Author's note: My article was previously published in Stepmom Magazine at www.stepmommag.com
When I was pregnant with my eldest son, my stepdaughter came to live with my husband and me. The move caused her to struggle with feelings of jealousy, alienation and emotional stress. Most of those feelings were aimed at me, and she and I were hardly speaking. It was a painful and awkward time.
One day my husband decided to talk with her and asked me to join him to present a united front of love, patience and acceptance. My heart raced, and my big pregnant belly and I reluctantly followed him into her room. The tension dug in on my shoulders as I meekly entered behind my husband.
A few words were exchanged between father and daughter.
“We all love you, and nothing will change when your brother is born.”
“He’s not my brother.”
“Yes, he is your brother, and he is going to love you because you will be very special to him. You are his big sister, and he is your brother.” My husband stated those last few words sharply.
“Half brother!” my stepdaughter sneered.
What a conversation! I remember losing all hope that day.
Fast forward five years. Today, my stepdaughter is a nurturing and loving big sister to three little boys, ages 4 and 2 (twins), who light up even when she just looks at them.
This harmony is possible. Our situation is not the first or the last of its kind for families, so here are five tips we discovered that also could help you:
1. Be an Example of Constant Love.
There is something to be said for consistency, and even when you are repaying love for anger, that consistency—as hard as it is to put out there—is going to make a difference. If your stepchild can truly feel the love you have for him or her, eventually you will see the difference.
Stepmom and author Margaret Broersma conducted a survey of 50 stepchildren ranging in age from youth to adulthood. In “Winning your Stepchild,” a published article about her research, she notes that stepchildren who felt loved by their stepparents usually loved the stepparents back or at least acknowledged a good relationship.
Loving your spouse and giving your relationship with your stepchild time will help you in the long run. By showing an interest in them, you are letting them know they are important. Even just asking them how they are will show you care.
Carmen Castillo-Attar, a licensed professional counselor and family therapist with Family Services of El Paso, Texas, writes: “Stepchildren often feel they have lost their family. Most likely, both parents have found new people in their lives and they feel they don’t belong.
They often feel they were not good enough to keep their parents together, and this internalization of feelings produces sadness, which can turn into anger and acting out. Because of this, all the adults involved need to practice patience and show that no matter what, they (stepchildren) are loved by all.”
2. Involvement is Key.
Make your stepchildren a part of everything from baby showers to baby feedings.
“Your stepchild will at one point experience jealousy over all the attention the new baby is getting. Making him/her part of the new baby’s life from the beginning might ease those feelings,” writes Castillo-Attar. “Ask for suggestions on the nursery theme, the baby’s name, etc.”
How can you involve your children? Make time for family time, such as movie nights, walks, playing board games and dining together. Author Natalie Nichols Gillespie recommends having a backward dinner where everyone wears their clothes backwards and dessert is eaten first!
3. Gifts Don’t Hurt and Don’t Have to Cost a Lot.
It’s not unheard of to present a special token or a card from baby to an older sibling to commemorate this new relationship.
Another option Castillo-Attar offers is to ask a relative or close friend to bring a gift or homemade cookies for your stepchild to the baby shower or after your baby is born so he or she feels as important as the new baby.
4. What’s in a Name?
Teach your baby to love his or her siblings. While mama and dada are first-word musts, introducing the baby to their siblings’ names will help your stepchildren feel accepted and understand the baby is a part of their lives.
5. Kids Need Their Own Special Time.
Children need alone time with their dad. They feel like they lost their dad to you and now their dad is going to be a daddy to a new baby who will have both parents at home. They feel like they are a part of their dad’s past and his future is blazing on without them. You cannot feel jealous about this. Your baby is going to have mommy and daddy dates, too, so what’s the difference? There isn’t one. If you do feel that uncomfortable with your emotions about this, then schedule your own date with your stepchild, as they need time with you, too. No matter how awkward it may feel in the beginning, the ice will slowly start melting.
The real gift here is your time.
Showing Your Love
Gifts don’t have to cost a lot and they are a sweet token of goodwill.
⊲⊲Try the Valentine’s Day Fun Bands from Oriental Trading: http://bit.ly/ValentineFunBands. It doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day, the message here is clear: She is loved! Or for him, try these Awesome Outer Space Stamps: http://bit.ly/OuterSpaceStamps. They are simple but cute.
⊲⊲You also can go for more sentimental forget-me-nots, such as these Shimmering Signature Slide Bracelets for her at http://bit.ly/SlideBracelets or personalized wallets for her or him at http://bit.ly/PersonalizedWallets.
⊲⊲“I love you” notes are an easy way to show affection. Write one on almost anything and put them almost anywhere, including in their lunch boxes. Try pre-packaged Rice Krispies Treats with a blank space on the package for writing notes!
DONNA DENNIS MUNOZ is an adjunct professor of English at El Paso Community College. She is a former journalist for The El Paso Times and a former public affairs officer for her alma mater, The University of Texas at El Paso. A stepmom for seven years (but involved with her stepchildren for more than a decade), she is the founder of www.thegodlystepmom.com, which helps stepmothers around the world. She and her stepdaughter were featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” during a No Phone Zone segment. Munoz is almost finished writing a book about her stepmom journey and personal prayer plan. She has a 16-year-old stepdaughter, a 19-year-old stepson, a 4-year old son and 2-year-old twin sons. “It’s all an adventure!”
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