Social science and research offers very little information on this subject – the effects of a new baby in a nuclear family is widely studied but here is almost no attention given to the effects of introducing a new baby to a blended family.
It’s important to be realistic and know that the children in your family, whether your partner’s or yours, might not be as thrilled as you and your partner are regarding the arrival of a new baby in the home. A new baby brings along with it many changes - once again - to the family structure and financial security of the home.
Some views are that an “ours baby” helps to cement step family relationships and gives step family members someone who is related to everyone. I’m of the opinion that if certain key factors are present before the birth of the child that the outcome can in fact be a very positive one. The key factors I’m referring to include:
Children’s reactions to a new baby are usually very diverse and could range from excitement/happiness, to nervousness/anxiety, to a fear of being replaced. Their reactions may also be influenced by their age, gender and whether they have been exposed to a half sibling previously and how that particular situation was handled. For example, if the other family has had a new baby and the situation was handled positively and the children experienced very little or no difficulty in adjusting to the new family structure, then they have most likely paved the way for an easy transition in your home too. However, if the other family has had a new baby and the situation was handled inappropriately, leaving the children feeling neglected, replaced or full of resentment, then unfortunately, you have a bit of extra work to do!
The most important aspect to manage is their fear of being replaced or displaced. By displacement, I mean the following: children have their place in the family as the youngest or the eldest and when a new baby comes along; their place in the family structure is displaced. This can sometimes result in a bit of an identity crisis, as children may not be able to relinquish their roles effectively. Children may also feel that the new baby will replace the love that their mom or dad has for them and they may feel jealous, angry and afraid regarding this.
Therefore, when announcing the pregnancy, reassure them that although the family structure will be changing – they are in no way going to be replaced or play a lesser role and they will be just as loved. However, as always, your actions will speak louder than words in this regard. Explain to the children that they will play a vital role in their baby brother / sister’s life as a role model and focus on the positive aspects.
It’s important to allow children to feel included and involved in the preparations for the arrival of the new baby. For example, ask them for suggestions on names or how the nursery should be done up. Assign them unique duties in helping and teaching the baby certain things – for example reading stories, helping with the bath, helping to feed, playing etc. It’s also important to explain to them what they can expect in the first few weeks of the baby’s life so that they can mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for the change. For example, explain to them that their mom / step-mom will be very tired and won’t be able to pay as much attention to everyone else as she used to and that everyone will need to help out a bit more during this time etc. Explain to them that they can probably expect a lot of visitors during the first few weeks and that the baby will be receiving a lot of attention. It’s also a good idea to take them through their own baby albums so that they can get a better understanding of how helpless babies are and can be reminded that all the attention was also on them when they were born. All these things are necessary to allow them to prepare for what will be taking place during those first few weeks of the baby’s arrival. Explain the procedures regarding who will look after them when mom / step-mom goes to the hospital, when they will be able to meet / hold their baby brother or sister etc.
It’s also important for couples to continue to play a keen interest in all the children in the home as the pregnancy continues. Try to not only talk about the baby all the time. Refer to the baby as “your baby brother / sister” rather than your “half brother / sister”.
The new baby can provide the opportunity for the family to be tied together and allow everyone to get more involved in the step family. However, this should not be the only reason for having a baby and should be handled with sensibility and sensitivity.