BUT I LOVE MY REAL MOM
Couples forming a stepfamily may enter marriage expecting instant loyalty from the children.
Most stepfamilies want to appear as a normal family. Yet stepfamilies usually bring together people of various ages and personalities with different routines and expectations.
Stepchildren can worry about being disloyal to their natural parent. Stepdaughter Jean may think, "Mom won't like it if I like my stepmother," or "She's not my real mom and I better not like her too much." A child caught in this loyalty bind can resent a stepparent doing a good job.
Another stepmother, June, wanted to read bedtime stories to Matthew, her new stepchild. However, Matthew's natural mother did not read bedtime stories. Matthew enjoyed the bedtime stories so much that his positive feelings caused him to feel disloyal to his natural mother.
It's like saying to yourself, "I shouldn't be liking this so much."
It takes a long time to build up a sense of loyalty; for some children it can take many years. A first-time family grows together and bonds to one another over many years. This close feeling can begin to develop when children are born to parents or adopted at an early age. As the parents comfort and feed the child, the child grows close. Physical care is the primary route to parent-child bonding in the early years.
As the child grows older, however, less physical care is needed. Also, teenage children are forging their own identity, breaking away from the family unit. A 13-year-old's needs for independence can run counter to the needs of a stepfamily.
Find a few activities that allow a close parent/child relationship to develop. If the stepparent and the child share an interest, there is more opportunity. A stepmother and stepson may both like to garden. A stepfather and stepdaughter both may like baseball. This gives opportunities to grow together.
What works with one child may not work with another. If the stepfather who likes baseball also has a stepson who prefers to read science fiction, there may be less opportunity for sharing with this child.
Loyalty and bonding take time. Very loving intentions by stepparents can be rejected. Go slowly and look for activities that develop loyalty.
Family Life Specialist
Iowa State University Extension
Ames, IA 50011