There’s a common belief that penetrates stepfamilies and often sets them up for failure.
“Stepparents should treat and love their stepchildren as their own.”
“The way to reduce conflict is to make everything fair – just treat them as your own!”
“Love them as you love your own child and your relationship will work out fine.”
“You just need to open up and love them.”
“You agreed to love them when you married someone with kids.”
The belief that a true and unwavering love needs to be present in order for a blended family to be successful creates a bar that is unattainable for many families.
The truth is step-relationships are just like every other relationship in this world. Some people you connect with instantly, some relationships take time to grow, and some don’t turn into anything deeper than the exchanging of pleasantries. In any other context, the thought that some people just don’t vibe isn’t a big deal. There isn’t any shock when hearing statements like – “you can’t please everyone” or “not everyone is going to like you”. But for some reason with step relationships there is a pressure that everyone should instantly get along. And not just get along, but love each other. Because, of course, now you’re family.
But, do you love every single person in your family with the strength that you love your own child, parent or sibling? Of course not! It wouldn’t shock anyone for you to say, “I don’t love my nephew like I love my son”. It’s understandable and even expected. Now, what would happen if you said, “I don’t love my step-son like I love my son”? Duck when the pitchforks come flying. For many it’s a shameful secret that they keep hidden at all costs. As if mentioning that you don’t instantly and intensively love this child that has come into your life is a badge of dishonor.
Depending on the level of conflict in the stepfamily, the age of the children when the marriage occurs, and the amount of time you see each other, obtaining a sense of unconditional love for one another may not only be difficult, but completely impossible.
The entire set of standards in place for step-relationships is often unattainable and at times completely contradictory…
“Love them and treat them like your own child.”
“You can’t do that, you aren’t their parent.”
“You should love them unconditionally.”
“Don’t get too close, you don’t want to cross any lines.”
The back and forth can certainly cause confusion and make you feel like you are in a no-win situation. It may cause you to question what role you are supposed to play or result in you moving between “too” close and “too” distant, being unable to find the right balance.
So what can you do?
First, take a deep breath. What you are feeling is normal, and honestly, expected.
Next, know that it’s okay to take a step back. Trying to force a certain feeling or environment can many times only result in frustration and stress for everyone. Understand that if you are struggling to create the “right” relationship, then maybe it is in fact not the right one after all. The image that you are pushing for might not be the what you or your family needs right now. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to families and certainly not when it comes to blended families.
Lastly, talk through the expectations you are holding onto with your spouse and give each other permission to move into a different role when necessary. Where you are today may not be your ideal but you have to be kind with yourself and one another. Accept that you don’t have to fit into the mold that you are holding onto. With time relationships will often deepen and you and your family may be able to get the level of connection that you are hoping for. But even if that doesn’t happen, it’s okay. Striving for stable, uncomplicated and respectful relationships in your family is a great goal to work towards.
Love doesn’t always have to be in the equation to have a healthy and happy home.