In many stepfamilies ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ are soon joined by ‘ours’ as a new baby of the new couple arrives. Babies can make or break stepfamilies. Having a new baby in a stepfamily can be a happy time, but it is also one that can trigger all sorts of unpredictable feelings and responses in a stepfamily. For many couples that already have children from previous relationships, a new baby represents their commitment to building a new family together. However, stepchildren may see it as a final sign that their mum and dad will never get back together again and children may have mixed reactions.
How you may feel about a new baby on the way
A parent-to-be in a stepfamily may feel excitement at the prospect a baby of your own but may feel anxious too. It is important to try and talk your anxieties over with your partner, friends and relatives. Look for other stepfamily parents amongst your friends and acquaintances. You may be worried that the children may feel pushed out and get less attention than the baby. You may feel guilty about this but not be sure how to manage it. Your fears and anxieties are natural and that’s the most important thing to understand. Suffering in silence, however, can lead to distress so speak out, get support if you feel you need it.
Children and stepchildren
For any parent, love for a new baby can temporarily overshadow feelings for older children. As a first-time mum or dad, who is also a stepparent, you may be surprised and confused by the difference in feelings towards your stepchildren once your baby is born. It may seem easier to love your baby. Children may pick up on this and need reassurance that they are still loved as behaviour and moods may change. They may also resent sharing attention, especially having already experienced the pain of divorce, separation or bereavement. Others may be excited that they will have a new half-brother or sister and want to be involved. Let the children know about the expected baby yourselves – don’t leave it to another parent, relative or friend or they’ll feel left out. Spend time with your children/stepchildren and reassure them that your love for them has not changed. Help children adjust by giving them the opportunities to help care for the baby and in choosing gifts, names and clothes. But don’t force them if they’re reluctant – they may need more time.
Talk to your partner about how to describe the relationship between existing children and the new baby.
When do I tell the children?
It is important to trust your instincts on when to tell them as some families will want to share the news straightaway, some will want to wait until they have passed 3 months. It is dependent on the ages of your other children, issues in the family, dynamics, etc. Speak to your partner and make the decision together.
You may feel that they deserve to be the first to know and not to pick up the hints and whispered conversations or knowing looks between you or hear it from someone else. They may be excited and want to share the news too so you may want to tell them when you are ready for the world to know.
The effect of the new baby on the stepfamily
Some parents-to-be find the new baby far more life-changing than they anticipated. Second or third children may seem to have less of an impact on your lifestyle and the dynamic between partners. Once you’ve had your first child you’re already a parent and a family, after all. But a new baby in a stepfamily has to be seen as someone who may have an even more profound effect on the individuals and the group interaction than a first child in a first time family may have had. After all, when a baby arrives to two childless parents, they only have themselves to consider. When a second child arrives, you do have to recognise the potential for sibling rivalry and how a child who was an only and both the eldest and the baby of the family may feel about the newcomer. A third baby makes the second child a middle child rather than the baby, and that needs managing. But a new baby in a stepfamily throws up many more changes to the family process.
Will existing children feel left out?
You may be worried your children will feel the baby is getting all the attention and this is natural under the circumstances. Some children can feel pushed out, whether they live with the baby or see him or her on visits, children may fear they’re no longer good enough or wanted. Older children may feel called upon and expected to be grown up and responsible at a time when perhaps they needed more coddling and care, especially if their help is required or requested to feed, change and look after the new child. Younger children may feel their position as baby of the family has been commandeered and stolen from them. Whatever their age, existing children may be right in thinking adult concern and attention has been diverted from them and concentrated on the baby, and feel upset about it. This might not be the case in all families. It is important to be in touch with all the children’s feelings and needs during this time.
New babies can bring families closer
A baby can often bring stepfamilies together, by providing a bridge between stepparents and children. Children have no material link to a stepparent. Their own mother or father may love this person and indeed have a legal tie to them in the form of marriage, but step relatives have no such legal connection and sometimes very few emotional ones beyond dislike or suspicion. A baby, however, is a bond, sharing as it does a blood tie with the stepparent and children of a stepparent’s partner. The baby is a half brother or sister, and even where there is anger and hostility between adult and child, a baby may be accepted as having no part in the quarrel. The baby may be seen by them as ‘theirs’ where the stepparent may have been seen as nothing of the sort. But because the baby has a bond with them, so now by extension does the stepparent.
Babies are also fun and fascinating and are talking points. In playing with, taking care of and talking to the baby, children can have something to share with an adult with whom they might otherwise feel they have nothing in common. They may have felt embarrassed about family change, and mortified at the graphic proof that a parent is having sex, but on the whole children and teenagers of both sexes find a baby in the family is something to boast about and show off to their friends.
As a new dad, you’ll be experiencing a whole mix of emotions. You may want to lavish love and attention on the baby, but you may feel guilty about not spending enough time with your stepchildren. On top of this, like many new dads, you may feel pushed out yourself as your partner, and the rest of the family concentrates on the baby. Talk to your partner and let her know how you feel. Encourage the children to talk about how they feel – to you, your partner or a relative. Talk to other men in the same situation – friends and relatives may have already been through it and can give you ideas on what helped them.
If this baby is your first, you may find it difficult to share your child with your ready-made family. You may also have pangs of jealousy that your partner has already been through this experience with somebody else and knows more about parenthood than you. You may even resent the time he spends with his previous family but actually this is a time that you can all become closer as a new family. Ensure you take a break – get a babysitter and spend some time alone with your partner. Ask for help if you need it – a new baby can cause a lot of stress and the ‘baby blues’ are common after the initial excitement. Talk to your partner and health visitor about any anxieties you have. Sometimes people assume you’re doing OK when you’re not. Keep telling them – you might need to tell people more than once.
Even if you have managed to have an amicable relationship with your ex-partner, a new baby can stir up lots of emotions, such as jealousy and sadness that it didn’t work out, and the situation can sometimes get more difficult. Your ex may refuse to let the children visit their dad’s/mum’s new baby for example, or an ex-husband may withhold money as he resents ‘supporting’ another man’s family. Don’t shut your partner out and try not to let tangles with the ex-partner upset your relationship. Give your ex time to adjust to the change and concentrate on the children, not old wounds. Seek help – try calling our helpline or talking to a relationship counsellor.
In a stepfamily there can be lots of grandparents: your parents, your partner’s parents, your ex-partner’s parents. Often grandparents are overlooked– they may live far away; or if they are your ex’s parents they may be seen as part of the past; or it may be that you find some of their views on raising children conflict with your own. However, grandparents can provide children with stability and continuity when they are trying to adjust. And they can provide you with valuable support too. For further advice, take a look at our advice page on grandparents and stepfamilies. Keep them up to date on the baby and the other grandchildren. Phone calls and photos will help them feel involved. Invite grandparents round to spend time with the children. If they live near, they could help by babysitting now and then. Give them a chance to get to know new step-grandchildren and encourage them to treat all the children the same. Sit down and have a chat. It can be hard for grandparents to gauge their role after a son or daughter has a new partner. Explain your way of doing things so they understand why you may not always agree with them.
A new baby can bring a stepfamily closer but because of all the extra people involved, stepfamilies have to work harder at creating stability. Stepfamily life is complicated, and a new baby brings more demands on your time and emotions. Talk to each other before the birth about the impact your new baby will have on all members of the family. When it gets difficult you and your partner will need to agree ways of dealing with the situation and sometimes you’ll need to compromise. At times it may be useful to talk to people outside the family.
We are here for you
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.