In Margie Holloway's case, it was her five-year-old stepson's mother who had a new baby. "I never expected him to have so many issues—with us—over his new brother," she says. "My stepson, who comes every other weekend, started wetting the bed, breaking toys, and crying over everything. My husband and I were shocked, and now I'm terrified to think of what he'll do when I get pregnant!"
Although children will have their own reactions to their new siblings, there are some things parents can do to ease the transition. Allowing a child to be a part of the baby's arrival will give him time to feel out his role as big brother. Send cards with paint samples and ask for suggestions on which would look best in the nursery. Include a picture of the older sibling in the baby's new bedroom. Consider enrolling the sibling to-be in a sibling prep class, usually held at hospitals and birthing centers. The classes aim to acquaint big brothers and sisters with the newborn, identify feelings associated with the baby, reviews safety issues, and may even offer a tour of the hospital. Though they may not be geared specifically towards step- or half-siblings, the classes will offer children the opportunity to get to know other kids their age, who may be dealing with the same feelings of excitement and apprehension.
Once the baby arrives, keep the older child's routine intact. Weekend visits may be tough when you're exhausted from lack of sleep, but skipping one may have devastating emotional effects on a child. Ensure that the older sibling has his own space, and make time for him to spend with each of you (biological and stepparent) without the baby. Even a trip alone to the grocery store can be a wonderful opportunity to connect with the child. Show equality and fairness when giving gifts. Above all, show the child love. It can be difficult to do, especially when he's acting out, but that's when he needs it the most. Educate yourself by reading about blended families and, if necessary, make an appointment to see a family therapist or counselor.
A baby's arrival is always a time of challenges and excitement, and when blended families welcome new members, it's rarely easy. Still, with time, children can learn that a new baby doesn't have to be a threat. And with love and patience, your family will thrive as it continues to grow.