“You’re not my mom!” rings across the house as your young stepdaughter stomps her foot and resists your attempts to hug her. Stepparenting is a challenging job, and sometimes showing love and affection backfires, leaving you frustrated and hurt. You might wonder how you can express your love and concern for your stepchild without setting off an emotional IED in your home.
Even tiny babies want and need love, so why does your stepchild resist your expressions of love? Perhaps he feels that he can't love you and his mom. He might be angry right now and his words reflect his anger. You can’t really know what he is thinking, but you can respond to him. Your calm response can assure him that you love him despite when he blurts, "You're not my mom!" You might say in response, “No, I’m not your mom, but I love you and I want you to know it.”
It takes time to build a loving and comfortable relationship. While young children often accept a stepparent with less difficulty than older children, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Express your love and support if you truly feel it. Your stepchild’s emotional radar will detect fake expressions and she will call you on it. She might throw her little arms around your neck at unexpected times and resist you with every cell of her small body at other times. Take it in stride and accept it as part of the building process.
Actions and Words
The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words” is true. You can demonstrate love, even if he rebuffs you when you say, “I love You” or you attempt a hug or kiss. For example, treat him with respect and consider his needs. Spend time alone with him doing things he likes. Accept and encourage his relationship with the absent parent and don’t compete for the spot. Show up for his events such as his preschool events and other important events. Leave notes of encouragement, such as a happy face next to his cereal bowl or a heart on his pillow.
You don’t want to be cast in the role of the wicked stepparent. That happens when you openly prefer your child over your stepchild or if you take an authoritarian role. You and your stepchild might have rough waters on the river of life, but you can make paddling the boat easier. Apologize when you're wrong or when your words hurt. Understand that she needs to find a way to accept and love you in ways that are different from how she loves her mom. Over time, you loving and supportive relationship will grow if you nurture her in ways that say, “I love you” every day.