one that is naturally different than the way you feel about your stepchild. Don't beat yourself up about this: The stepchild already has two biological parents, and there can be room for different kinds of relationships if they are all loving and caring. When 38-year-old Amy Grisak from Great Falls, Mont., was pregnant with son Sam, now 8 months old, she was already stepmom to Blaine, 13. Her advice: "To take the pressure off, tell yourself, 'I am not taking on the role of parent to my stepchild. I'm more of a supportive figure.'"
Once you give birth, recognize that all children have adjustment issues when a sibling is added to the family, so don't overreact and assume that any "acting out" has to do with the stepfamily dynamics. "Trust the biological parent's gut," Lutz advises. He will know what is normal behavior for his child and what feels wrong. "Reactions such as jealousy, anger and competition are normal; physical aggression is not."
Above all, try to have realistic expectations. "The addition of a new child produces changes in family dynamics for stepfamilies and biological families alike," says Susan D. Stewart, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at Iowa State University in Ames and author of Brave New Stepfamilies (Sage Publications). "In general, when there is a new baby, parents (and stepparents, as the case may be) are less involved with the older children." Stewart warns that trying to re-create a traditional nuclear family causes too much pressure. The solution, she says, lies in allowing your new family time to bond and develop natural relationships.
Do's and Don'ts For Expectant Stepmoms
Do include stepkids in age-appropriate ways. They can draw pictures for the baby's room and help shop for baby items.
Don't expect your spouse to love the new baby more. They are all his kids.
Do accept that babies need intensive time and attention. You can't treat a baby and a 6-year-old the same, no matter how much you might want to.
Don't expect the stepchild to instantly love the baby. Love is not a requirement; respect for the baby's place in the family is.
Do make sure your stepchild knows you love her because of who she is and not because of your relationship with her father. She already knows marriages don't always last and may think your love is conditional on the marriage.
Don't focus on the details of the biological relationships in the family. To a child, a sibling is a sibling.