Do I love my children equally?

Q. I am 38 and a stepmother of three, as well as a biological mother of two children. They range in age from two to 15 years old. When I was expecting my first child, I was told by my husband’s sister that once I had my “own” child I would need to work hard at loving all my children equally. I think I have failed.

I married my husband when he had been a widower for two years. His wife lost her life to cancer. I was told she struggled valiantly in an effort to beat this devastating disease. My husband deeply mourned his wife’s death until he met me, at which time he began to feel some hope for a healthier and happier future for himself and his children. There was no doubt I was ready for the challenge. I had been a career woman since age 18 and longed to be a wife and mother.

I love my husband, but I have doubts about how good a mother I am for our oldest three children. Sometimes they seem like strangers to me. Especially when they are behaving badly and I wonder whether I can help them through their adolescence and young adult years. When they were younger I would hug and sit with them when they were troubled. Now as they are getting older, I do not hug them nearly as much.

A. In the 1880s, an anthropologist discovered that the Inuit have hundreds of words to describe snow. Maybe we need as many words for “love,” because it is hard to be specific with only one word.

In terms of your struggles, here are a few points to ponder.

Your sister-in-law’s advice is too simplistic for this complex situation. She offered her opinion when you were in a sensitive time of change: newly married, stepmother of three, expecting your first child after being in the career world for quite a few years. I am not surprised you took her suggestion to heart. It shows you are conscientious about your role in your family.

At the same time, having to love them equally means parents have to measure up to a certain criteria. A more helpful suggestion is that you love the essence of your children in terms of who they are as people with specific strengths and weaknesses whether they are your birth, step or adopted children. They are all different and your love for each of them can also be different.

Pray for your children
From what you shared above, it seems you are in touch with yourself and are aware of what you are feeling. Many of us prefer to blame others for our struggles. But in your case, you are simply being honest. This sense of self-awareness can be your major strength.

The idea of your older children seeming like strangers could be about your loss of important bonding time when they were babies and toddlers. As a consequence, there is a sense of mystery to them that is normal considering you came later into their lives. Do not hesitate to pray for insight into your older children’s lives so that you can move towards a sense of peace in this area.

By looking at your children’s range in ages, I believe you are heading into adolescence with the three older ones. I suggest educating yourself in terms of this stage in their lives. Equally important is educating yourself in terms of the trauma they have experienced through the tragic loss of their mother.

An important bottom line for your children is your unconditional love. They need to know you love them even if they are not perfect. Mature and healthy unconditional love is more than a feeling or a decision. It is also an on-going action. Continue to hug them if they are open to it no matter how old they are becoming.

If you continue to feel troubled, feel free to see a therapist who specializes in blended families.

  • Arlene Van Hove is a therapist, a mother of four adult children and a grandmother to an ever-increasing brood of delightful grandchildren. She also belongs to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a subsidiary of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which raises funds for grandmothers who are raising the next generation in countries devastated by the Aids epidemic.As a writer Arlene hopes to provide a comforting voice for all those who struggle with the complexity of life. At the same time, she believes one of the roles of a columnist is to unflinchingly challenge 'the map when it no longer fits the ground.' And while she has less advice for others as she herself is aging, she hopes her columns will encourage her readers to develop questions and answers for themselves that continue to be worth asking and answering in the 21st Century. She is a member of the Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.

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