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I Want to Love My Stepchild!

QUESTION: I'm trying to get myself to love my stepchild. It's very hard for me. I don't know why. Now we are having a child together and I wish I could also love my partner's child. We end up fighting over this issue about the kids and take sides. Please help me.

ANSWER: The pressure to develop love "instantly" is a common stressor in remarriages that involve children. Unrealistic expectations to fulfill the loss of the former "intact" family haunts and can damage chances for the new marriage to succeed.

Love takes time to develop. You have not experienced the effects of living and caring for this child as your spouse has. Your attachment must grow naturally and without undue pressure if you are to experience the affection for your stepchild that you desire.

The good news is that you are honest with yourself and you desire to "love" this child. Let your husband know that you are open to your relationship with your stepchild developing over time, but stop short of "saving" him from looking at his own desire to "replace" the family unit he lost.

Healthy stepfamily development includes mourning for past loss and resolving guilt over the marital "break-up" of the family. It is possible that your husband is seeking a short cut to resolving his pain by placing pressure on you to "make up" for his loss or to resolve his own guilt. It is also likely that your acculturation as a woman contributes to the feeling that it is your job to step in to fill the emotional needs of all family members. It is not your job to "mother" this child. No doubt your stepchild already has a mother. Start by becoming a friend with limited adult care-taking responsibilities. As your relationship with your stepchild strengthens, you may gradually increase your role to include more responsibility.

Protect your relationship. The best predictors for stepfamily development are a strong couples' relationship and a positive stepparent-stepchild relationship. An attempt to force love will likely only lead to resentment and a negative relationship with your stepchild, as well as spousal discord.

A positive relationship within the realistic realms of your feelings towards your stepchild will offer the opportunity for the development of attachment and perhaps eventually, real and deep love. This is particularly possible as a result of having your own child, as these two half-siblings bond to each other. You may find that your attachment to your stepchild grows naturally as you see your little one attaching to his of her older sibling.

Make room for grieving and loving. Freedom of emotional expression is key to the potential for true love to develop in family relationships. A forced approach will only lend itself towards tensions that disrupt rather than cement your new family bonds. Keep in mind the saying made popular in the '70's: You cannot push a river, it flows by itself!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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