Raising a family is tough. And raising a blended family can be even tougher. It comes with its own unique set of challenges, like when a parent starts up a new relationship and has another child. While this can be an extremely joyous event, for some children, it can be understandably difficult to accept. We spoke to Courtney Rodrigue Hubscher, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and National Board-Ceritifed Counselor at GroundWork Counseling in Maitland, Florida, for a few tips on how to make this kind of pregnancy announcement a positive experience for the whole family.
1. Discuss your pregnancy news with the children's other parent first.
"Ideally this would be a conversation between adults prior to the child being told," Hubscher explains. "This way the other parent can be aware, and create a supportive environment within the other household." Anna Earley, a personal trainer in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and mother-of-two can attest to the importance of that. When her ex-husband and his new wife began a family of their own, Earley says she was let it on the news first. It gave her the chance to prepare for how she'd discuss it with her children. Once the children had been told, Earley brought up the conversation at home, immediately allowing her kids to feel at ease with it. "They will be siblings for their lifetime, likely longer than my lifetime," she explains. "So for me, it was so important they have a great and non-guilty relationship with their siblings."
2. Make it a family discussion.
Whenever possible, Hubscher recommends both new parents sit down with the children to announce the news together. "If parents present as a united front, and both are available to answer questions, this provides an opportunity to engage in open and healthy communication," she explains. Hubscher says the unified family approach is a great way to make children feel supported throughout the experience. "It can encourage the child to also express feelings and emotions freely."
3. Communicate openly with your children.
Hubscher believes open communication helps create a supportive environment, where children can feel comfortable discussing their feelings and seek help if needed. This is an important factor when it comes to any life changes in a child's life. Cali Limnios, a 40-year-old mother-of-one from La Prairie, Quebec, Canada, agrees that open communication is key. She's currently expecting a child with her boyfriend, who has two children of his own. "Our children knew that having another child was a possibility and they were prepared for it," she says. The news of the new baby never came as a shock. In fact, because it had been previously talked about, all three girls were beyond excited when they found out a new sibling was on the way.
4. Be aware that mixed feelings are normal.
Some children may take the news very well, while others may struggle a little. Limnios says one of her boyfriend's daughters was extremely anxious; even though she was also excited, she worried about how her mother would take the news of her father having a new baby. Her sister, on the other hand, was simply happy and had no such worries. Hubscher says it's important to expect varying or mixed emotions in order to manage those feelings better. It is not uncommon for children to feel excitement and anxiety at the same time. "By normalizing these feelings, parents can open the door to proactive and healthy conversations and help the child make sense of the upcoming changes," she says.
5. Give the children a role in preparing for the new child.
Limnios and her boyfriend were unable to get all three of their children together on the same day they announced the news to their parents. So they had one child present the other two with the positive pregnancy test the following day, making the experience all about them. "They literally jumped in excitement when they saw it," she says. Hubscher believes feeling important during and even after the announcement is crucial. "Contributing to the preparation process and helping with the nursery can increase the child's feelings of involvement and importance, while also creating a bonding experience between both parents and child around the new baby," she explains.
6. Work on the stepparent-stepchild relationship.
When a child and their stepparent don't get along, sharing the news of a new baby in the family could be very difficult to swallow for that child. Hubscher recommends working on building a bond between stepparent and child. "I often encourage the adult to take the initiative of beginning to cultivate shared interests and bonding experiences with the child," she suggests. A smoother relationship between the children and their stepparent will make the adjustment to a growing, blended family much easier.
7. Focus on a healthy relationship on all sides.
Earley believes her positive relationship with her ex-husband and his new wife was a major contributor to the children adjusting so well to their new family situation. The positive family relationships have allowed her children to be free of stress and anxiety. "Kids shouldn't have to carry with them adult feelings that aren't their own, nor should they have to worry or feel guilty for being happy or excited when sharing news." Hubscher agrees that a compassionate setting is critical for all children involved. "My biggest piece of advice for families is to create a supportive environment for the child, emphasizing their importance to the family, while encouraging open communication," she recommends.
8. Learn to recognize when help is needed.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach in situations like this, and some children may need professional help from a counselor to deal with their varying emotions. It's important to known which signs indicate that your child may have a deeper problem so you can seek help immediately. "Extreme changes in behavior such as acting out, attention-seeking behaviors, and regression in potty training or in verbal skills are signs that the child is struggling and can likely benefit from therapy and additional support," Hubscher advises. Though some adjustment time is needed for most children, it's critical that parents remain alert to detect when the situation has crossed over into a more serious issue that needs to be addressed by a professional.