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Single Parent to Blended Family

I have something to tell you… I’m having a baby.

Okay, that isn’t quite how I told my new husband. He’d actually just come back from a work trip to Toronto, where, on the way to and from meetings, he passed a local trendy shoe shop and brought a pair of shoes back for each of his stepsons. I took him to one side and said, “Um, next time you’ll have to buy three pairs.” “Why, did you want some?” he asked. “No …,” I replied, giving him a raised eyebrow, ‘keep thinking’ expression. Eventually the proverbial penny dropped.

The next step was telling the kids. We talked for a few days about how best to go about sharing our news with them. My eldest son, who’s old enough to both read and understand what the word pregnancy means, spotted the empty test wrappings in my bathroom garbage. Without moving from his spot, he hollered to me, “Mom…, why is there a pregnancy test in the garbage?” Gulp – what could I do? Like many parents before me, I lied. I said it was my friend’s. Not a very original lie but not a great big fat lie either – just a little white one to protect him until we decided to bring it out in the open. It was early days – what if the pregnancy didn’t go to term for whatever reason. Better he didn’t know for the time being, really.

What followed were those initial days of roller-coasting happiness and then all consuming panic smattered with much internal dialogue starting with the words, “What if…” This pregnancy wasn’t a complete surprise, but still, it seems that it always takes a week or two of what might best be described as moments of shock for it all to ‘sink in’ for whatever reasons. It wasn’t like we hadn’t discussed having a baby at great length – to be fair, I’d even bored myself sometimes with the frequency I would bring this subject up and deliberate over the decision to try to have another child or not. I’d worked through my share of ‘What if’ worries that typically ended with something along the lines of: “there’s something wrong with the baby? I don’t love this baby as much as I love my other kids? Something happens to me?” All pretty typical mother-to-be concerns; the only real worry I’d had to work through specific to my circumstance was this: “What if we separate/divorce and then I’ll be a single parent of three kids, whose family supports all live in another continent, not two.” When I say it was a bit of a ‘worry,’ I mean fear.

It wasn’t long after finding out I was pregnant before I was heading to bed each night at 8 o’clock and feeling nauseous for most of the day – signs that an observant nine-year-old tends to notice. We decided it was time to share our news with the kids, as it was also becoming increasingly difficult to successfully police our conversations around them. The news went down well. “I really hope I get a baby sister this time,” proclaimed one. “If the baby comes out a girl, I’m going to my room forever,” announced the other. So another sibling wasn’t so much an issue as the gender. As time passed, they started to discuss ways in which they could (or could not) be involved; “Can I help paint the baby’s room? Can I come with you to buy the baby stuff? You’re going to have to get a new car seat, you know. I’m not going to change any diapers at all.” Over time, their sense of involvement and absorption of the impending changes in our family increased.

Petrina Hough, Ph.D., a Registered Psychologist, believes sibling involvement can be key to overcoming common concerns children might have when the prospect of a new sibling occurs. “The child/children might have feelings of being displaced or worry about their place in the family unit. Making sure that they understand they still have a role in the family unit and that they are still important helps to dissolve or prevent those fears. Also, involving them with both the process of welcoming a new baby as well as making the effort to spend extra time with the child/children you have and doing activities focused on them can go a long way to reassuring them through this type of change.”

I started to seek out stories from other individuals who had been in my position and the experiences they shared were all positive. Comments along the lines of, “It really seemed to bring the family closer together… The older ones couldn’t help enough, they loved helping out with the baby… It was wonderful. If anything, I feel like I missed some time with the baby because so many people in the house wanted to help entertain and look after them…” were commonplace.

This positive experience was also experienced by Pam Richter, a former single parent who had her second child within a year of remarrying. When sharing her story, Pam explains that she didn’t ever have concerns about having another child with her new partner. She and her husband had discussed it at great length, knew it was something they both wanted to do, and she had no concerns as to their commitment to their relationship and to their family. Although Pam explains that those worrying, “What if …” type thoughts reared their head after the baby was born, albeit, it was only briefly. “Thoughts of how it was during my first marriage began popping (up) in the back of my mind, but my husband reassured me and proved himself to be quite different and so the feelings went away quickly.”

Pam also found involving her older daughter in the family event of a new baby even during pregnancy was a wonderful experience. As she explains, “My daughter was thrilled. She had asked Santa for a little brother for years.” After the baptism of the new baby, Pam’s new husband proceeded to legally adopt his step-daughter – to them, it felt right, and sharing the same name helped to seal that sense of the four of them affirming themselves as a family. Pam’s eldest child also really enjoyed helping out with the baby and being nine years older, she became like a little mom to him. As Pam explains, “This not only created an opportunity for her to help out and learn and grow as an individual, it also offered an opportunity for her to be praised for her wonderful efforts and to bond with both her parents and her new brother.”

Petrina Hough’s advice to former or current single parents thinking of expanding their family echoes Pam’s description of having a solid base to build upon. Hough explains, “You might want to take a realistic look at your relationship and the potential of your new partner as a new parent. Do you feel there’s a good bond there between both of you and also your partner and your current child? Making sure that you have a good solid relationship with your new partner and that your child also does with both of you will help.” Hough also recommends taking time to chat with your child about any concerns they might have.

Pam Richter’s advice for parents who were single and now find themselves having another child with a new partner is simple and sincere: “Really enjoy it – being a single parent can be wonderful. My daughter and I share a special bond formed in those years when it was just the two of us that no one could ever take away. But when you’re a single parent, you are a mom and a dad; you work, perhaps extra hours, to take care of you and your children. When there’s a partner, some of that responsibility might be lifted and you have more time to simply enjoy your new baby. It goes by so fast – whether you are single or married, enjoy!”

Gradually – over years, months, weeks or days – my worries and fears have pretty much petered out altogether. In fact, now any onslaught of “What if” anxiety induced concerns is now answered head on by the same question, just with a slightly different tone: “What if something happens?” Nothing in my life has been as empowering as parenting two young boys by myself and, like Pam, I cherish that time when it was just us, no matter what the circumstances that arose day-to-day. So whatever might happen, it’ll be okay.

To quote the step-dad in our blended family, “What if something happens? We’ll deal with it.” Ultimately, in our city, babies can come into being via IVF, surrogacy, adoption, various life circumstances or the old-fashioned way whether it be planned or not-so-planned, but there is such a thing as the perfect baby and no doubt for you, it will be yours.

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