“I don’t want my step-son in my life. We were bonded before, but now I can’t stand him. I resent him. I do not want him around my baby. I never knew I would have these feelings. I feel terrible for having them. My husband wants to see his child as much as possible. My husband and I argue about the child every time he is here. Help me please.”
Other ways it is described is this: Do you have a cuckoo in your nest? Do you feel you have to take anti-rejection pills every time you leave your bedroom in the morning, to face the day with your step-children?
This feeling is very common. It is hardly ever expressed. Step-parents keep it a closely guarded secret. They do not even like to admit these horrible thoughts and feelings to themselves. Step-parents feel shame for feeling this way. How could they feel such terrible thoughts about an innocent and sometimes perfectly well-behaved child?
This is often known as one of the unspeakable truths of step-parenting.
What to do about it?
When we have a baby of our own, a bonding hormone, Oxytocin is released. This is a chemical that makes us want to nurture our young. Young mothers, like young lionesses and many animals in the animal kingdom, feel fiercely defensive of their young. Farmers go to great lengths to help a ewe bond with an orphan lamb. Those of us that have become mothers may remember the strength of feeling we had. It was like your heart was bursting with love, and we gained a kind of super-natural strength, that gave us an almost irrational drive to protect our baby.
We can understand this as we do not automatically love our friends’ children, or your own children’s playmates. Loving other people’s children doesn’t happen naturally. Bonding with other people’s children takes time and effort.
Determine our role
It can be difficult to admit that you just don’t love your step children and, in some cases, you don’t even like them. Step-parents often believe there is something wrong with them as this intense animosity can lead to a loss of control over their emotions, which can trigger very undesirable feelings.
Recognise these feelings as normal and natural. The step-parent hasn’t become the wicked step-mother. A step-parent is not a bad person. You are the nice person you always were. Give yourself permission to do as well as you can, but don’t set yourself expectations that will only mean that you disappoint yourself.
Think of the role you would like to have in your step-families life. You may be mother to children of your own, but admit you do not want to be a mother-figure to your step-children. Children need good enough parenting, not perfect parenting. Having a role where they are cared for is enough.
Make arrangements for the present.
When your baby is very young, you want to have them, and love them, and want the time to be very special, just you and them and your husband. This time will pass. It feels less like this when they grow. Every month makes a difference as the baby separates and becomes more independent. By the time the baby is about two, you are into the mess and chaos of childhood, and it won’t seem to matter so much that your step-children are around too, also creating mess and chaos.
So acknowledge that this time with your baby is very special, and make efforts to organise things round you so they are away as much as possible. Perhaps the step-children could join clubs, go out for the day, spend time with relatives, go on camps, follow their interests, join the guides, or scouts, have play-dates. Every single thing you can organise at this stage will help you have special one-to-one time with your baby. Every week-end counts at the beginning. If your step-children are around every other week-end, that’s only 26 week-ends to organise. If you are used to taking them on holiday each year, perhaps this would be a good year to go alone with their biological parent?
Other strategies here are to get the biological parent to take their child, the step-child out more.
You the step-parent arrange to go out to see friends, relatives’ parents etc, when their step-children are in the house.
Organise and manage the situation.
Enjoy the golden moments
Having a little baby has wonderful moments. It can be a very special time of your life. The main thing is to really enjoy those golden moments. Treasure them, recognise when they are happening, feel happiness, feel joy, and feel love. The wonders of watching a new born baby grow are delightful, and the smiles and hugs and shiny loving eyes give you times of your life that you will never forget.
I feel that having step-children help you appreciate these moments more. Without a step-child disturbing your peace you could take these times for granted. But when in a step-family and you are alone with your baby and you have a special moment, you realise just how important it is.
In order to be kind to others we need to be kind to ourselves. The meaning of being kind for each of us is different. When you have a new baby, this can be difficult, but not impossible. Think about what this might mean for you. It often means the biological parent does more!
Half-siblings recognise each other’s genes.
As your baby grows, normally, a step-parent will be amazed at how their child loves, and is loved by their half siblings. It has been proven that they recognise the genes in their siblings and a drawn together. This is really helpful when it happens, as it draws the whole family together better. You can really appreciate your step-children in a different way as they learn to help and play, and look after your child.
Hang-on in there
Disliking your step-child is a horrific feeling. The feelings grow very intense on the birth of any babies of your own.
The feelings get less, and it is worth keeping going with your step-children, and making things as good as possible. As later when your child loves their half-sibling your step-children will still like you, and like coming to your house, you can all benefit from getting on better.
Hang-on because those original powerful feelings will pass, and acceptance and love may grow.
Another sad but true aspect of this is that however you respond to those horrid feelings, the step-children are here to stay. “You made your bed….”, so to speak, and this is what they mean when they, (all those observers who feel they have a right to say something), say – “you knew what you were getting into”. Well you absolutely couldn’t possibly have known the effects of oxytocin. But you are very definitely better off managing this as best you can, as nothing is going to change, however you behave, – unless you get a divorce, so keep going.
In the end, you end up loving your step-children more for the wonderful relationship they have with your children. The horrid feelings subside, you don’t love your children passionately when your teenage child refuses to get out of bed in the morning for example. If you hang-on in there everything gets better. Just invest the time and effort. No-one outside a step-family can possibly know how difficult all this is inside one.