Tag Archives: Daddy guilt

The Love Question

Over and over and over again, lately, I’ve been hearing women online and in person say that their husbands and partners get angry at them for not loving their stepkids enough. That they don’t know how to pretend they love their stepchildren when they don’t. Or that they just feel guilty for not loving or sometimes even liking their stepkids.

I’m very lucky that the Lovely Man doesn’t buy into this garbage, but it seems that many, many men do. I’d say it’s the single biggest criticism I hear of men directing at their stepmother wives and partners – that they “aren’t loving enough” or “you don’t love my kids like you love your own”.

My question is, do these men expect their kids to love the stepmum like the kids love their mother?

(This is a purely rhetorical exercise, by the way – the answer is guaranteed to be “Of course not!”)

Stepfamily writers and therapists agree that it is completely unreasonable for bio-parents to expect this love from their partners, and it just makes it harder for the stepparent to integrate into the family. There’s actually a psychological term for this problem: “The Myth of Instant Love”. Despite this, studies show that over half of men expected their wives to be “more maternal” with their stepkids than they turned out to be.

Not only is this expectation unreasonable – it’s misguided. Oftentimes kids in loyalty binds don’t want you to love them anyway! And the more loving, warm and appealing they find you, the more they will feel driven to reject you.

I experienced quite a breakthrough recently with Boy A on this issue.

It came about when we were all in the car together on the way out to dinner or something and Boy C announced, completely out of the blue (as he does):

You don’t love us like our mummy loves us!

I’ve always had an honesty bug when it comes to those moments of challenge, so without even thinking much, I replied:

No, I don’t love you like your parents love you, because parents love their kids in a different way from other people. I really care for you guys and want you to be happy, but I don’t love you the same way your mum and dad do. That’s their job.

There were no complaints or arguments from the backseat, just satisfied expressions. It made sense to them, and I suspect they actually liked hearing it – I think it reassured them that I wasn’t trying to take their mum’s place, if that makes sense. Boy A’s behaviour towards me improved dramatically from that point of the visit, and has continued to improve since. My stepmother instinct tells me that something about that conversation fell into place for him.

To his credit, the Lovely Man handled it well, too. I told him about the research that says that very loving, “mother-style” stepmothers are hard for kids to handle when there are loyalty demands placed on them. And the outcome kind of spoke for itself.

The thing is, I do have some quite loving feelings towards the Boys at times. But I am not going to pretend that those feelings are the same as a biological parent might feel. It’s just so obviously not true.

Nobody can wave a magic wand and make a stepfamily into a first family, however much some men wish it would happen. I think some of them expect their partners to love their kids mostly so they can feel like they’ve replaced the first family that “broke” and thereby “make up” to the kids for the divorce. Like so much else, it’s a guilt thing.

You may never love your stepkids (or you might love them differently from each other) and they may never love you. As long as you are fair and kind, that’s all anyone should expect. Hopefully you’ll eventually develop a relationship that feels ok for you and for them. And as Wednesday Martin says in “Stepmonster”, that’s probably a “good enough” relationship.

If you are copping pressure on the love question, a solution might be to do a stepfamily course together with your partner. The Lovely Man and I did one early on with Relationships Australia, and the group leaders really drilled it into us that demanding a stepparent love stepkids “like their own” is unrealistic, unhelpful and unnecessary.

And that was only one of the benefits – it certainly didn’t hurt for us to be told, over and over, that for the success of our stepfamily we needed to put our relationship first and have lots of one-on-one couple time…

Are you expected to love your stepkids, “like you own” or at all? Do you?

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Filed under Communication, Kids, Lovely Man, Stepfamily Life

So, who can relate?

I’ve had this incredibly honest and insightful essay from the StepTogether Message Board about (some) men’s struggle to set appropriate boundaries with their ex-wives open on my browser for a long while now.

A few of you will have come across it; most probably not. I’d guess that more than a few stepmothers will read it and be longing to show it to their husbands and partners… and others will be sighing in relief and gratitude that their days of living with this kind of stress are thankfully over (or best of all, never happened).

In any case, I’ve reproduced  here in full for the benefit of non-clicking types. There’s some fantastic stuff over at StepTogether; it’s a worthy resource and well rewards casual trawling.

MALE EMOTIONAL ADULTERY

By Mike (passem), a stepfather, separated father and contributor to the StepTogether Message Board

When the ex remarried she seemed to think that she was entitled to two husbands. There was the good husband who received all the “benefits”. There was also the bad husband who received all the blame. Needless to say, I was the latter. After having observed this rather bigamous state of affairs for a year or two I finally informed the ex that if she needed someone to scream at, revile and expend her considerable anger on, she’d better look closer to home because I was not available and hadn’t been since the divorce.

My mistake, for several years, was continuing to feel some responsibility for the ex, even though we had both remarried. It was very difficult to break a 25-year habit of always trying to fix things. That had been my assigned role all those years. It took awhile to realize that fixing things was no longer my responsibility except within the boundaries of my own marriage. When the ex’s husband was killed in a car accident a little over three years after they were married, I was ready to lend assistance and this time my wife called me on it. She correctly pointed out that it was no longer my place, was no longer my responsibility and most likely wouldn’t be appreciated anyway. As usual, she was quite correct.

Did I feel guilty about the divorce? Probably, even though I wasn’t the one who initiated the whole process. In typical male fashion I couldn’t reconcile not being a daily presence in the lives of my daughters. The ex figured that one out and tried to play on my feelings to extract more and more for me under the guise of it all being for my daughters. For awhile, it worked and I gave and gave. Then I realized that I was being manipulated and was also sending the wrong message to my children – that Dad was merely a convenient and deep pocket whose only value was that which could be preceded by a dollar sign. The bottom line was that the girls had two parents and I was not solely responsible for their well-being. Bye, bye guilt. Hello resolve. It was easy. It just took awhile to get there. Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe and really think about the message you’re sending your children. That’s especially important when you’ve remarried. It’s your wife who deserves your undivided loyalty and support, not the ex.

Over the years, too many wives have voiced the legitimate complaint that their husband continues to dance to the tune of his ex’s manipulation. There are only two women to whom a husband owes the duties of loyalty and obedience, and even they have to deserve it. Those women are his wife, first, and his mother, second. To permit any other woman to exercise that degree of control and influence over him is emotional adultery and nothing less.

Gentleman, there’s a reason that you and the ex are no longer married. Whether you’re the one who left or, as is most often the case, she is, she is no longer your wife. She is no longer your partner. She is no longer your lover. She is the ex. If you have children together she will always be their mother but that is all the status she merits and deserves. She should be respected and valued for that, just as you should be respected and valued as their father.

In this venue, most, if not all, experience certain problems and frustrations connected with the ex. Why, then, would you bow and scrape before her, to the detriment of your children’s respect for you as a man and male role model, not to mention your wife’s? Most especially, why would you permit her to dictate to you on all matters pertaining to the children, including disrupting your own family life to be at her beck-and-call, to the frustration of your wife and the detriment of your marriage?

If this describes you, you are guilty of emotional adultery. You’re also giving in to emotional blackmail and are permitting your children to be used as wedge issues and bargaining chips. Isn’t it time to rear up on your hind legs, throw your head back and roar out your final independence from someone with whom you now have only indirect ties?

What your children truly deserve is happy and emotionally healthy parents, both of them, and steps as well. Your former marriage didn’t work. Accept it and concentrate on your current marriage. Put your wife and your marriage first and you’ll be giving your children the true gift you didn’t give them while with their mother. That gift is the living and loving example of a strong marriage in which respect and mutuality are foremost, where a united front is common and consistent and happiness and contentment are evident. This is the example your children will take with them into their own adult relationships. You can’t change or fix what went before, so concentrate on what you have now.

The biggest question and issue of all is this: Do your dealings with the ex cause a lack of harmony in your marriage? If the answer to that is “Yes!”, then what ARE you doing? Where do your loyalties lie and what are you going to do to take back control of your life from someone who no longer belongs in the middle of it?

Oh, yeah. If you did answer “yes” you’d better be coming home with flowers and taking your wife out for a very romantic dinner because, Buddy, you need to start courting her all over again. This time, don’t stop, ever!

This essay was written by Mike (passem), a stepfather and contributor to the StepTogether Message Board.

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Filed under Linkety-Link, Stepfamily Life, The Ex