I have been part of a blended family for three years now. My wife has two kids from her previous marriage, and we are expecting our first child together this fall. What can we do to ensure that the kids see adding the baby to the clan as a positive thing? Are there any protocols we should go through with respect to my wife’s ex-husband- do we need to give him a heads up about the baby? We are a little afraid that he is going to use this as an opportunity to poison the well and make the older kids feel inferior. What can we do to combat this?
First and foremost, make sure that you are honest with the children about the pregnancy and what this means for your family. Have an open discussion regarding the positive impact of the new baby and make sure throughout the pregnancy and after the baby is born that you address any concerns the children have about the issue. Reassurance is key here.
All children are different, so it may be wise to attempt to figure out what aspect of adding a new child to the mix is going to be difficult for each particular child and plan for it. For instance, perhaps one of your older children does not like to share and is possessive of his things- toddlers love to have things that are not theirs. This may be an issue that you need to address up front. Perhaps you have an older child that has a hard time going back to sleep if they are woken up in the middle of the night. If that is the case, maybe the new baby’s room should not be next door to that child.
Including children in the baby planning is also a key to creating a positive feeling about the baby. Include the children in everything from choosing the name to decorating the nursery.
You certainly have no obligation to inform the ex-husband of the news. The children will tell him, however, so you may as well tell him directly. Unfortunately, if the ex-husband is truly vindictive, he probably will put a negative spin on the news, regardless of how he is informed. I have seen a lot of cases where the ex-spouse tells the children that the new baby is not their “real” sibling. I’ve had sad cases where the ex-spouse attempts to drive a wedge between the children and the other parent by telling the children that the new baby is clearly favored by the other parent, and “reassures” the children in words and conduct that they remain the ex-spouse’s primary focus. I’ve seen cases where the ex spouse instills in the children the feeling that now that the other parent has a new family, they are now outsiders. It is a classic form of manipulation, is very cruel, and it never ceases to amaze me.
The only way to combat alienation attempts of the ex-spouse is with constant love. You cannot pretend it does not exist, while at the same time, you cannot give it too much energy. If the alienation attempts are affecting the children emotionally, you may need to seek counseling or talk to a lawyer about bringing the issue to the court’s attention (which should always be a last resort).
Both mom and step-dad in this case will need to find ways to spend one-on-one time with each child, so that each child feels important. Do not let the new baby dominate the children’s lives and try not to become too distracted. Make sure that each child knows that the new baby will look up to him and love him too. Make sure that they understand that adding a new baby to the family means more love for them, not less.
Jessica H. Anderson
Family Law Attorney Reno, NV