Every family is blended. Even when all the members are biologically linked, the addition of any new member requires special attention. And though new additions are mostly exciting times, blending can be an experience rich in mixed emotions, with joy and stress being at the top of the list.

Even the addition of a new pet becomes a blend. Roles change, responsibilities are added, individual attention is lessened and sleep becomes deprived. Crankiness can easily set in.

When it comes to the blended family, I think of ours as the Premiere Gourmet Extra Special Roasted Blend. We have two dogs (one of whom was rescued), four lizards, a frog, several sets of grandparents, an entourage of un-blood-related Aunties and this year brought the miracle of a new baby brother. A fourth boy! Oh boy!

We did the best we could in the pre-preparation department and one of the things we invested our time in was attending the St. Luke’s Sibling Class. I high recommend this. We also included the children in prenatal visits, listening to the baby’s heartbeat and pulled out Ultrasounds pictures of all the children, comparing features to try and guess who the baby would most resemble. We were all bursting at the buttons with excitement, frog included. But my husband and I knew that things would soon get complicated, so one of the first new routines we established was ONE-ON-ONE TALK TIME with each child. Before the baby was born we used this time to ensure our children knew that they might have new feelings about the baby. They might be sad or jealous or worried and all of this was just fine! We made sure that they each knew we wanted them to share their feelings with us…ANYTIME…and every feeling that they would encounter would always be very important to us.

In the St. Luke’s class, the instructor gave each participant a Happy Face/Sad Face “puppet”. This was basically a two-sided face glued to a Popsicle stick that the children could flip around, depicting their emotion of the day (or moment). This became a great tool to have in preparation for the new baby’s arrival, especially during those times the kids didn’t necessarily want to TALK about their feelings, but needed us to know where they were at on the emotional scale. Four months later, we still use the PUPPET to share our feelings.

So, if you’re starting a blend, whether a new goldfish, grandma moving in or a brand new baby, here are a few more ideas to help ease the transition in your new definition of family:

Buy a gift or write a Thank You card FROM THE NEW BABY to his/her siblings. If you decide on a gift, wrap it.

Include the new baby in your established family-time routines. For example, each night we read a story, share our BEST THING of the day, pray and often sing a tune before bed. The children now try to guess the new baby’s BEST THING and love to pick out stories that they think he would enjoy too.

Include the children in the process of building back your stamina and health. Our fitness routine, post delivery, began with simple breathing exercises (which I now remind my children to do when they become upset or frustrated) and has developed into a routine of stretches, crunches (hugging the baby to my chest) and walking to the park with the baby in a front pack or stroller. The boys love to help DRIVE the stroller and work out with me, regardless of their age or ability.

I learned this time around that a critical explanation for my children was needed regarding babies and crying. I think we all forget how much a baby cries. Just to remind you – it’s A LOT. My six year-old become very upset when we first brought his new brother home because of all the crying. My eight year-old kept waking up through the night to CHECK ON the baby. “Is he in a lot of pain?” they asked me one day. It took a little creative thinking, but I helped the boys decode the baby’s cries. This one is for hunger, this one means he wants to be held, this other sound means his diaper is messy, etc. And after awhile, the children grasped the idea that the crying was simply early baby talk.

“But he doesn’t DO anything, mom,” my youngest told me one day. It’s true, to active boys with amazing imaginations, a new baby is pretty boring, so we made a chart of all the new changes we could see in the baby AND ourselves, week by week, as we each grew. Scoring goals in soccer, completing ten sit ups, out-growing clothing, kicking, rolling and pouring milk was added to the chart with stickers to depict who did what. Everyone was included in the measurement, even frog. Sharing in measuring our developmental skills helped my boys build confidence and notice all the new skills they were learning but never took the time to give themselves any credit. And truth be told, I enjoyed giving myself a few pats on the back for my own new developments.

Allow children to help. Of course, consider safety and supervision first, but encourage older children to participate in the caring and teaching new siblings. This will make the transition to BIG brother/sister much easier. My boys sing to the baby, perform puppet shows and take turns holding their little brother. Keep in mind; this is your definition of HELP.

Display baby pictures of all the family members. We poured over pictures of grandparents and aunts, mommy and daddy, brothers and cousins, trying to determine whose features the baby inherited. We shared our children’s early memories of their baby-time, reading many of their FIRSTS from their own baby books.

Try to make the obvious new changes a grand adventure. In our house, QUIET TIME during the baby’s nap became STEALTH or NINJA TRAINING TIME. Play time for the baby turned into ACTIVITY STATIONS that the children help set up, like an OBSTACLE COURSE with baby mirrors and fun rattles.

Allow your other children to grow up a bit. This is harder than it sounds. Many parents can’t wait for their children to take on more responsibility, but become reluctant to allow the child to move forward in unexpected areas. For example, my 10-year-old decided he wanted to learn how to make pancakes and scramble eggs so he could be in charge of breakfast. Needless to say, this new enthusiasm for cooking made me a bit nervous. But I took the time to teach him the skills needed, including measuring and reading recipes. My six-year-old wanted to start taking the little dog outside in the morning before breakfast. Of course, these new responsibilities are supervised, but I tried not to squelch their enthusiasm for embracing big-brotherhood.

Take away some responsibilities during the initial transition. When we first brought our new little one home, my husband and I took away the children’s routine chores for the first few months. We felt the focus needed to be on adjustment versus finishing chores. As time went by, we re-structured family chores and our reward system, basing allowance on attitude instead of performance, encouraging happy hearts and a willingness to share and help out. The acknowledgement for doing the job with a smile is still going a long way.

Keep up play dates. It seems like a lot of extra work, but usually when the boys have friends over, they are more entertained and interactive with one another and need less intervention from me. It’s important to keep up the social skills developed without adding to the strain of adapting to a new baby. We rotated play dates at our own house and at friends’ homes.

This brings me to the final suggestion:

Encourage deeper family relationships for your kids. We are blessed that we have grandparents who live in Idaho and see our children every week. The new baby offered an opportunity for the children to have more time with their relatives. There is something special about time with grandma or grandpa and a great opportunity for children to learn from generations of wisdom. Children will be more versed, well-rounded and secure with more family and friends to love on them and hear their voices and concerns.

Of course, these are just a few ideas. I do think the most important prep work you can do for the siblings of a new arrival is to spend some time discussing the time demands and limits that will happen in the initial months of a new baby. Children need to know that the baby has many needs and, though this may mean less attention for them, it does not mean less love!

With a lot of love, a sprinkle of humor and a dash of adventure and creativity, your new blend can be a smooth and exciting time for the whole family.

Author's Bio: 

Rebecca Evans is an author and empowerment coach. She lives in Idaho with her husband, four boys, two dogs, four lizards and the family frog.