“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.”
I 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?
This is a great article, Gayla. I’m on the other end of step-parenting. My step-son is all grown up and out of our house. Looking back, I don’t think I ever favored him over my own children, but he was “our only child” when I married his father. We didn’t have our own kids to add to the equation until a year later. One thing I remember distinctly is hearing how I didn’t treat him like I treated my own kids. My step-mother’s heart always responded (in my head – not out loud), “Of course I don’t. He’s eight years older than the baby.” I always wondered who in their right mind would treat an eight-year-old boy the same way they treated an infant. Now that my youngest boy is eight, I find that I never did treat my step-son differently than I treat my own children. I expected the same from him as I do from my kids. Things like honesty, obedience, to be helpful around the house, respect, etc. Some days I wished I had a nanny cam to record the interactions in my home when only I was there with the kids. I found my comfort in knowing that God sees all and knows all. And ultimately it’s His opinion I need to worry about concerning how I treat my kids – including my step-son.
Thank you Alycia. I hear your heart and know those feelings. The more I talk to stepparents, the more I find that oftentimes our interactions with our stepchildren are misperceived by them. They choose to see things differently although we are fair and treat them like our own children. Just as you said, we have to realize that the only opinion we should be concerned with is God’s but it’s so hard to not defend our position when we’re being judged unfairly. That’s part of what makes the stepparenting role so difficult at times. Thank you for your comment. God bless you.