Approximately half of all divorced individuals will remarry. Of the individuals who remarry, nearly 1/2 of the women give birth to at least one child.
That means there are thousands and thousands of second wives who will become new moms and face the very same challenges other women have been through.
For first time wives, there is no limit to the amount of experience, knowledge and advice available to them when they become pregnant. First time moms are eager to learn what they should expect during their pregnancies, about giving birth, bringing their baby home, what the first year will be like, etc.
For stepmothers who become pregnant, the experience can be quite different. In addition to being pregnant, a stepmother may have several concerns that a first time mother would not.
- Will her husband love their child as much as he loves his other children
- Will her stepchildren accept the baby as a sibling
- How will the stepchildren treat the baby
- Will the ex-wife create additional stress when she finds out about the pregnancy
- Who should tell the stepkids about the pregnancy and when should they be told
Unfortunately, many stepmothers are ignorant to the challenges they face and tackle the situation head on, expecting to learn as they go.
Without the same wealth of information available to first time wives, second wives very often drudge through their fears by having exceedingly high expectations, fairy tale optimism and fierce determination. This very often adds up to high stress, disappointment and failure.
Patricia Papernow, author of Becoming A Stepfamily, believes that the stages stepfamilies go through are fairly predictable. Papernow’s model identifies these states of stepfamily development as: 1-Fantasy 2-Immersion 3-Awareness 4-Mobilization 5-Action 6-Contact 7-Resolution. The first three stages are what Papernow describes as the Early Stages.
The tasks for stepfamilies in the early stages are to realize their fantasies about re-creating a nuclear family, to give up their fantasy ideas for how their new families will look and to learn to work through their disappointment upon giving up their unrealistic expectations.
Families who are educated about the issues they may face are effected less when problems arise. Papernow cites a lack of awareness as a major contributor when families get stuck and have difficulty moving through the stages.
The very best way for a pregnant stepmother to enjoy her pregnancy is through educating herself. Having realistic expectations can help her enjoy her time as a mother rather than lose that time due to stress, worry and conflict.
The following as some helpful tips that may make the experience smoother:
- Understand that a new baby make evoke feelings of intense jealousy among the stepchildren. Their reactions may vary and be very difficult to predict. Rather than expecting them to respond with excitement, give them time to accept the idea of a new baby. Chances are that they will have a mix of reactions, from affection to resentment.
- Let dad tell his kids about the new baby. Announcing a pregnancy in a stepfamily is not the same as in first marriages. There could be resistance, and stepfamilies should be mindful and sensitive to the stepchildren’s feelings. To them, a new baby may be seen as a threat to a relationship with their father which has already suffered loss. A new baby can be seen as one more person who will further take their father away. It’s not fair for a new couple to make the announcement, and force the stepchildren to feign excitement rather than be able to work through their fears with their biological parent. It’s better if the kids can verbalize their worries and work with their parent to calm their fears. Likewise, you’ll feel less disappointment and negative feelings if you don’t witness a reaction you didn’t want.
- Don’t expect that your stepchildren will bond with your child the same as they do with each other. While your stepchildren may grow to love your child immensely, they have history with each other. There may always be a difference in how they behave with each other and how they behave with your child. Let the children work out their feelings for each other rather than pressure them with your expectations. Pushing your stepchildren to treat your child as they do each other can backfire, causing them to feel more resentment toward you and your child. Conversely, you can set up your child for disappointment if you help perpetrate the fantasy that they are an equal sibling. If they are raised expecting to think they are a part of a tight-knit sibling bond, it can be hurtful to feel like the “odd man out” and create feelings of insecurity. Give all of the children the respect of growing and owning their own feelings toward each other rather than trying to control them.
- Will the ex-wife be happy for you? Will she have negative things to say to your husband on the subject? Will she try to negatively influence your stepchildren regarding your new child? Will she attempt to cause chaos? How she reacts can be hard to predict. However, how you respond to her reaction is well within your power. This is a very exciting time for you right now. And while everyone will need time to adjust, you do not have to allow this special time in your life to be robbed by negative reactions the first-wife may have. Do not dwell on negativity and limit the amount of space you allow it to reside in your head.
- Communication is key in successful marriages. Talk with your husband and listen to him. Keep an open dialogue and work together to address issues before they happen. His other children will need reassuring that they aren’t being replaced. You will want your child to also have a special place in his heart. Make a game plan for how these needs can be met so that everyone is satisfied. Having a loving relationship will be best for you, your pregnancy, your baby, your marriage and your stepfamily.
It’s expected that pregnant stepmothers will have additional concerns when expecting a baby. It’s a complicated position to be in, and it’s far better to be educated beforehand than to expect to learn on-the-job. Many women have been down the same path. Research and learn from them. Your experience can be much more rewarding if you can avoid the same pitfalls others have gone through before you.