Stepparenting and the Expectation of Unconditional Love
I’ve seen some really unhelpful and damaging advice given by parenting “experts” instructing stepparents to simply “Love the kids as your own, unconditionally.”
The advice, or rather, instruction, that you should love a child as your own is bad enough, but the addition of “unconditional” is just preposterous. If most stepparents were actually capable of unconditionally loving a child who isn’t theirs, don’t you think they would? Life would be SO much easier with unconditional love!
Unfortunately, for most stepparents that’s just not possible. (Yes, there are a few stepparents who claim to love their stepchildren unconditionally – and that’s GREAT for them and their stepchildren. Obviously this article isn’t for them – it’s for the other 99%.)
To expect someone to have the ability to love another’s child unconditionally, whom they’ve just met, and may or may not even like, is unrealistic.
Have you ever tried to love someone who is disrespectful to you? Who ignores you? Who your personality totally clashes with? Who lies about you? Who tries to push you away? Who wishes you didn’t exist? Good luck with that.
Even with a child you actually like and get along with, love can take years to grow, especially if the child is older. Unconditional love is something usually reserved for the parents who created the child.
There are certain exceptions, such as adoption, but I believe that’s because the whole purpose is to have the child as your own – as opposed to stepparenting where the purpose is marriage and the partner happens to have a child- who often already has two active parents.
I guess the real problem with this advice is the word “should.” It insinuates that if you don’t or can’t, you’re doing something wrong and bad. “Should” makes it seem like it’s the “right” thing to do, therefore if you don’t unconditionally love your stepchild, you’re wrong. Which is total BS.
Many stepparents who are told they should love their partner’s child unconditionally feel like huge failures when reality sets in and it doesn’t happen. This expectation also puts undue pressure on the child. The child doesn’t love you unconditionally either – how can they? They’re still getting to know you. They didn’t choose you and you didn’t choose them – you chose their parent.
So to all you stepparents who feel like failures because you don’t love your stepchild, never mind unconditionally, I’m here to let you off the hook. I’m here to tell you that it’s nearly impossible to do so and that you can still have a fulfilling, amazingly close, wonderful relationship with your stepchild – with or without the love.
Without the unrealistic expectation of having to love another’s child unconditionally, you’re allowed to be yourself. It takes the pressure off of everyone and gives the relationship space to evolve naturally over a matter of years. Remember, stepfamilies start to feel like family in terms of years, not months.
So forget the expectation of (unconditional) love. Instead, go for like. Go for respect. Go forcompassion and understanding. Go for having fun and enjoying them. Go for finding things in common and cultivating a positive relationship with them. After all, positive relationships are created by everyday, little interactions and acts of kindness. Love, if it happens, is just the icing on the cake. Nice, but certainly not necessary.
© 2015 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved