marytkelly

I've Got Issues...And Peace

marytkelly

marytkelly
Location
Boulder, Colorado,
Birthday
October 22
Bio
Family, marital, and individual psychotherapist. Mother to four who no longer need my services but still enjoy my love as I do theirs. I specialize in stepfamily dynamics and difficult transitions. I try to write from the heart with a sense of vulnerability, humor and a frank look at myself. Art shown: "Four Pots" by Lindsey Leavell

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JUNE 29, 2010 12:43PM

What's Love Got To Do With It?

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spoiled girl
(It's not uncommon for stepmothers to get looks like this.) 
 

I get emails from women all over the country who go into great detail as to the specifics of their marriages to men with children.  Some have children and some don’t.  These women are in anguish, wringing their hands and wondering what to do.  

As a psychotherapist, I work with women who would find a lot in common with the women who write me.  Women who come into my office with their “dirty little secret”, ashamed and disappointed with themselves.  I coach stepmothers on the phone and I can hear it in their voices…the guilt and remorse.  And all over what?  What is this issue that is causing so much consternation?

“I need to confess this to someone.  I feel so bad about this, but I don’t, um, I really just don’t, um, you’ll think I’m a horrible person for saying this, for admitting this, but, um, I just really don’t love my stepchildren.”

I laugh when they say this and they are taken aback.  What kind of cruel and twisted therapist am I that I would laugh?  But I am quick to reassure, “So what?  Of course you don’t love your stepchildren.  Why should you?  Just because you fell in love with their father doesn’t mean you will automatically love his children.  Some women do, but many women don’t and there is nothing to feel guilty about!  You married your husband because you were in love with him and wanted to create a life with him, DESPITE the fact that he had children from a previous relationship.  You can’t manufacture love.”

The relief in their faces or in the tone of their voices is immediate and palpable.

“Really?  I’m not some kind of monster?”

“No, you’re not.  You’re human.  You don’t have to love your stepchildren and no one can demand or even expect that.  Geez, sometimes it’s a challenge to love our own children!  But what you need to do is to be kind and courteous when they are in your home, and vice versa.  That’s it.”

But then the familiar kicker comes into play.

“But my husband is demanding that I love his children.  That he expects me to love his children.”

“That’s ridiculous!”  I tell them.  “No one can force anyone to love someone else.  Love is a natural and organic process”.

Some say that love is a conscious choice.  I would take it a step further and say that acting in a loving manner is a choice. As stepmothers, we can certainly act “as if” we love our stepchildren. We can act in ways that are loving and make choices in our daily lives to do so, but it doesn’t mean that we have to “feel” the love.  Nor should we feel guilty for not feeling something as profound and intimate as “love”. 

The confessions of the guilt-laden women continue.  “Well, if the truth be really told, I don’t even LIKE my stepchildren.”

“So what?” I ask.  “Are you nice to them when they are in your home?  Do you act in a caring manner?”  The answer is usually a universal and adamant, “Yes.” 

“Well then, that’s enough.” 

“But I just feel so guilty for not liking them… they are my husband’s children.” 

Feeling guilty is not a great motivator to liking anyone.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a woman who finds every baby adorable, pleasant or an instant magnet to my heart.  There are many children I’ve been around that it would be quite fine with me if I never saw them, heard them or smelled them again in my life. 

When I married my husband almost ten years ago, I had no expectation that he love any of my four children, the children who were deep in the throes of adolescence and were quite busy totaling cars and getting underage drinking tickets.  I wasn’t greedy.  My hope was that he would be able to tolerate them.  Loving them was between him and them, and quite frankly, none of my business.  But what I did expect from him was to treat my children in a loving and kind manner.

At one of my recent “Stepmonster” support groups, each woman in the room described her most current dilemma.  When they were finished, I looked at them and said, “Did you notice something here?  Each one of you is suffering; not because of the ex-wife, not because of your stepchildren…you’re all suffering because of the impossible expectations from your husbands that you love his children as your own”.

One woman nodded vigorously.  She mumbled, “Last week, my husband told me that if I didn’t love his son the way I love our daughter, he’s going to divorce me.”

Her husband needed a big time reality check.  As stepmothers, we cannot have impossible demands placed upon our hearts.  As women, it’s our job to be true and authentic first and foremost to ourselves.  It is the greatest gift we can give to our children and our stepchildren…the model of a strong and courageous woman who makes no apologies for the things that don’t ring true.

It’s an awkward subject to be sure and our true feelings don’t need to be volunteered casually while sitting around sipping on a nice glass of wine.  “BTW, honey, I don’t love your kids.”  There’s an advantage to diplomacy.  But when we are pressed against the wall and cornered for an answer, “Do you love my children?” my advice to stepmothers is to say, “I care deeply about the welfare of your children and am open to the possibilities of building on our relationship in ways that feel genuine and authentic for me.”

I have found that stating that commitment, that intention, is enough for most well reasoned husbands.  Stepmothers simply cannot be the first aid love doctor for their husbands, many of whom bring their own sense of shame and failure from their former marriages, and desperately want to have the new marriage clean up the messes from the first.  It’s not realistic and it’s not fair.

The good news is this:  We can have our cake and eat it too.  We don’t need to love our stepchildren, or even like them, to have successful marriages.  But we would be wise to treat all the people that come into our lives with human decency, courtesy and kindness.  Anything other than that is just icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

 

*Wednesday Martin's "Stepmonster" is an excellent resource for anyone in remarriage with children or contemplating marrying anyone with children.  Wednesday's excellent research helps all couples deal with the many expectations (most of which are unrealistic) that many bring into remarriage.  71% of second marriages with children end in divorce.  It's my belief that many of these divorces could be avoided if these expectations were dropped.  "Stepmonster" has been a huge source of relief for innumerable stepmothers and their husbands.


 

 

 

 

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I've never had step kids or a step mother but that image really reminds me of my mother in law.
But back to the point... I like how you ended the piece and hope that even those that don't "like" the child... will at least fake it.
Thank you from a fellow stepper.
My wife is a stepmother, and for the record, I never asked her to love them as if they were her own. She is childless and that would be the ultimate insult. Besides, they are not her kids, so it's a ridiculous expectation.

I ask my kids to treat her with respect, and they do. She treats them with respect. She cares about what happens in their lives and the choices that they make, but the idea that it is mandatory for them to love her and her to love them is fatuous.

By the way, MTK, what about stepdads?
Good one. I don't have step-children, but I was a step child, even if I was 18 at the time they got married. The next 20 years were hideous as our step"mother" told us repeatedly how unwelcome we were. We certainly didn't expect love, but we didn't think we'd get disdain, hate and rejection. Thank the good Lord that we never had to live with that woman. I feel horribly for children and adults who are in a situation like that.
Thank God someone mentions this.. it's true for stepfathers as well.

For me as a single dad now, I think about this all the time, and I think it grows from the thought that a man can't 'love' his children the way he thinks a woman can, so he searches for someone to fill that role. The trick (in my mind) is to fill the role of loving your kids first.
I wonder if some men pressure their new wives to make up for their perception that the biological mother of the kids was a failure as a mom... or that they failed as a dad and want help fixing the damage? Seems like a tough position to put someone in.

My situation is unique in that my daughter and my wife's son and daughter have known each other all of their lives.

You are absolutely right: Be nice, be respectful.
Good words, Mary. I can only speak from my personal experience. Two of my four children are stepchildren who I raised for 15 years. I guess I would have to say that I knew the deal going into the marriage, and the deal was that the kids went with the marriage. I was fine with that, and I have never thought of them as anything by MY children, and they see me as their Dad. To me, the responsibility of raising children to be responsible citizens and people, trumps any desire I may have about having us like each other. I think that comes naturally, the more you work at it. Great Post. R-
Children are exceptionally aware of hypocrisy. A stepmother should never "pretend" to love her stepchildren unless she genuinely does. Treating the children fairly and not kissing their ass is the best policy. Having stepdaughters, on the other hand, can be a bitch, literally. R
..."well reasoned husbands..." That is loaded! See, that's where I see the problem. Where exactly to find this rare breed of husband?
Not having step-children, myself, I am in no position to postulate on this sensitive subject. However, I can say, that is doggone hard enough just to sustain love for, passion for, empathy for, comittment for, trust for, all manner of love and liking for...your husband alone! Let alone the step children! That is double or triple duty for any step parent. My hats off to all step parents who do their level best to love or simply like and respect the boundaries of their step children. That's a tough deal and nothing can prepare us for what that looks like. It's widely different for each step-parenting situation, I imagine. You are a great example of "dual step-parenting," where both you and your husband are, indeed, step-parents. That's a whole other dynamic, apart from the remarriage where only one is a wtep parent. You could write a book on this subject, Mare, as the combinations and circumstances are countless and diverse. As the world turns...this is a revolving subject that takes on many faces and forms. Great posting on this!
The whole psychology surrounding kids is a bit sad to me. Society places unrealistic pressures on motherhood. The truth is, sometimes you're not so keen on the kids you brought into the world, let alone someone elses. It's too bad we can't be honest without the guilt.
Very good points that I wish more people would accept. Isn't just starting a marriage at all -- with kids in the mix who may or may not warm your heart --- brave enough? There's enough to take on in blended families without pressure to adore on command...
great post --
Bingo. I have been a "step mother" for 14 years and I made the decision from day one to behave in a loving manner toward this child. He was no picnic, I assure you. I found that very often when you choose the behavior, the feelings come. He is now a grown man, and only with maturity has he really come to appreciate my contribution to his life. Excellent post.

R~
Ahh. I'm not even a stepmother and I heave a great sigh of relief. Who can force love? Your crisp, clear wisdom will make humans of us yet!
I love it. Shout it from the rooftops. Love will come when we stop forcing it.
if i had a nickle for every ----

you're not my dad
my dad says
you took my dads wife (9 years after they divorced)
my dad would lets us

the boy got up at the wedding and asked when he gets to object
The girl has always demanded a gift before she'll be nice ---fail
Good advice. It sounds like most of the guilt is instigated by the husbands, rather than being self-initiated. I worry about this. If the husband is so clueless as to make such a bizarre request, what other bizarre requests will he make? Sounds like the Dads need to be counseled more than the step-Moms. Insightful as always, Mary.
I've been a bit bothered by my internal reaction to a friend's children, but I feel better after reading this. I agree--everyone deserves courtesy and kindness, and I can manage that. Well thought out and well written, Mary.
I've never seen this subject addressed, let alone addressed so . . . sensibly. Thanks for a very insightful read!
Such wise words. I always enjoy your writing, Mary._r
Mary, I always get worried when you disappear from cyber space for more than a day. But now I see what you were up to. Your last paragraph says it all. And it also says a lot about what kind of therapist you are. It's nice when one feels the advice is coming from your heart and experience and not from a book!

Now I need to go and listen to some music so I can get Tina Turner out of my head!
Mary, this is fantastic, even for those of us who don't have step children. There are some days I don't even like my own kids! But to always behave as if I do, to treat them with kindness and respect even when I don't want to... there's the trick. Brilliant writing, separating an intangible emotion like love from nuts and bolts behavior. Thank you.
Where were you when I needed you? i don't think i will ever feel guiltier about anything in my life than I do about my failings as a stepmother. This was balm to my soul.
This is beyond amazing! Great read! Great write. Wish I'd known long time ago.
To me, this all seems so obvious. No one can help their "feelings." Feelings are neither good or bad.....they just are. They hit us like a brief fresh breath of air or without warning they hit us like taking a nice sceneic drive and all of the sudden we inhale skunk. I don't believe we can control our feelings. It's how we act upon them that counts. Plus, you can't force anyone to love.
thank you, thank you, thank you. my partner has two kids from a previous marriage and i've often gotten the "love me, love my children" bit from her. It's frustrating, especially when one of the kids has made it perfectly clear that she does NOT want to have anything to do with me. we've fought countless times about this issue and it always comes down to I'm the one to blame. well, that's bullshit, but getting her to see the truth has been hard. at least now she sees that i try and the kid is the one being rude and just plain mean sometimes. in fact, most of our arguments are related to the kids in some way. it's good to hear a professional tell me that i shouldn't feel bad and that there are many other women out there who feel the same thing.
I have step grandkids and while it feels a little different, they are children, fortunately easy to love. They lived with me for a year and we got along pretty good for us two old folks,3 kids, the wife and 2 dogs. Son was in Army basic training..now all are in Korea. We Skype them and I love them like crazy, but they are great kids, I am lucky.
Thanks for this.

The unrealisitic expectations (demands) of father-husbands is right up there with his implicit or explicit showing that if he has to choose between you and his precious child, you would lose.
I've been all over the place with my step-children from almost loathing them to loving them... I imagine that my parents felt the same about me at one time or another.
It really is amazingly true that my husband was looking for our marriage to clean up the messes from his former marriage. If only it were so easy.
I'm grateful that, as the kids grew out of their awkward pre-teen and teen years, we were able to cultivate a real relationship (they're still kids and still drive me crazy, but I like them better now), but during those awkward years, I needed someone to tell me that it was ok not to like them at that moment as long as I was civil and left the relationship open to grow.
Thanks for sharing those words with so many women, Mary!
@ Roger Fallihee:
My MIL tried to put me in that position because SHE thought their mother had failed them. I was going to be the great female role model they never had before... it caused nothing but resentment for the first several years my husband and I were together.
It was a role I was prepared to fill if I needed to, but the kids didn't need or want me to fill it. I'm glad that I finally realized that I couldn't live up to my MIL's expectations of the role I would have in the kids' lives.
Never, will have to deal with any of this, damn thankful for that! Great post Mary! RRR
My stepfather didn't like me, but that was okay because I didn't like him either. Good writing. Rated.
I still can't get over your wonderful husband marrying into a family with four adolescents. He must love you!
Seems obvious - doesn't it? The kids come with the marriage, and whether you adore them or not, you behave in a fair, warm, loving way so that they're never any the wiser. If you do a good job, your husband won't be any the wiser either, and it won't ever be an issue between you. And who knows? Sometimes behavior predicates actual emotion.
To be quite honest, I find your advice to be unethical and inappropriate.
"...we would be wise to treat all the people that come into our lives with human decency, courtesy and kindness."

Well said! I do believe that true love is like light, it goes out equally in all directions. What we generally call love of a specific person, place or thing is actually attachment.

big thumb for you
Amanda G: Thanks for reading and your comment. There are some who are offended by the thought of "faking it", but acutally, "fake it until you make it" is a cognitive behavioral technique that actually works quite well. There are some who may be surprised to find that eventually the feelings of love catch up with the faking it until you make it. This concept works in any kind of difficulty one can imagine.

Kathy: Ah, I just love a fellow stepper, especially when it's you.

OE: Since you are a very reasonable man, I'm not surprised that you never made this demand upon your wife, and you were more than wise not to. You also point out (perhaps without intending to) that childless stepmothers are in the most precarious of positions, and the ones that are most easy to blame. Stepmothers in general might as well have T-shirts on with huge targets on their backs for all the unreasonable blame that is foisted upon them. Childless stepmothers are even more misunderstood. The whole act of trying to parent a child that is not yours is not advisable. I always advocate the idea of being an ally to your stepchild. Everyone is much better off. As for your question about the stepdads? Stepdads are simply not the target that stepmothers are, and those reasons are far too numerous for me to go into here...but quickly, men aren't expected in our culture to be as nurturing as women, so the expectations are much lower (and in this case, that is a very good thing). I loved hearing your take on this. Thank you.

jlynne: I'm sorry for your unfortunate experience, and more unfortunately, it is not an uncommon story. And honestly, I'd like to point a finger of responsibility at your father for choosing a woman who was so hateful to his children. Often, it's easier to blame the stepmother rather than the father who allows someone like this into their children's lives (sorry if I'm stepping on sensitive toes here, but really, fathers need to take the ultimate responsibility for this kind of decision). Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

askmeforwhatyouwant: Yes, I say the same thing to fathers who aren't just head over heels in love with their wife's children. I do think there are many men who don't feel very competent when it comes to raising their children alone, and they unwittingly try to make up for it by expecting their new wives to manage everything. It's a frequent disaster. Thank you.

Roger: Yes, yes and yes. Many well intentioned men want to make up for the failure of the first by making it up with the second and having the "perfect" marriage. Big time set up with big time disappointments, at best.

Dave R: I love hearing stories like yours. They are inspirational, but not the general rule of thumb that many experience. Research does not show that children ever see their stepparent as a "real" parent...too many loyalty binds to their parents, so it's really not personal if a stepparent or a stepchild does not feel affection for their parent's new spouse or see them as "Mom" or "Dad". Your family is most fortunate and I appreciate your positive comment.

Nikki: Thanks!

The Judge: I'm really talking about acting in a loving and kind manner. There's no hypocrisy to that. Good gawd...if we were only nice to those we truly loved, the world would be a much less civil place (hard to imagine!). Your comment abut stepdaughters made me smile. Studies show that stepmothers should tread very lightly with stepdaughters, especially teen stepdaughters. If possible, best to let Mom and Dad do the parenting. Thank you!

JC: You're funny about the "well reasoned husbands". As for me being a good example of "dual step-parenting", not sure what you mean. Nick and I have for a long time left any parenting decisions up to the actual parents. We support one another in our parental decisions, even when we disagree with one another. But I'm sure all the kids involved would not describe either one of us as one of their parents. You sure are right about the various circumstances and complexity of this issue. We might as well get used to it. As of 2010, there are more stepfamilies than not.

Fay: I agree! The guilt is horrible and unnecessary and I would add: "it's too bad we can't be honest without the condemnation." Thanks for your comment.

Just Thinking: Of course I, and most stepmothers, strongly agree with you. It's not helpful to hear, "You knew it was a package deal when you married him." One only can truly figure it out until they are in the actual situation. And while we're at it, let's take out the phrase "blended family". It's dysfunctional anyway. It's not like we can take children from different families, throw them all in a blender and expect a smooth result. I prefer the term "lumpy families"!

joyonboard: You are one wise woman and I totally get why you put "stepmother" in quotes. The names we use create so many problems right from the get go, because as many seasoned "stepmothers" know, the last thing you should do is try to parent a kid that is not yours! And yes, choosing the behavior can eventually influence our feelings...just ask Albert Ellis :)

Gail: Yes..."love will come when we stop forcing it"...wise words from one of the wisest women I know. Really.

wschanz: Yikes and ouch! And your story is more common than many want to admit. In fact, I hear more stories like yours than not. Of course your wife's children were in a loyalty bind with their father and it was most likely not personal towards you...but that kind of opposition is quite difficult to deal with, as you well know. Thank you so much for sharing.

Steve Blevins: Again, so good to see you back here! In Martin's "Stepmonster", she reports that the research shows that many men are responsible for inflicting this demand on their wives, out of their own sense of shame and guilt. It then becomes a boundary issue for his wife...to find her voice and be honest. Thanks so much for your insightful comment.

Susanmihalic: I think you were suffering from that guilt that all children are adorable and lovable. They are little human beings afterall. Thanks so much for reading.

Owl: Thank you very very much...really.

Joan H: Thanks Joan!

SpiritManSF: Okay, that damn Tina Turner song has been stuck in my head all day! Thanks so much for reading, and I agree...the relief the women I work with in knowing that they don't have to manufacture feelings they don't have (and Lord knows they've tried), but can easily swallow being kind and loving. Who doesn't want that? And it's one of those dichotomy things. Some women, once given permission to not force love, suddenly or over a period of time, find that they do indeed feel love.

ame i: My sympathies to you in the loss of your husband...and congrats for your upcoming 3rd anniversary with a man who sounds great! I don't know what ages your daughters were when your husband met them, but when one of the parents is deceased, children (if young) have a much easier time accepting and loving them. I'm so happy for you that your family sounds so complete.

froggy: Yes, tell me about it. I'm not sure how much love I had for my children during certain segments of their teenage years!!! And something we would all do well to remember: Actions speak louder than words. Feelings come and go...not the best things to depend on, but when our actions are loving, it's hard to criticize that. Thank you!

Ann: My heart hurt for you when I read your comment and I just wanted to find you and give you a big hug! Based on your beautiful writing here, I have a high level of respect for you and I can't stand that you have been so plagues about your perceived failings as a
"stepmom". And I get the feeling, some of those feelings may stem from the unrealistic expectations, perhaps imposed on you by your spouse or yourself. Women can be so damn hard on themselves. It makes my day that my post was in any way, beneficial and healing to you.

Joansies: Thank you!

patricia k: Of course I agree with you! And I like your focus on actions...oh the voice of my mother is calling to me right now, "Actions speak louder than words Mary, actions speak louder than words." Thank you!

lemonpulp: First, I love your "screen name"...I love anything lemon so I love that name. Second, it is very difficult to set boundaries with the one who is the parent. We parents, for the most part, are hyper-hyper sensitive when it comes to our kids, and I haven't worked with a couple where this wasn't true as well. And that's a whole another topic: when stepkids don't like their stepparents....volumes could be written. I'm so happy this post was helpful to you, really.

cindy Prochnow: Yes, you are lucky and I loved your story. Very very heartwarming. Thank you.

Connie: Unfortunately, your comment was statistically true. I've worked with many women whose husbands have threatened divorce over this. The key is to try to separate the marriage relationship from the parental/stepparent relationship so there is less risk of competition or defensiveness. Two totally different roles. Thank you for pointing this out.

ggb: There are so many women, like you, who wish they had known this stuff years earlier. Your husband is part of the norm when it came to wanting his new marriage to clean up the messes from the old, and like most, life and human beings have a way of proving us wrong! Thanks for your honesty, much appreciated.

patrick: Not the most unwise choice you could have made! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

readwillett: Well sometimes it's that simple, isn't it? Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

denese: I know!!! I really tried to be open minded and tell him that he really didn't need to marry a woman with 4 teenagers who was six years older than him. He married me with no hesitation. Now, when he was actually living with me and my four children...that was a whole another story!

Diamonds&Rust: What a well reasoned comment and I agree wholeheartedly. And you are so right. If the behavior is loving, then no need to even discuss. I like that, and this "Sometimes behavior predicates actual emotion." Thank you.

cbeenthere: I appreciate your honesty, but you have left me curious as to why you feel what I am saying is "unethical and inappropriate". If I can be honest, I would feel unethical and inappropriate if I did not share this with my clients. The research that backs this is considered strong enough to be fact. The research supports my clinical experience. Many a marriage has been saved because of these words from knowledgeable stepfamily therapists. Many a stepparent/child relationship has improved because of these words (or those similar). So again, your comment has only left me wondering.
Brinna: Thank you! I loved your beautiful words, and it once again reminded me of what "Love" even means. Certainly treating others lovingly and kindly is a wonderful thing, no matter what various feeling may be coursing through us.
This is what you do best, Mary.
Thank you. Excellent.
I was under the impression when I married my husband that because his two daughters were grown and didn't live with him and each had a child of their own, that his and my contact with them would be fairly limited. Boy, was I in for a surprise. One of them was on the phone with him for hours every day, constantly sucking time and money because she decided that if she couldn't make $80 an hour, she wasn't going to work! As she explained it, she was a single parent, which to me meant that she should be working even harder. Even though we were paying for daycare and practically everything else, she spent her days going to the gym, shopping and her nights at the clubs. The other daughter lived with an abusive man and she was constantly in crisis. It was a nightmare. Finally the parasite moved away -- hubby paid for law school and she likes to brag that she has NO debt, that's because WE have it all -- and the other is still with the beater but has now decided that since he's the father of her child it's her "duty" to take what he dishes out. Things are calmer now, but my husband still can't say no to them, no matter how outrageous the request. Their mother is completely useless and offers no guidance or help to them at all. She, of course, doesn't work either.

I quite like my youngest step-daughter and try to be supportive of her and her daughter but it's very difficult to stand by and witness the damage constant abuse. The elder daughter is maturing a bit, but she is an obsessive personality type and that's never easy. The moral? Just because a man says his kids are grown up and don't live at home does NOT mean they're not a huge part of his life.
Dunno, Mary. Not a step parent. But all children should be loved. xox
Mary, I appreciate your comment. I definitely hold my father responsible. It's a deep wound that will never be resolved because he died a few years ago. The situation surrounding his death was horrible because of her. My whole family was affected by it. She was just the salt rubbed in the wound.
Some people don't even love - or like - the children they gave birth to, so there is no reason to expect step parents to feel any certain way towards their step kids other than willing to get to know them on their own terms. I love my stepdaughter like mad but it took a long time for us to get to where we are now. We got there in steps, she at her pace, and me at mine, and that was just fine. But I do remember how startled I was when my therapist once remarked to me, "Your husband has no right to expect you to automatically love his daughter - you have to devleop a relationship with her first." It was a pretty simple truth, but one the culture tends to frown on, for some reason -- but only for women. We don't seem to expect the same from stepfathers. When will be get over this automatic assumption that women are 'nurturers'? Genderized expectations are at the root of a lot of unnecessary guilt and unhappiness.
being a step parent is quite challenging, and no one should feel guilty if they find it quite challenging as long as they do their best

however, all children need love at home; single parents should introduce the children well in advance to a prospective mate. If that person is not willing to make a supreme effort to love the kids, than they should not marry them

divorce is not the fault of kids; they should not have to live with a "parent" of any kind who can't be bothered with an attempt to love them as their own-- a second-best mediocrity.

as a step parent myself, I am convinced that anyone who makes a supreme effort to sympathize with what these kids have already gone through, makes a supreme effort to get to know them and make them feel love can do it

if someone isn't willing to do this they should not marry someone with children; the kids deserve better; all that matters is that you never stop trying; you don't have to be perfect

step Mom who loves her step kids as her own
It seems to me that success as a stepmother depends so much on the attitude and relationship of the real mother with her children as well as on the age of the children.

Teens are going through a natural process of separating themselves from their parents. When their parents get divorced, that makes the process easier --- but there's a force counter-acting any attempts to forge a new family. Add to this that it's not a family they've chosen.

My husband's father got together with his long-term partner over 20 years ago. My husband was in college. He has a great relationship with her, but it's not a mother-son relationship by any means. My FIL has a great relationship with his partner's kids, but again, it's not a father-child relationship. No one ever pretended it would be. Maybe not having the "family with my kids" expectation that's part of the reason my FIL and his partner never got married.
To put some flesh on this theory, see Jonah Hill's treatment of John Reilly as Reilly tries to move in on his mom, played by Marisa Tomei, in the new film "Cyrus."

Yikes.

Difficult territory, folks.
One of the most important, yet simple, adages I learned during my stint at Big Blue was that "we cannot help what we think and feel, but we can control what we do and say".

This do and say is the behavior the author talks about when interacting with any child including your own.

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Not being wicked ought to be sufficient in the real world of real people and complex relationships.
I'm sorry, but I take MAJOR issues with this as a stepkid.

If you're interested in my counter-argument, please read:

http://open.salon.com/blog/kevin0719/2010/07/01/you_damn_well_better_love_your_stepkids
Thankfully, I love my step children, but I don't always like them. I totally feel bad about that. Thanks for sharing this, because I think I will give myself a break now.
the central conflict is that children expect to be the center of their parents' universe, and a spouse rightly expects to be put first in her marriage.

without a strong marriage, there is no stability for those children. a parent who puts his/her children before his/her spouse is a soon-t0-be divorced parent.

i've seen biological parents make this mistake just as often as divorced/remarried parents.

make the marriage strong, and all else will follow.

it's tough when there are children of divorce because the bio parent naturally feels guilty and as if he/she needs to compensate to make it up to the child for the divorce.

but this is not really what the child needs (no matter what they think). the child needs the same boundaries and limits set as would be if there were no divorce. and that include not allowing children to disrupt the marriage.

yes, when you marry someone with children you are taking on a relationship with those children, but if the bioparent in the couple doesn't make it clear to both the children and the new spouse that the marriage comes first, it will very likely fall apart.

which retraumatizes all concerned.

stepchildren often had periods of having their parent all to themselves and so they don't understand or have the experience of a family unit in which they come second. it's a tough realization, and tough to accept. but it is the correct order of things.
are males still this dumb in your neck of the woods? my god, where I come from you're lucky if you find a woman who lets them sit on the couch.
I'm a few days late commenting on this post but I just wanted to say what a good one it is. Thanks for writing it! The excerpt from Stepmonster that is available online was so good, I do plan to buy the book.

BTW, I also commented on Kevin Broccolli's counter to this post. As I mentioned in that comment, I think it is a mistake for a stepchild to assume that he/she understands the stepparent's perspective. I have lived both roles so I think I know what I'm talking about.
I agree. You do the best you can and try to respect them, then hope something more grows from there.