There’s so much pressure as a stepmom. Pressure to be a great wife, an influential parental figure, a peaceful co-parent, a perfect daughter-in-law… you get the idea.
But the one expectation that sets many stepparents up to fail? To love their stepchildren like their own.
For some, the love connection with their stepchildren is easy. For others, there are a plethora of reasons why it’s more challenging. Stepfamily dynamics are complex, and it’s unfair for someone else to set those expectations on you, or for you to set that expectation for yourself.
To the stepmom who’s feeling ashamed because she doesn’t love her stepchild, I want to assure you this does not make you a bad stepmom. It’s perfectly natural to not feel a love connection with someone else’s child, even if you have a deep love connection with their parent, and I want to redirect you to the true goal, instead of an unreasonable expectation of love you may never attain.
There’s not a natural affinity to like them.
This is a safe space, right? Let’s cut the crap and put it out there that some children are annoying. Or embarrassing. Or barely tolerable.
There are things they do that their parents think are adorable, but you, an outsider, don’t. This could be your friend’s child, a random child at the grocery store, or your partner’s child, if you’re a stepparent.
Their parents have a natural affinity to love them. There’s a natural propensity to adore them and cherish their every move and sound.
The rest of us can shed the rose-colored glasses and see the behavior for what it truly is, and often that behavior is not as endearing to a third party. It’s perfectly natural that you don’t see your stepchildren’s behavior the same way their parents do.
Your affection for your partner is irrelevant.
You may feel pressured to love your stepchildren because you love their parent; many stepmoms feel this same pressure. But the reality is, there’s no natural bridge that would transfer your love for your partner to a love for their child.
You can be SO in love with your partner and still not feel a connection to their child.
If you had a great friendship with someone, would you put the same pressure on yourself to connect with and care for their child? Would it be a dealbreaker for your friendship if you didn’t like the child as much as you liked your friend?
I venture to say no, it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. And it shouldn’t be in your stepfamily either.
Loving your stepchildren is not the goal.
Of course things would be easier if you loved your stepchildren, but it’s certainly not the be all end all.
The ultimate goal for many stepfamilies is not to love the stepchildren. The goal is to have a peaceful home.
As your stepmom coach, my goal is always to do what I can to help you protect your peace. You are with your partner despite their children, not because of their children. I certainly don’t want you to live in resentment or shame, but I also want you to feel confident in the fact that you can have a very successful marriage and happy stepfamily without loving your stepchildren.
You can find peace as a stepmom and still not develop love for the kids.
You are not a bad stepmom.
We all suffer from others’ expectations of us.
If you love the kids like your own, you’ll be reminded you’re not the mom; if you don’t love the kids the same, you’re an evil stepmom.⠀
If you admit sometimes stepparenting is challenging, you’re ungrateful. If you pretend it’s all sunshine and rainbows, you’re not genuine.⠀
If you prioritize your marriage, someone will argue you need to put the kids first. If you put the kids first, your marriage suffers.⠀
My best advice? Stop the shoulds.⠀
The only thing you SHOULD be doing is what’s best for you, your marriage, and your unique stepfamily. Don’t let someone who isn’t in your shoes have a say over what you should be doing, how you should be caring, or what your role in your family should be.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Just because your family looks or functions differently than someone else’s doesn’t make you a bad stepmom. Do what works for YOU.
P.S. If you find you’re fighting an uphill battle against shame, guilt, and shoulds, apply now and let’s talk.
Kristen is a Certified Stepparent Coach, founder of Stepmomming.com, and host of the chart-topping podcast, Stepmomming Made Easy. She is passionate about providing guidance and validation to stepmoms everywhere, empowering them to overcome discontentment and genuinely love their stepfamilies.
Kristen is married with a 13-year-old stepdaughter and infant son. She has overcome insecurities as her husband’s second wife, learned a million lessons the hard way as a stepparent, and been on a roller coaster ride with shared parenting. Kristen grew up as a stepchild with a strict and very involved stepdad, a long-distance dad, and a few different stepmoms over the years. Couple that experience with the fact she was business partners and lived with her stepdaughter’s mom for a season, and it’s safe to say, she offers a unique perspective!
She has been featured on TODAY, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Texas Today, and Scary Mommy.