Can a stepparent share the unconditional love that exists between a parent and a biological child?
If we asked that question to a room full of stepparents from around the globe, it’s likely there would be just as many resounding ‘yeses’ as shouts of ‘no way in hell’.
We’d also hazard a guess that if that same room was full of biological parents (particularly those co-parenting but not co-habitating with their child’s stepparent) their honest answer would be that there is no way a stepparent could love their child the way that they do.
And, the fact is that everyone would probably be right. At the end of the day love is a feeling and feelings like people need to be accepted.
But, love is also unique because just as it can’t be forced it also can’t be avoided.
How a stepparent will answer the question about whether they love their stepchild as much as their biological child is likely to depend on four things:
- The age of the stepchild when the stepparent entered their life,
- How long the stepkids and the stepparent have known each other,
- Whether the stepparent decides the relationship with their stepchild will begin as a marathon or a sprint, and
- Whether the child’s other biological parent facilitates or undermines the relationship.
My stepson was just over 2 ½ when we met and 16 years on I feel the love.
You know the protective, full-on kind of love. The -‘I’d jump in front of a bullet or cut off my right arm to not see him hurt’ -kind. The unconditional kind. The kind I feel for my partner and for my biological kids.
The difference for me is that unconditional acceptance came first with my stepson before unconditional love kicked in.
I had no choice really.
I’m a white, pasty-skinned, blue-eyed, blond haired female and my stepson has the olive skin, deep brown eyes and dark hair that I dreamed of for myself as a little girl. I am an American. My stepson is Australian. I am Protestant. He is Catholic.
I grew up in a rural community in Midwest USA with a total population of 450 people. My stepson has been raised in one of the biggest and most multicultural and diverse cities in the world. My parents have been together my entire life – married over 50 years. My stepson’s parents separated just after his first birthday. He understands and speaks a language I can’t even pronounce.
I had no choice. We are fundamentally different and there was nothing I could have done or tried to do that was ever going to change that.
With my biological children, the love was immediate.
I know that isn’t the case for every birthing mother. Nor is it a requirement for motherhood. It just happened to be my experience, but if I’m honest the unconditional acceptance part has not come as easily.
I’ve often wondered why the experience of acceptance was so different between my stepson and my biological children:
- Maybe, it’s partly because I haven’t known my biological children for as long as I’ve known my stepson? Acceptance does take time.
- Maybe, I can see more of myself in their faces and that brings with it unconscious (and perhaps unwanted) expectations.
- Maybe, because they have two parents instead of three and live with me full time instead of half the time I feel I have more sway in what they will become?
All of these things probably play a part.
But, mostly I think it comes down to choice.
I have more of a choice around acceptance but less around love with my biological children than with my stepson. And, as we know, choice can sometimes get in the way.
But if there is anything my stepson has taught me about parenting it is that making a deliberate choice of acceptance as a (step)parent is just as important as choosing love.
How about you? What’s your view or experience with loving a stepchild as much as a biological child – or not? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.