The Danger of Favoritism in Your Stepfamily

“I don’t feel the same way toward my stepchildren as I do my biological children,” a stepmother recently admitted. “I feel guilty when I say that, but it’s the truth.” “That’s okay, ” I replied. “The challenge comes in treating them the same, regardless of how you feel.”

The Danger of Favoritism in Your StepfamilyI understand how this stepmom feels. It’s easier to love a child who you carried in your womb, nursed for a period of time, watched his first smiles, and heard his first words. There is a natural love that develops with your own child.

It’s different with stepchildren. They come to us at varying stages of life. Sometimes they enter our lives at a young age, other times they’re young adults or older. Oftentimes they come with their own feelings toward gaining a stepparent, and those feelings aren’t always good.

So why do we beat ourselves up as stepparents when we don’t have an automatic love for our stepchidren? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to have a perfect relationship with them from the beginning?

Perhaps society creates this image. Especially with moms, it’s assumed we can easily play out our maternal role, regardless of who’s on the other end. But that simply isn’t the case.

Relationships grow over time. And there are two parties involved in your stepparenting relationship – you and your stepchild. You can influence your side of the relationship, but you have no control over many of the influences your stepchild is receiving.

So, you may feel a different love toward your stepchildren than your biological children, but you must strive to treat them equally. Stepchildren feel like outsiders when they’re treated as “less than” and will not integrate into a stepfamily when they sense unfairness.

A predictable outcome of parental favoritism is competition between siblings and sibling rivalry, which stepfamilies are set up for already. And when siblings are close in age, parents must be even more diligent about how they treat each child.

That doesn’t mean you can never have one-on-one time with your child or you must spend the exact amount of money on each one. Even in biological families, circumstances dictate how parents spend money and time with their children.

For a non-custodial parent, there’s nothing wrong with spending time alone with your children when they come to visit. But be sure to allow time with the rest of the family too. It’s also not unusual to spend more money on one child than another at certain times. During our kids’ high school years, my daughter required tutoring for several years. We spent hundreds of dollars getting her through  high school math that we didn’t spend on the other kids.

The real issue with favoritism in stepfamilies, according to stepfamily authority Ron Deal, is “a heart issue, not a time or money issue.” As stepparents, our heart feels differently toward our stepchildren than our biological children. But one of the hidden gifts of stepfamilies is learning to love our stepchildren as God loves us. We can choose love, even if we don’t feel it. 

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We didn’t deserve God’s love and grace. But He offered it anyway.

It might be easier to offer preferential treatment to your children, based on how you feel. But your stepchildren deserve equality. Will you commit to the high road of fairness?

How do you overcome the challenge of favoritism in your stepfamily?

 

Marriage is Not Always Blissful – Especially in Blended Families

My husband, Randy, and I celebrate 18 years of marriage this year. If you read my blog often, you know it hasn’t all been blissful.

Marriage is Not Always Blissful -- Especially in Blended Families

I’ll never forget the night Randy called me from a hotel room and said he wasn’t coming home that night. We had been married less than a year and we were struggling as we attempted to blend our four children. I realized the truth of his words, “It just isn’t working Gayla.”

We had had an argument early that evening over the kids and he couldn’t deal with the tension any longer. We both began to question if our marriage could stand the stress of stepfamily life: grasping at how to parent together, coping with difficult ex-spouses, dealing with the rejection of stepparenting, accepting the crazy schedule that left little time for a couple relationship, along with the grind of everyday life.

We had a decision to make: would we fight to keep going or would we call it quits before we gave it a fair chance?

Neither Randy nor I wanted another divorce. We had walked that road and still felt the remnants of pain and failure. We knew we could make it work – but we needed help.

We began seeing a counselor who addressed the difficulty of our stepfamily dynamics. He also confronted us with the unresolved baggage we were carrying and the role each of us was playing in the tension-filled home we lived in. It was painful and heart-wrenching at times, but we began seeing improvements in our marriage and stepparenting interactions.

We also found a stepfamily support group in a nearby church that was studying literature and Scripture specific to stepfamilies. It was a sacrifice to make the weekly meetings, but it was critical to our growth as we integrated with other stepparents and found healthy ways to unite our four children.

Eighteen years later, those difficult days of early blended- family life blur in the rear-view mirror. I wouldn’t want to re-live them, but they are part of our stepfamily memories, reminding us how far our family has come.

We have only one child still at home – it’s the only child Randy and I have together. And I must admit – life is simpler, life is less stressful, life is calmer.

But marriage is not all bliss, even at this stage. Our struggles are seldom tied to stepparenting or difficult ex-spouses now, but we still encounter stressful periods. We have just come through a tumultuous period that put tremendous weight on our marriage. But our commitment of years’ past pulled us through our non-blissful days.

I have a renewed commitment to my marriage. I recognize the short-lived season of child-rearing. And when all our children leave home, I want a thriving marriage.

So, where are you on your marital journey? Are you plunging through the difficult years of early stepfamily life? Can you recognize the growth your family has made through stepfamily challenges?

Are you focusing on your non-blissful days or striving to make the best of whatever season you’re in, committed to the long run of your marriage?

How do you cope with non-blissful days of marriage? Will you share your thoughts?

Related Posts:

The Value of a Supportive Spouse

Making Re-Marriage Work: Steps for Success

Making Your Re-Marriage Work: Don’t Settle for Mediocrity