Our friends Chase and Mandi had been married nine months when they discovered Mandi was pregnant for the first time. They had worked hard to help Chase's kids feel comfortable with Mandi, but the news of a new baby was not received well.
Mandi says, "When we made our big announcement, 12-year-old Kerstin, my stepdaughter, ran to her room, slammed the door and hid in her closet. I felt a keen sense of loss because my joy had been snatched from me with the slamming of that door."
Not every blended family experiences this type of reaction at the news of a baby. But a change in family dynamics can undermine a stepfamily's fragile framework. Children might feel as if they are being replaced or worry about being loved less than the new addition who — unlike them — has both biological parents in the home. Here are some ways to work through feelings of jealousy and help your stepfamily stand strong.
Be sensitive to losses brought about by the new baby. These losses might include your youngest child giving up the role of "baby" or an older child losing a bedroom that will be used for the nursery. Ask yourself, How would I feel if put in my child's situation?
Let your kids know that love is not based on biological relationships. While children may take for granted the love of their biological parents, they often don't assume that stepparents love them. The new baby may complicate the delicate relationships you've started building. Express your love for each stepchild. In our family, I tell Kylie that, although God gave me four children, He allowed me to choose her to love as my only stepdaughter and that choice makes her incredibly special.
Spend extra time with each stepchild to keep the outsider feelings at bay. Children (and even adults) can feel like they aren't completely accepted in a blended family. Affirm your stepchildren's value by consistently taking time with each of them. Allow them to decide how the two of you will spend the time and what you'll talk about.
With new additions come new feelings. But jealousy over a new baby does not have to split your stepfamily, if handled with patience and sensitivity.
This article appeared in the August/September 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "Adding Without Dividing." Copyright © 2012 by Todd Gangl. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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