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 for a lot of women. Feeling guilty for not loving your stepchildren can be stressful--but so is trying to make yourself feel for them the same bubbling love that you feel for your partner or the warm fuzzies you have for your sister.
The answer to this problem is to create a mental category of love that doesn’t involve warm, emotional feelings and to give yourself permission to think about that kind of love as being real and valuable. Duty, loyalty, and providing for the needs of others—these are all worthwhile, honorable forms love, even if they don’t inspire you to run up and hug someone.
It can feel a little awkward to think about love this way because it’s not what we’re used to, but it’s worth it if you can stick with it. This kind of impassionate love can help build a foundational connection between you and your stepchildren leading to more emotional love further down the road.
Psychologically speaking, our beliefs and emotions end up resulting from our actions, rather than the other way around like you might think. According to Gretchen Rubin, happiness researcher over at The Happiness Project, performing kind actions for a person makes you more feel more kindly towards them over time.
So in the short term, this strategy allows you to get over the guilt you might feel at not loving your step kids—because it’s not that you don’t love them at all, it’s just that you love them in a different way than their father does. In the long run, feeling that you do love your stepchildren—carrying that knowledge around with you and acting on it—will result in you feeling more emotion for them over time.