Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Creating Unconditional Love, at Least on Your Part

As I've said before, I think a lot of step-mothers can be happier by creating a parental relationship with their stepchildren as opposed to a "friend" or "aunt" relationship. (See previous posts for a more about what I mean). However, this role can still be challenging for a number of reasons, most significantly because you don’t have the benefit of the biologically-induced unconditional love that exists between your stepchildren and their birth parents. That missing bond can leave you with a host of hurts and frustrations.

What if they don’t love you?

Stepmothers may cook meals, change diapers, buy toys, and kiss boo-boos but not receive any of the love that her stepchild bestows on his biological parent—leaving the stepparent feeling unappreciated and taken for granted. Frustrating to be sure, especially because deep down a lot of us just want to be a big, happy easy-going family, even if we know intellectually it’s not going to happen overnight.

Step-parenting books say to wait patiently for your step-kids to warm to you, but there’s nothing more frustrating that sitting back and waiting for something you want so strongly.

What if you don’t love them?

To be quite blunt, a lack of unconditional love can make it hard for us to care for our stepchildren in spite of their faults and problems. While all kids have their tough times, on top of that many stepmothers have to deal with stepchildren whose parents have spoiled them out of guilt or competition with the other parent. Unconditional love allows a biological parent to ignore back talk and bad behavior, but we stepmothers don't have that panacea available.

At the same time that we might be frustrated with our step kids, a lot of us still feel guilty for not loving them. We love their father, after all, so we feel like we should love his kids along with him—a package deal. Plus we’re supposed to be family now—aren’t we supposed to love the people in our family? But how do we love these kids when they're just so different from us, and let's face it, so annoying at times?

Pretty much all step-parenting guides say you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t love your step-kids. While I agree with this, it doesn’t mean that it’s not uncomfortable or stressful for a lot of women.

You can’t force your step-kids to love you, but I do think that you can make the situation easier and more bearable by training yourself to love your step-kids unconditionally—or at least making the effort. In my next several posts I’m going to talk about some of the unconventional methods that have been helpful for me.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Difficult Drop Offs

I mentioned in my previous post that we had a hard time picking up my stepdaughter from her mom’s house for a while. Well, not surprisingly, we also had some rough times when she was dropped off or picked up at our place.

Days where she was dropped off, SD’s mom would make her departure a long, drawn out performance, telling Stepdaughter that she'd miss her, making SD "come give me one more hug," and so on. As you can imagine, the whole process only served to whip up SD into an emotional frenzy. Then, after BM had finally left, I was the one who had to deal with her inevitable, screaming meltdown.

Then her mom started spending longer and longer at our house when it was her turn to pick up or drop off. Even if SD had her coat on and was ready to go, her mom would come in and sit down in the living room for a while.

It made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing when she was here. Much of the time my BF wouldn’t even look up from the computer when she came over, or he would say hello and then turn back to his video game. This left me wondering if I had to play hostess and make conversation while she was here. At the same time, though, SD’s mom seemed to mostly ignore me....but in an elephant-in-the-room kind of way. It was just awkward all around.

I remember one day when SD just wasn’t into her mom’s drop-off performance. She happily walked in and sat down next to some crayons I'd laid out on the coffee table. So what did her mom do? She came in, sat down on our couch, and proceeded to color with SD for almost half an hour.

It was like watching a train wreck in my living room.

I tried talking to my then-boyfriend about it afterwards, but he wasn't much help. His take on it was, "Well, what am I supposed to do? Tell her to get out?"

When that didn’t work I tried slyly opening the door just enough to let SD slip through with the premise that I didn't want to let the cat out (actually true). That didn't work, either--she just pushed her way past me.

Finally I decided that the smartest thing was to just remove myself from the situation. Rather than answering the door and collecting an armload of toys and blankets from BM I hid in the bathroom when I heard her knock on the door. BF was forced to get up and let them in. Then, since he would immediately get back on his computer, BM was left sitting alone with SD in the living room. After a while the drama faded away and her drop offs and pick ups started going smoothly for the most part.

Have any of you faced anything like this? How did you handle it?