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Reality Check: New Baby Blues

Q. My ex-husband is expecting a baby, and I'm worried our 4-year-old will have a hard time sharing her dad with a new brother or sister. How can I make this easier for her?

A. You may be fretting over nothing, or over fears that are more your own than your child's. Gaining a stepsibling is a big change, but it's just as likely to be positive as it is negative. Most 4-year-old girls are thrilled by big sisterhood. Instead of noticing how much attention she's getting from her dad, your daughter may care much more about how much attention she's allowed to give the baby. And it's quite possible that by visiting only every weekend or so your daughter will end up getting more attention than if she were there every day of the week.

Keep in mind, too, that this isn't your problem to solve alone. Your ex has an even greater responsibility to make his new family work—for both of his kids. You will, however, be the one your daughter comes home to on Sunday nights, probably sad to leave her little sibling (unless he cries a lot, in which case she may be grateful to go home to her quieter life with you). And as she gets attached to the baby, she may say that she wishes he could live with her all the time.

But she'll know what the reality is, even if she doesn't comprehend the ins and outs of divorce and blended families. She'll be able to understand instinctively that this baby has a different mother than she does, and lives where his mom lives. You can simply remind her of this whenever she needs to hear it.

Robin, a mom I know, has the same thing going on in her family, and she shares some of the same concerns. "I've been thinking about the possibility of scheduling sibling playdates at my house in order to make it easier for my daughter and her new sister to be close," she says. This is a nice idea, and it might also help give your daughter's divided life a sense of unity too.

Of course, to arrange get-togethers like this, you'll have to be on decent terms with your ex-husband and his wife, something you have even more reason to strive for now than you ever did before. That's a hard pill to swallow, even if you do get along with your ex. But swallow it you must. For no matter what happens to you and your ex, his new baby will always be related to your child, and you owe it to both of them to respect the permanence of their relationship.