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.