Step-Parenting: Do You REALLY Love Them Like Your Own?

Friday, Apr. 8th 2011 12:26 AM

A reader recently asked for my take on step-parenting. I have been on three sides of the “step-parent” equation: I have been one (kind of), had two of them, and am in a relationship with one (based on her relationship with me). But as step-parenting is a complex topic that would require a book to do it justice, I will focus this blog on what it felt like for me to be a (pseudo)step-father. It was special and rewarding, but it was also complicated.

About 21 years ago, I was involved in a romantic relationship with “Ester,” who had a 2-year-old daughter, “Yolanda.” Yolanda was a delightful child. Her dad was not in her life at the time, and we established a close relationship over the two years that I was with her mom. It was not uncommon for me to take Yolanda to and from school. And during the summers, she often spent her days with me – sometimes with my two sisters, who were about her age, in tow.

Though I never married her mother, I felt like Yolanda’s step-father. She called me “Dad,” and I called her “Daughter.” And if you had discussed the matter with me back then, I would have said, “I love her like she was my own.” And I thought that I did. But when Ester and I stopped seeing each other, my relationship with Yolanda also ended. I loved Yolanda, but it seemed easiest to sever the tumultuous relationship I had with her mother by walking away from both of them. So, I did. And I have not talked to Yolanda since.

Fast-forward approximately 10 years to the birth of my biological daughter … and then nine more years to my split with her mom. There was no way I would have walked away from my daughter without a serious fight and a court order to do so. And I didn’t. I treasure and maintain my relationship with her every day.

So, if there is a take-home message, it is this: Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t love your partner’s children as if they were your own. Even though I thought I loved Yolanda in this way (granted, I did not yet have my “own”), and even though we had merged lives, I found it easier to walk away, because she was not biologically mine. You may, too. And that’s OK. There may not be the same connection that many parents feel when biologically responsible for a child. It takes time to develop that type of connection and relationship – for the step-parents as well as the children. It is all a process. Allow time for the relationships to do their thing.

Your relationship with your step-children may never evolve to the point where you would behave exactly the same way or make exactly the same decisions that you would with your own children. And it might. Neither is “right” or “wrong.” Just be honest with yourself about it and do the best job that you can do in the role you have chosen to perform. There is honor and grace in taking on the responsibilities of helping to raise children with whom you have no biological connection. And it takes love. Maybe not always the same kind of love, but a special type nonetheless

And who knows, if my relationship with Yolanda had lasted longer, I might not have felt as comfortable walking away. I am not sure. But at the very least, I am going to give her a call to see how she is doing.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

www.FrankLove.com

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How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

26 Comments on “Step-Parenting: Do You REALLY Love Them Like Your Own?”

  1. Dia Says:

    Wow!!! It feels like this is my topic. Currently I’m in a marriage and,my husband is not my children’s biological dad, and he isn’t a good stepdad either…Now I am not the type of women that expects a man to automatically assume the role just cause of what we have…I am the nurturer, provider, caregiver, boo boo kisser, and the one who is responsible for their happiness, and their safety. I love extremely broad, and have the tendency to fall in love with other people kids..and I had to learn that everyone isn’t like me, and certainly not to involve yourself with a man/woman that doesn’t posses at,the least,that loving characteristic..sometimes u find yourself conforming to a lesser form of yourself with a partner that has many faces, which are all fraudulent…I’m sorry I maybe rambling, but this one kinda hit home…Some men and women come into relationships with false pretences intentionally to win ur heart…and the most common form of infiltration are “THE CHILDREN”…which the kids are usually the first to spot it…and what the partner calls “love”…isn’t remotely close…I just want to take time out to express to,all parents…pay close attention to how u treat your babies in the presence of your significant other, cause that’s how they will treat them…Sorry again Mr. Love, I’m way off topic but great one sir!!!!

  2. Charles H. Says:

    If I didn’t love them like my own then I have no business being with the woman who gave them life!

  3. Martha Says:

    This would never work for me. I hope to find love with a man that has grown kids that are on their own!

    And mind their own business!!!!!

    ha ha ha

  4. Chris White, Ed.D. Says:

    As a psychologist, I thought I was prepared for being both a step-parent to my step-son (who was five when I first met him 8 years ago) as well as step-parenting with my now-wife and her ex, who remains involved with Evan. While I generally feel like I love Evan as I do my three biological children, there is a subtle difference but I lack the appropriate vocabulary to describe what that difference is. I could not agree more, though, on how the step-parenting relationships are incredibly complicated. That being said, I would not change a thing and I am fortunate to have the benefit of having an incredible wife and step-son who usually make the ‘complications’ easier to manage.

    Best To All,

  5. Pheobie H. Says:

    I have to agree with Chris. I can’t put into the words the feeling but it is slightly different. In debates between my husband and his ex, I find that though I want to “side” with him I don’t always think it in our daughters best interest.

  6. Jim B. Says:

    Definitely give her a call! You never know what an impact you make on the life of child by simply caring- no matter for how long you’re in that child’s life!

  7. Regina Says:

    Very interesting post/topic! I think we would like to think that we treat step children like our very own and no matter how much we love them we still feel stronger for those we birthed.

  8. Venessa Says:

    Good one!

  9. Stephen R. Says:

    That is a right on comment, and you don’t always love them like your own, but you can care for them. Caring on your part, will change both your lives. Vulnerability is Power !

  10. DANIEL M. Says:

    Without question, nor hesitation for me. If anything was to happen to my step-sons, I would be as devastated as I would be for my own daughter and son. When they have troubles, I hurt; when they are happy, I celebrate like a fool; when they need help, I’m there before they even ask, or know I’m there!!

    Why would anyone get into a step-child situation if they are not willing to extend the same love to the “steps” as you would to your own!!!??? No logic or rationale there for me!

  11. Stephen R. Says:

    I like it Daniel. One of the secrets of step children is that they require a relationship just like any other. I have known many step parents that wanted to be called mom or dad, only to find out later that the label made no difference. They still did not have a relationship. Create that bond, as Daniel has apparently done. It’s a gift you give yourself.

  12. DANIEL M. Says:

    Hi Stephen,

    other than “shithead”, I don’t care what they call me – honestly. They tell me “love you” when we end a call, or part company – even if we see each other almost daily.

    They are my kids, my responsibility – I knew that when I fell in love with their mother; they came as a package.

    And I now have two of the most beautiful grandchildren a person could ever hope, or expect to share a life with. They call me Grandpa – and I melt into a big sloppy puddle every single time.

    I wish this for everyone who is in a “step-parent” role; it’s not easy – but boy is it worth it in the long run!!!

  13. Sina Trembly Says:

    I used to be very happy to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this excellent learn!! I undoubtedly enjoying each little bit of it and I’ve you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you weblog post.

  14. Maximina Wardrup Says:

    I loved your blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.

  15. Diallo Says:

    Interesting perspective…Good article…In the end i see someone who has come to grips with the reality of a situation and made the choice to be honest through retrospective observation. Most people don’t have the courage to be honest with themselves…Kudos and Congrats to you Frank Love.

  16. larry koenig Says:

    as a stepfather, I understand that the bond is somehow different, but the love I feel is the same, though.

  17. ordell roby aka silverback Says:

    Children are children, love of children should not be limited or qualified based on who the child is. The child did not ask to be born….As a man, as a father, as, “Frank Love?”, you should know what is best in a situation like this.
    In reading some of your other blogs, (i.e. relationship balance),One has to wonder if traffic or some other excuse will prevent you from calling her….

  18. C. Clark Says:

    i’m impressed with the risk you take on your topics, particularly this one. i read the other replies and noticed how some folks commented about what child rearing/loving SHOULD be. it all reads well in a perfect world. here’s a window into my beautifully ugly life.

    years ago, i dated a woman that had two boys. one was a teen about to go away to college. the other was a five year old. i have one daughter myself but our relationship was rocky at the time. my partner and i discussed early on about more kids of our own. she was adamant about being done with raising another child from scratch. i accepted her decision but never internalized it. my imperfect relationship with my own daughter and feeling like i was going to stuck as “mom’s boyfriend” eventually forced me to walk away from our relationship. i felt like i had a lot of fatherly love to give and wasn’t convinced i would have that opportunity to share. years later i dated another woman with one son and an adopted daughter (whom i never met). that relationship ended after 5 months. what i learned about myself after all of this was that i was selfish and didn’t want to share my partner with children, particularly children i did not help create. talk about a hard look at yourself. i discovered an article about jealous husbands, much less step-dads. now, as opposed to potentially walking out on another single mom and her kid/s, i have resigned not to date single moms. i only regret disappointing these two women and the first’s sons. BTW, my relationship with my own daughter is healthy now. pardon the long reply but i am thankful for the opportunity to express myself on this very sensitive topic.

  19. Massander Says:

    Step-children and all the dynamics surrounding the relationship with them can feel like an inconvenience even when a lot of love is present. My fantasy relationship with my wife is not possible because of the ties she created before our marriage, including the ever present and beautiful little girl in our home. I know that I love my step-daughter very much; in fact, there are many times when I would say I love her “as if she were my own” and wish I could legally adopt her. I am aware, though, that I am in her life to the extent that her biological parents allow me in her life (she is 5). While she and I are close, I never had the opportunity to bond with her in the way I am bondin with my newborn son. Even with these factors, I don’t know how much different my love for her would be had she been “mine” biologically.

    In order to take this to a deeper level, we would have to unpack what we mean by “love.” I feel more confident about my role in parenting my son than I do when parenting my daughter (I don’t call her my “step” daughter in real life). I also feel a greater sense of obligation with my son than I do with my daughter. The differences are subtle; however I really think that’s not necessarily because there is a different love so much as there really is a different relationship with multiple dynamics at play.

  20. P Says:

    I think the point that was missing is the relationship to the “step”child is directly related to the relationship with the biological/adoptive parent and if that relationship is severed the relationship of the stepparent and child is in jeopardy. This is the “slight” difference that others could not articulate in their comments. For example, “Jessica” is “my” daughter and I also have the right to shut down the relationship with the step parent with my daughter at any time. That also contributes to the “difference”. However, this could change if the stepparent takes the next step to actually adopt the stepchild and further solidifies his commitment to the child. Just my thoughts.

  21. Jeff Says:

    i’m not a parent / step-parent yet having been a “pseudo-stepchild / wicked stepbrother,” i found his perspective refreshingly honest… with no additives or preservatives.

  22. Reyhan Says:

    I, too, found his honesty to be refreshing!

  23. Fatima Says:

    You can’t love them like your own… I agree. Very complicated for the step parent and other siblings, lots of love and patience is required. Good post.

  24. Samantha Says:

    I think you CAN love them like your own, & commit to them as such. The different decisions are inherent, not because they aren’t ‘yours’ emotionally, but because legal & social structures get in the way. When my husband died, his stepkids …were ripped from my life by their bio mom and I discovered I had no recourse as I had no legal relationship to them. My SD is back in my life (as she now lives w/my in-laws) but my SS is gone…& it hurts every day, still, three years later.

    I won’t let adults in my sons life w/o first gauging there commitment to him, independent of ‘us.’ That requires a high degree of maturity & understanding that walking away from a child creates trauma, regardless of the justification for doing so.

  25. Barbara R. Says:

    I can appreciate his honesty, sure. yet I don’t function the same way. the 13 year old sleeping in the room next door was 3 when I entered his life. dating his mom didn’t last long but there was no way I would walk away, luckily his mom got… it and always made it easy for me to have him on weekends and holidays. I’m sort of a divorced step-dad I guess it depends on the relationship, your commitment, your maturity, your level of willingness to work, to be responsible, your understanding that’s it’s about the child, not you… in my opinion anyway. I’m still learning. Ask me again if I ever have my own.

  26. Reyhan Says:

    My godson’s mom and I were in a relationship for a while and I remained involved in his life to a certain point after she and I broke up. He’s very young and thousands of miles away, which made it much more difficult to …be actively involved in his life. Their military life meant that they moved around a lot, so being close to family and then being far from family became the norm in many respects. I’m not in his life the way I was when she and I were a couple (I made a point of traveling those thousands of miles to see them both and they also came to see me); however, I love them both and don’t expect that to change. It is a different relationship though. The relationship he has with her now husband who is also his father figure definitely plays a role in how I involve myself in his life.

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