“Should we have a baby together?”
It’s an interesting question from stepfamily couples and I’m always taken aback by it. Couples on their first marriage never ask me that question!
But when you look behind the question it’s more understandable. With this question these couples are acknowledging the complexity of their family and awareness that their home is still in the process of becoming a family. The question testifies to the concern that having a child (what I like to call an “ours” baby) might disrupt an already fragile family environment.
So, is there any validity to that concern?
Research to guide your decision
To date, the results of social research on this subject are mixed; there is no clear direction offered from stepfamily studies. But we do have some limited impressions.
For example, stepfamilies experience a wide variety of emotional and relational changes after an ours baby is born. When relationships within the home are generally stable and positive before the pregnancy, the ours child has a greater change of bringing a positive impact to the home. In fact, half-siblings may consider the mutual child a full sibling, which can bring a great sense of joy to everyone.
By contrast, adult or older half-siblings have widely varying relationships with an ours baby. Some are close and have frequent contact, while others are distant and neutral about the new child. Infrequent contact with the stepfamily, a lack of involvement, and the differences in age-related interests are common reasons for the emotional disconnection between a stepchild and an ours baby.
If the relationships within the stepfamily home are generally divided, a mutual child can bring further division. Children who already feel slighted may feel jealous of the time and attention a new child receives, thereby causing resentment toward a half-sibling.
The biblical story of Joseph and his half-brothers illustrates this dynamic. They all shared the same father, Jacob. But ten of Joseph’s eleven brothers were born to women Jacob didn’t love, and they resented the special treatment Joseph received.
Division in the family can also increase unexpectedly if a stepparent pulls away from awkward relationships with stepchildren and focuses on the biological child. The natural bond that occurs between parent and child at birth brings to light the tentative and frustrating process of stepparenting. Stepparents would do well to avoid pulling away from their stepchildren to focus on their biological child and continue to invest in all their children.
And what of the ours child—what unique pressures does it experience? Being related to everyone puts the ours child in the center of the family’s experience. This hub position cuts both ways. On the one hand, it is a privileged position, and the child gains more attention than the other children (especially part-time children). This affords the child more influence and control in the home. On the other hand, this child may feel a constant pressure to create bonds between family members and ensure that everyone gets along.
Finally, we know that having a baby in a stepfamily—as in all families—provides both a protective function for the marriage while also contributing to lower satisfaction levels. When couples have a child together, it tends to decrease the chance of divorce as couples now share an added reason to remain together. On the other hand, marital satisfaction diminishes somewhat given the increased responsibilities of parenting.
As you can see, the addition of a child impacts the family in many ways. Couples would be wise to learn as much about this as they can.
Seek God’s guidance
Social research can offer guidance and understanding to this important life decision, but in the end your decision to have a baby will be a matter of faith. Couples show wisdom when they continue learning about stepfamily life and honestly assess the climate of their home. The final decision should be one of mutual prayer. Both the decision to have a child and the process of raising it is, in the end, part of our walk with the Lord. Seek His guidance and follow.
The ours child has a greater chance of bringing a positive impact to the home when these factors are present before he or she is born:
- Children already have a positive relationship with their biological parent and stepparent. When this is the case, half-siblings are generally more welcoming to the new child.
- Stepchildren live with the stepparent and biological parent full-time (or the majority of the time). Residential half-siblings tend to bond more deeply with the new sibling.
- Children are young in age. Younger half-siblings adjust more easily than adolescent or adult half-siblings.
If you are planning to have an ours baby, here are some suggestions to consider for preparation:
1. Expect ripples throughout your multiple-home stepfamily system. Some issues can be anticipated, but others may quickly appear. For example, a biological mother who has been uninvolved in her children’s lives, or disinterested in your family, may suddenly re-emerge after you have a baby. Expecting change will help you cope when surprises arise.
2. Try to keep the half-siblings’ lifestyle, visitation schedule, and parental contact relatively unchanged after the baby arrives.
3. Celebrate. When the children are excited about the new arrival buy them an “I’m the big brother” shirts and encourage a family party.
4. To encourage the bonding between half-siblings it’s best to orchestrate frequent contact between the children.
5. Raise all of the children with similar values. When half-siblings perceive inequalities in rules, expectations, the availability of money, or affection, they can become jealous and angry.
6. Refrain from being defensive or easily offended when stepchildren voice frustration or concern over how the new baby has affected them. If the relationship with your stepkids is strained you will be tempted to assume every comment has to do with being a stepfamily.
Take advantage of child or parent dedication ceremonies or children’s ministry events to acknowledge all the children in a stepfamily. Ask the couple how you should describe the relationships within the family. For example, should you say this is “Don’s stepdaughter,” “the Jones’ daughter” or something else?