Helping First Time Mums Who Were Actually Stepmums First!
Parenting is full of changes. Step-parenting is full of challenges.
And becoming a mum is full of challenges regardless of age or stage.
No matter how prepared you think you are for motherhood having been a stepmum, there are challenges and issues that you cannot even begin to realise until you actually become one.
It is simply one of those things in life that you can only find out through experience.
I have been a stepparent for the last 15 years.
I was a stepmum to my stepson and stepdaughter for a few years before I had our first child, a little boy who is now 11 and then our girls aged 10 and aged 8.
My stepson was 14 years old at the time and my stepdaughter was 13 years old (they are both now 26 years old and 25 years old respectively).
If you are a stepmum who is now expecting, I have some great tips I would love to share with you, which I hope will be of as much help to you as they were to me when I was pregnant. Having now had three children of my own I have used the same tips and strategies each time.
It does not matter what your or your partner’s relationship may be with your stepchildren’s mother, show and make your stepchildren part of your baby journey and they will respond excitedly and positively.
Regardless of their age, when you announce that you are going to be having a baby ‘which is growing in your tummy’ try to involve them. The younger they are, the easier it often is as they are more excited knowing they will be getting a new baby brother or sister.
Because my stepson and stepdaughter were already teenagers, the thought of their dad having had ‘sex’ was enough for them not to want to ask too many questions but they were truly intrigued with whether the baby would be a boy or a girl and what they would each be able to teach him or her down the track.
I remember my stepson wanting to make sure if it was a boy that he would be able to kick the football with him!
So, here are some tips that helped me:
- Explain to them that this baby will be their brother or their sister forever and you would like them to be as involved as they would like to be.
- Showing an ultrasound photo(s) is always a great bonding and talking point as it sparks the “brother or sister” talk and the amazement of how the baby looks because not only is it new for you it’s new for them too!
- Reassure them that while some things will change, what won’t change is the fact that you are all family and they will always be loved.
- Ask them for their name suggestions. Naturally, you will get the final say and you don’t need to feel pressured to include their suggestions but sometimes their suggestion might be good or even appropriate for a middle name.
- If it is possible, take them along on a shopping excursion when you choose the cot, pram, bath, car seat or even some basic baby toys or pictures for the baby room.
- With younger stepchildren, you can make up a little diaper bag for them to “help change” the baby or to simply use on their dolls as you are doing the real thing!
- When your stepchildren are at your house make sure that your whole life does not revolve solely around ‘the new baby’ pregnancy. You must keep up your interest in them and ask what they are up to at school and all their other activities and interests.
One important pregnancy issue I would like to highlight is that it would be naïve of any stepmum to think that everyone is going to be completely over the moon when they hear that they are having a baby.
Your stepchildren’s mum is highly unlikely to be doing cartwheels, after all, you are having a baby with their ex and in the majority of cases, you are now living the life with their ex that they thought they would be living forever.
But the chances are that your stepchildren’s mum was not a stepmum herself when she gave birth to your stepchildren. She may be very jealous, but that is her issue to deal with, not yours.
Her life will continue for the next 9 months with no disruption but instead, it will be left up to you to try and juggle everything.
In an ideal world, she would remember that her children and your soon– to– be born baby will always be related to her children but sadly we do not live in an ideal world at all.
So if this is the minefield you find yourself in, just how can you minimise all this to help you have a safer, less stressful pregnancy?
My biggest piece of advice is to talk to your partner about everything that you have just read.
Job stress is one thing, toxic dysfunctional ex-behaviours causing stress to you are another and the effect they could have on you and your baby is something not to be trivialised.
Acknowledge to yourself and your partner that you may suddenly feel very tearful and overwhelmed during your pregnancy due to hormones and you might have weird thoughts wondering what might actually happen in the future.
I remember one of my crazy thoughts was because I myself was an only child with a mum in her 80s, what if I died during childbirth or soon after?! Who would raise our baby?! I panicked wondering if my husband would re-marry his ex-wife so that the stepchildren, our baby would all be together! When I confided this to a friend, she laughed and said, “you are not the first person to have had a thought like this, don’t worry it won’t happen!”
Being pregnant is a very emotional time.
As a stepmum, you are conscious of the obligations you have to your stepchildren but with a baby growing inside you every day, you are conscious of your obligations to him or her!
However, the most important obligation you have is to yourself.
Remember, no-one is Superwoman and no-one needs to be.
You do not need to feel guilty by saying you are feeling swamped by it all and need some time out especially as your pregnancy progresses.
By opening up, it might just give you a chance to get on top of your new situation and be able to continue being the best stepmum and mum that you can possibly be in the future for all.
Karalee Katsambanis is an accomplished Australian TV commentator, journalist, columnist and media trainer. She has worked across Australia’s mainstream TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and online for the past 25 years. She is a mother of 3 children and stepmother of 2 young adults. Her book “Step Parenting with Purpose – everything you wanted to know but were too afraid to ask” provides invaluable insights and advice to those beginning or already on their stepparenting journey. www.karaleekatsambanis.com