Loving your Stepchild and the New Baby
Dr. Susan Bartell
recently spoke with Cindy, who was pregnant with her first child.
She is also the step-mom of Gabrielle who is 7 years old. Although
Gabrielle lives with her mother, Cindy sees her at least two or
three times a week. Although their relationship is quite good, Cindy
was very anxious because she was experiencing confusing feelings
about Gabrielle. She explained that she was worried Gabrielle was
going to interfere with the "new family" she, her husband,
and the baby were going to have. Cindy wished that she didn't have
to deal with her husband's other child and that it would be wonderful
if they could focus only on the baby. As you can imagine, Cindy
feels terribly guilty because she truly likes Gabrielle and values
their relationship. These feelings are unexpected and have really
taken Cindy by surprise. She does not want to discuss them with
her husband because she is afraid he will be very hurt and angry
about how she is feeling towards his daughter.
first thing I want to say is this: there is no need to feel guilty.
I know that there are many, many stepmothers and stepfathers who
are experiencing exactly the same feelings as Cindy and that these
feelings are perfectly normal. When a new baby is on the way, a
parent's natural reaction is to focus most of his or her attention
on the upcoming arrival. This is especially true if it is the first
baby for you-even if it's not the first for your partner. Everything
is new and exciting, from the pregnancy to picking baby clothes
to imagining life after the baby is born. It is the desire of every
parent to have the "perfect life" with his or her new
baby. Most parents have many wishes for their child and they may
even fantasize about what that life will be like. Stepparents are
usually completely unprepared for all these feelings until they
happen, and they suddenly have to acknowledge to themselves that
having a stepchild, even one they like, is rarely a part of the
"perfect life" fantasy. This feeling is not something
to be ashamed of nor does it mean that you are a "bad"
your feelings are perfectly natural, the way in which you handle
them IS important and can have a long lasting effect on your marriage,
your relationship with your stepchild and your stepchild's relationship
with the new baby (his brother or sister.) First of all, you have
to decide whether it is a good idea to share your concerns with
your partner. In many cases a partner will understand your feelings
and be glad that you shared them. He will realize that although
you love your stepchild, you are going through a confusing period,
as you adjust to having your first child. It is even possible that
your partner shares some of your feelings. Not that he would like
to get rid of his older child, but that it would be nice for the
two of you to be able to share the new baby in an uncomplicated
and private manner.
If you feel your partner would be very upset or angry by your honesty,
it may be a good idea to talk to other people about your conflicted
feelings. After all, this is probably a very stressful time for
him too, having to manage his own feelings as well as those of his
older child. It may not be the best time to burden him with additional
concerns about whether you are going to continue to have a good
relationship with his child after the baby is born. Honesty is not
always the best policy and in this situation it is very likely that
your good feelings towards your stepchild will return once you have
adjusted to the new life with the baby. Therefore, if you have other
people to talk to, it may not be worth the stress to discuss it
with your partner. If your negative feelings towards your stepchild
do feel overwhelming and it seems unlikely that you will resolve
them, given some time, it may be a good idea to talk to a counselor
who is trained to deal with these confusing and negative feelings.
You should not share your negative feelings with your stepchild,
no matter how old he or she is. Hearing that you consider him or
her an intrusion will be hurtful, no matter how gently it is conveyed.
In fact, it is important that you do not allow your conflicted feelings
to impact on the way you interact with your stepchild. For example,
because of your feelings, you may feel inclined to exclude him or
her from preparations for the baby such as decorating a room, picking
names or choosing clothes. However, a stepchild should be included
in all these things, just as you would if he or she was your biological
child. After all, the child IS going to be a brother or sister to
there are days that you will be feeling resentful about the presence
of your stepchild, I bet there are also times when you will be happy
and grateful that your baby will have an older sister or brother.
It is important to focus on these feelings, rather than dwell on
the negative ones. After all, your new baby and your stepchild will
be siblings forever so it is very important to cultivate a bond
between them, even if it doesn't fit your ideal of the "perfect
summary, these points should help you to get through this tough and
- Acknowledge your feelings to yourself and don't feel guilty
- Talk to someone about your feelings It never helps to keep things
bottled up inside.
- Focus on your interactions with your stepchild and don't allow
your feelings to impact negatively on him or her-after all your
stepchild is probably even more confused than you are about having
a baby come into the family.
- Remind yourself that your baby will be lucky to have a brother
or sister and that for the sake of both children, it is your responsibility
to promote a loving and close relationship between them.
- If you feel that your negative feelings are out of control,
consider speaking to a counselor. You can learn how to manage
them before they cause damage to relationships in your family.
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