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Bringing a New Baby into a Stepfamily

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I Kid You Not!

That ubiquitous combination of sibling rivalry and idolatry can exist between half-siblings of any age. Witness the case of Rhonda, 4, and Angela, 24. Rhonda worships Angela; Angela's favorite color is blue, therefore so is Rhonda's. Angela loves to play backgammon with her father when she comes to visit—Rhonda jumps on Angela's back as they play and pulls Angela's hair. Angela complains that Rhonda gets privileges she never had, yet she brings Rhonda fabulous gifts and boasts about her little sister's brilliance to her friends.

Different Surnames

Legally, you can give your new child any last name you want, but if you and your partner, or you and your kids, have different surnames, you'll have to decide which one to use. (You can make up your own, too.)

When my daughter Annie was born, we thought long and hard about her last name. I'd kept my own name. What should Annie's be? A deciding factor in giving her Bill's last name (her middle name is my last name) was the fact that his other kids had his last name, and we felt it would help the siblings bond if their last names matched. (In retrospect, a name is just a name, and the kids would have bonded just as well without that similarity.)

His, Hers, and Ours!

It's a baby! It's our baby! For many stepfamilies with children from one or both partners, the new baby brings somebody in common to everybody, and a sense of permanence and completion to the family. If you weren't truly combined before, you are now!

Life in the stepfamily with a new baby is no doubt more hectic than before, and it's probably happier. Babies are delightful, winning creatures.

I Kid You Not!

Worried about the effects on the kids from having such a large family? Don't be. As a child, I loved visiting my friends the Faw family: six large, jolly kids and a beaming Ma and Pa Faw (the youngest son was Beau Faw, and that's no faux pas). Kids of all ages like a family scene, and babies thrive on siblings and kid-chaos.

Parenting Is Not Like Stepparenting

If you've stepparented but not parented, you'll be surprised at the depth of your emotional attachment to the new little one. (This isn't to knock your feelings for your stepkids, but the bonding that occurs when you actively parent a child from early on is far more intense.)

Be prepared for some surprises. Many new parents find they change their minds on parenting issues. The disapproving stepparent who felt that their partner was far too lenient on disciplinary issues suddenly lightens up, loosens up, and realizes that kids are not perfect. Stepparents often become better stepparents once they are parents.

Stepparents tend to make good bioparents. They've already had experience with kids, and they are already committed to family life.

Stepparents also commonly find that they feel closer to their stepkids after they've had a child of their own. Sometimes this is because they are more focused in on children—all children. Often a stepparent will fall in love with her stepkids when she sees how much they love and feel close to the baby.

A new baby usually has a positive effect on the partnership as well. Now that you and your Love share something so vital in common, you have more of an equal partnership. For the stepparent who has never parented before, gaining “official” parenthood status can help diminish old power struggles.

The Parent's Reactions to New Parenthood

Though bioparents often fear that having a new child will stretch them too thin emotionally or will interfere with their relationship with their existing kids, in reality, a new baby can lead to a renewed interest in parenting and family life as a whole. This renewed enthusiasm often plays out as more attention paid to the older kids, too—and no, this is not just Parent Guilt talking.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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