Dr. Jenn Berman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California, sees many parents and children who are dealing with blended family issues. "One of the main things to understand when you have a new child coming into the family is that the new child is going to displace all of the existing roles," she explains. "It's important to honor what the roles have been, and how they're going to change." This can be accomplished through open dialogue. "Parents need to allow their stepchildren to have negative feelings about their new family," notes Dr. Berman. "Unless they can express the negatives, they won't be able to get to the positives."
It may be tough for a stepparent or biological parent to listen to and acknowledge a child's negative feelings towards a new baby, but it's a critical step to her acceptance of the situation and her ability to positively work through the stress.
The blended family with just one child from a previous relationship can be especially tricky. For Rhonda James, this was a surprise. "My two sisters both married men who had children of their own," she remembers. "When my sisters had babies, the other kids took it pretty well. I guess it was because they already knew what it was like to have siblings." In Rhonda's case, things didn't go as smoothly as she expected. "My husband had a nine-year-old daughter, an only child who lived with her mother in another city," she explains. "When we had (my daughter), I thought Lynn would be super excited to be a new sister. Instead, she was jealous and never wanted anything to do with the baby. Amelia was six months old when her sister came to stay with us for the summer, and I don't think they played together more than five times in three months."
Sibling jealously is nothing new, but dealing with it as a stepparent can be difficult. Rhonda admits that she "only had eyes for Amelia," and more often than not, allowed herself to vent her frustrations at her stepdaughter and her husband. "I'd complain to Lynn about not wanting to help, even just to grab me a diaper when the baby needed a change," she admits. "I was so upset about Lynn's attitude that I neglected to think about where it came from."
On her stepdaughter's next visit, Rhonda and her husband took steps to involve his daughter in the day-to-day routine of their baby. "Once Lynn realized how much Amelia loved splashing in her kiddie pool, she decided that she should be in charge of filling it up and keeping it stocked with toys," remembers Rhonda. "Things are definitely better, for all of us."