Parenting is full of changes. Step parenting is full of challenges.
Becoming a mum is full of challenges.
No matter how prepared you think you are for it having been a stepparent, there are challenges and issues that you cannot even begin to realise until you actually become one.
It is simply one of those things in life that you can only find out through experience.
Reality is often very different from what you have envisaged or believed would be the case.
It is important to be aware of all this.
I was a stepmum to my stepson and stepdaughter for a few years to them both before I had my first child, a little boy who is now 11 and then had a little girl aged 10 and another little girl aged 8.
We all get on extremely well, however, I am now 15 years down the track as a stepparent.
But, I have never met nor spoken to their mother- her choice- despite the fact she had re-partnered, and custody was shared between her and her ex (my husband). This is an article for another time.
My stepson was 14 years old at the time and my stepdaughter was 13 years old at the time. (They are both now 26 years old and 25 years old respectively).
I have some great tips to give you both before birth and afterwards to smooth the path ahead, because once a new baby is born, that path will be different and it is very important to always be inclusive and having everyone rowing in the same direction to get the best results for your family dynamic.
Bonding with any child comes through involvement and interest.
If you have been involved with your stepchildren, no matter what your or your partner’s relationship may be with their mother, show them that they are part of the baby journey and they will respond excitedly and positively.
Regardless of their age, when you announce that you are going to be having a baby ‘which is growing in your tummy’ try to involve them. The younger they are, the easier it often is as they are more excited knowing they will be getting a new baby brother or sister.
Here are some tips that helped me and may well help you all:
- Explain to them that this baby will be their brother or their sister forever and you would like them to be as involved as they would like to be.
- Reassure them that while some things will change, what won’t change is the fact that you are all family and they will always be loved.
- Ask them for their name suggestions. Naturally, you will get final say and you don’t need to feel pressured to include their suggestions but sometimes their suggestion might be good or even appropriate for a middle name.
- If it is possible, take them along on a shopping excursion when you choose the cot, pram, bath, car seat or even some basic baby toys.
- With younger stepchildren, you can make up a little diaper bag for them to “help change” the baby or to simply use on their dolls as you are doing the real thing!
- When your stepchildren are at your house make sure that your whole life does not revolve solely around ‘the new baby’. You must keep up your interest in them and ask what they are up to at school and all their other activities and interests.
When you have given birth, you will find that your hormones may be all over the place, tiredness will kick in and the enormity that you have created a little human being may overwhelm you.
You might be reading this article while you are in hospital or perhaps you are skimming through it as baby has just gone to sleep.
If you have had a caesarean, life will be a bit tricky for the next 6 weeks. Things you might have easily done before or not even thought of will suddenly be a real challenge. Doing no vacuuming, lifting, driving or exercising can make you feel lost and helpless. A caesarean is a big procedure and definitely not something to be trivialised.
Add disturbed sleep patterns, issues with milk and breastfeeding and just the general feeling of your whole world has now changed forever and it can all make you feel overwhelmed.
Your stepchildren may be as lovely as anything, you may love them more than anything but your whole being has now changed. Your pre-birth thoughts that your stepchildren can help pick up baby or wheel the pram may now not be what you want.
Please realise that these mixed emotions are more normal than you might think. You are now a mother. Your stepchildren’s mother would have gone through the same feelings as you, like a protective lioness over her newborn cub.
But there is one difference. Chances are your stepchildren’s mum was not a stepmum herself at the time.
And that is a huge difference.
Why? Because, suddenly as a stepmum you begin feeling very tearful and overwhelmed at what and how you are thinking instead of realising that all this will pass.
My stepchildren came over for their alternate week visitation on the day I came home from the hospital with our son.
I remember feeling extremely weird that I didn’t want anyone around except my husband, their Dad.
That is normal! And if this is how you are feeling right at the moment, take a deep breath and relax.
Because, you suddenly realise the mammoth job ahead of you. Getting your newborn baby to the stage and age of your stepchildren is a huge challenge!
Wherever you are reading this article, at home or the hospital or birthing centre, if you have had a difficult childbirth please tell your partner that you need him.
This is a very emotional time. No-one is Superwoman and no-one needs to be. But what you need to be is extremely honest without feeling guilty that you are supposedly letting someone down.
Because, you are not letting anyone down at all. But you will be letting yourself down if you do not speak up. I have been there and done that and wish I could have that time again to just say, “I need some help or some time out”.
I didn’t and struggled dreadfully for the first couple of months.
I did not suffer post-natal depression but with all the hormones and extreme emotions that can seemingly come from nowhere after having given birth, the stress of having stepchildren over as well on the day you come home from hospital was just too much.
I never spoke up as I was more worried about what people would think, that they would think I didn’t love my stepchildren, whereas the enormity of having given birth and coming home to a busy household where the schedule still had to run was just too much at that time.
So, maybe your partner can organise something so that you can get a couple of weeks on your own – without the stepchildren – to get on top of all the things that are going on.
Juggling a newborn is difficult enough, juggling a newborn with stepchildren is even more difficult.
That doesn’t mean that your stepchildren can’t come over and meet their new sibling but the whole routine of a usual weekend visit or an alternate full week visit maybe need to be postponed or swapped for the time being.
In the whole scheme of it, no-one will even remember but it might just give you a chance to get on top of your new situation and be able to continue being the best stepmum and Mum that you can possibly be.
Karalee Katsambanis, Author “Step Parenting with Purpose; Everything you wanted to know but were too afraid to ask.” www.karaleekatsambanis.com
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