My fiancé and I have been together almost 3 years, in which my step daughter and I have always got along and always said I love you. She is 8 ( almost 9 ) and is going through a phase where she is unsure about how she feels and what it means to ‘miss’ someone. However last night she pretty well broke my heart when she didn’t reply “i love you” back.
This has never happened. I of course hurt and sad about this looked to my fiancé for support, he in turn asked her to come in where she continued to show she was unsure. I refused to force her to say it and told her it was fine and to go back to her room to settle for bed. My fiancé is worried this will cause a rift between are fairly close relationship. I of course am hurt and had probably one of the worst sleeps of my life.
How can i continue on and of course love her, but help her to see that she does love me too without pushing her or forcing her into it…. I’m worried I’ll stop treating her like I normally do (which sometimes includes redirection) to try and ‘earn’ back her love.
My fiancé says its just a phase and of course she loves me…
However it wasn’t him she refuses to say it to.
Please give me some advice and a new perspective,
Hi Sarah, What you are describing is a hard part of being a loving Stepmom. I’m so sorry for the sadness you’re feeling. The good news is that there are ways you can both benefit from what’s happening. Let me offer you some ideas to help you find a new way to look at what’s happening and see if anything makes sense for you.
Over the past 19 years, I’m become convinced that everything that stresses us as Stepmoms can be traced back to something within us that needs our loving, wise, kind attention. If we look at your situation, you’ve created a very loving connection with your stepdaughter and now…as she is growing up and becoming more aware of her own feelings, she’s beginning to assert her sense of Self (with a capital S). This is a good thing, right? You want her to become an empowered young girl and woman, right? RIGHT! However, this goal can tug at some of our unhealed emotional wounds too.
Sadly, this is the phase where most children are manipulated, dominated and controlled (usually by fear but sometimes via bribery) to stay in line with whatever the parents want and believe the child should do, think, feel, say, etc. This is the phase where children are denied their rights and they develop more survival tactics because they see no other option. To me, the fact that your stepdaughter is feeling safe enough to express herself and her doubts is a testament to how much she’s feeling loved and safe enough to express herself. You and her father are creating a free space for her to become the person she truly came here to be. This is a tremendous gift to her…and you if you choose to embrace these situations as mutually beneficial learning opportunities.
Here are a few questions to ponder:
1. Can you trust the love you two have shared and consciously with an empowered choice, step into the Mother bear mode, feeling proud of her independent spirit, knowing that you had something to do with this burgeoning wisdom?
2. When you were a child, did you have the freedom to express yourself, disagree with the adults in your life, take a contrary stance, divert from the expectations of those in power? Is it possible that some of your hurt and angry feelings are bubbling up because you’re witnessing her have freedoms you didn’t have?
By the way: If this feels true for you, please know this is a very common and powerful thing to realize. Why? Because once we’re conscious of our feelings we can work with them. When unconscious, we’re more likely to lash out, react in ways that are not wise, nor adult.
3. As the wise awake adult woman, can you love her without needing her to love you back, in the specific way YOU need her to right now? Whenever we NEED someone to do something that is originally valued as a freely offered gift, it’s an indication of our neediness. It’s a “giving to get back” dynamic that is common but isn’t as healthy as we might like.
You say you don’t want to force her to say it (I agree 100%) and yet part of you feels angry at her and questions your ability to love her unless she loves you the way you want her to. Can you feel that internal struggle? It’s like part of you feels betrayed that you are doing your part and she SHOULD do hers. Can you feel that part of you?
4. The dynamic above could give you the chance to differentiate your feelings. I call these parts the 1. Awake Wise adult us and 2. the Child we used to be. Both have feelings that will be tangled until we wake up to their intertwined existence within us. As soon as we intend to separate the two within you, we can usually feel the child we used to be feeling hurt? maybe rejected? angry? betrayed? These feelings are very real energetic emotions. It’s so very important to honor these feelings without any judgment and with huge doses of loving, empathic compassion.
5. Can you try doing this? If you’re willing, close your eyes and imagine that the 8-9 year old you is sitting beside you, maybe on your lap, telling you how she feels about this situation. If you can get a picture of that you, it can be helpful in the imagined conversation. Listen to the feelings that come up. It can be amazing how many thoughts, memories and feelings come up thru our imagination.
Whatever comes to you, please honor them as you would if your most beloved child shared them with you and acknowledge all her feelings. This is something that most of us never got so it can be very emotional and healing and freeing…yes all at once.
6. What if you decided to practice unconditional lovingkindness with her in a new way? I’m guessing you have been fantastic to her over the years and I bet you’re ready for a new level of love. It will feel so much better than how you are feeling now. If you’re willing, this would mean practicing the art of loving her for the pure joy of it, without needing anything from her. I liken it to St. Francis’ approach to giving.
Encouraging her to examine her feelings while you stand by loving her, maybe from a distance instead of beside her can be an amazing experience. Doing this is an awake, wise adult is a priceless gift for her. AND…it gives you a chance to reflect upon how you may be draining her (not intentionally) with your needs. Again, not bad or wrong, just unconscious until now and now conscious. Once we realize new things about ourselves, we can “Recognize, acknowledge, FORGIVE ourselves and Change our approach. Can you try that and see how it feels? Can you give the child you used to be some loving attention in the space created by your stepdaughter’s process?
Now, regarding your Stepdaughter and this “phase”. Another possible issue for her is that she’s feeling pressured by her bio-mom in some overt or covert way. Is there any chance that her bio-mom is impacting her in any way that is making her feel disloyal loving both of you? This is very common and you will find lots of compassion and camaradier from the members of SMOMS.org about this one. If her bio-mom has passed away, could she be feeling guilt for loving you so much and/or feeling guilty for forgetting her in any way?
As the stepkids get older, they begin to become more and more aware of the pressures from the adults around them. I’m quite sure she would feel the withdrawal/anger from you if you choose to “punish” her for her feelings. I know punish is a strong word so let me elaborate. As the Stepmom, you are wiser, more aware and more skilled than she is. When we love a child we’ve cared for as a little one, whether they are born or inherited, we’re going to be hooked by their actions because we have opened our hearts at a deep level. For whatever reason, the words, “I love you” have big meaning for you. That’s noteworthy and important for you to honor about yourself. How many times have you said “I love you” …to yourself?
It makes perfect sense that you would have a reaction when a regular loving important behavior changes. The expression of love via words is important to you (me too). However as the wise, awake women you are, YOU have the ability to decide how to respond to her decision to not do that at this time. You can help yourself in many ways besides trying to get her to keep doing it. You can become aware of many choices to help yourself…like writing to me about it.
Withdrawing your love from her because she is expressing herself is an understandable reaction but it’s not the only one and I’m guessing you would agree that it doesn’t feel like a very loving nor wise choice. It’s more than likely an unconscious attempt to get her to change via hurting her. Again, not bad or wrong, very human.
So now you have the conscious opportunity to decide if that’s the choice you would like to make. Is this the kind of Stepmom you want to be? She is 8 and still has a baby brain. It sounds like she is smart.
I look at us Stepmoms on a mission as if we are the Merlins to all these Stepkids. When we do our personal emotional work, we are becoming wiser and therefore even more able to help these stepkids (stepkids) in ways their parents aren’t able to. How would it feel to step into the magical Merlin role? How would it feel to take the feelings that have been kicked up and handle them yourself, instead of trying to get her to assuage them? Remember she is looking to you to be the awake wise role model of an empowered woman in her life, whether she is conscious of that or not. She is aware of your reaction to her choices and is looking to you to show her what it means to love another.
So, as you can see, you have many choices to consider. Can you take responsibility for helping yourself with the feelings of hurt, sadness that come up for you with her choices?
Can you love yourself enough, trust your loving relationship enough, to give her to wise, loving encouragement to explore and determine her own feelings?
Hang in there. I know this can be very hard. I also know that being a Stepmom gives us a chance to heal and grow when we are willing to look at it this way.
May there by something here to support your journey and ease your suffering. Kind Regards, Cathryn
Copyrighted 2016 Cathryn Bond Doyle
NOTE: There are many more articles about this work on the member site. You can becoming a Guest member for free for 30-days to check them out and see if becoming a Stepmom on a Mission is a good fit for you.