Conditional Love

Conditional Love

Having negative or even hostile feelings toward a stepmother is not uncommon.  Children who feel misplaced by a second wife can grow resentments that can remain permanently unresolved.  Reactions can range from simmering passive aggression to outright rejection.

As these children grow into adults they may struggle trying to maintain relationships with their fathers, often looking for ways to discount their stepmothers or finding ways to work around her.  This can put the fathers in the difficult position of trying to please both sides, and they can often be heard saying “Can’t we all just get along?”.

Healthy relationships take two, and when one party brings conditions to the table it can be exhausting for the other side to constantly jump through hoops in an attempt to maintain the relationship.  In a situation like this, no, everybody is not going to “get along”.

Fathers who feel the strain on their relationships with their children may be willing to accept bad or dismissive behavior, for fear of losing their children altogether if they object.  This cycle can last a lifetime and become a pattern that everyone tolerates.

One of the things that can send mixed signals is how someone chooses to express their love.   True love is expressed in a number of ways and some of the characteristics of true love can be:

  • Sacrifice – To love someone truly means that at times you will be willing to put their needs above your own.
  • Attention – Love doesn’t forget others. It means putting forth an effort to let the other person know you’re thinking about them.
  • Empathy – When one person truly loves another, they want the best for them. When one hurts, the other hurts for them.
  • Understanding – True love respects the other’s persons right to make choices for themselves.
  • Unconditional – True love accepts the other person without trying to change them.
  • Confidence – True love has confidence in the relationship and has no room for jealousy.
  • Appreciation – True love means appreciating having the other person in your life. The opposite of love if fear, which exhibits itself through hatred, insecurity, greed or jealousy.
  • Mutual Respect – True love means showing consideration for each other, no matter what.
  • Consistency – True love hangs in there, it’s reliable and doesn’t fluctuate.
  • Trust – True love requires a foundation of trust and loyalty.  Where there is trust, there is no fear.
  • Healing – True love heals pain and gives us the strength to forgive for the sake of the relationship.
  • Being Involved – True love doesn’t just appear when someone wants something; it is always present, in good times and in bad

Resentments may stem from disappointments from the divorce, not seeing their father often enough,or blaming him for remarrying.  These can become deeply embedded in their overall view of their fathers.   He’ll never be able to right the wrongs, hence he will always be in a position of trying to repair the relationship.

Grown children often prefer this position.  By having their fathers remain in the guilty seat, they are relieved from the pressure of having to accept his remarriage, his second wife and/or her children.

Grown children who continue to blame their fathers have a much different way of showing their love.  This may be a hot topic for some, as the world’s view is very child-centric.  However, we’re not talking about children.  We’re talking about adults.

The following is one of the most prevalent ways resentful, grown children show their love.  It’s easy, it’s requires no sacrifice, it gives the impression of love while slipping in more divisiveness and can provide fathers with a very short-lived feeling of euphoria, believing that their children really do love them, even if they have a hard time showing it.

  • FIGHT – Grown, resentful children often show their love by proving that they are willing to fight for their fathers.  Typically that fight is aimed squarely at his wife, in an attempt to show dad they care more, are concerned more, have his best interests at heart more than his wife does, that they know better what is best for him.  Maligning conversations happen, when the grown children try desperately to convince their father that he has made a horrible choice and for everyone’s sake, he should leave his wife.  These fights may appear like love on the surface, but they very commonly lack consideration for dad, his choices or his feelings.  Unless there is abuse going on, all of the adults in the family should respect each other’s relationship choices.  Fighting doesn’t equate to love, acceptance does.

Healthy, blended families work through their differences.  Not everyone has to be in love with each other, but everyone has to be united in their goal of having peace. It’s unfortunate for dads who only get tossed a bone every once in a while.  It can be easier for a father to bury his head in the sand and accept the occasional tokens he receives from his grown children, even if they come in the form of attacking his wife.  It’s better than nothing, right?  Better to smile and take it, rather than speak up and risk being alienated from their children and possibly their grandchildren.

However, fathers who accept this show of “love” can take steps to curb this behavior.  First and foremost, husbands do not need to engage in every topic presented to them, particularly if involves criticizing their wives.  By participating in these conversations, it can lead to a breakdown in trust within their marriages.  The grown children hopefully won’t vanish, simply because dad chooses not to listen to accusations about his spouse.

Stepmothers have a fine line to walk when they live in this situation.  The occasional accusations she learns about may put her on edge and make her leery to be around her stepchildren.  If she mentions it to her husband, she risks putting him on the defense and giving him the opportunity to feel like a good dad for protecting his children.  If she speaks directly to her stepchildren, she can easily provoke a war which could further damage her marriage.  Her best option may also be to smile and nod… or disengage.

Sadly, a lack of communication is a very common contributor to this dysfunctional scenario.  Everyone involved winds up having hard feelings that go unspoken. Without trust, individuals keep their distance from each other and family ties erode.

Parents screw up.  We all do.  And there are an endless supply of articles defining how we do it.  It’s not easy being a parent, and it’s particularly challenging to be a divorced parent.  However, when everyone in a family are adults, the old adage applies:  It takes two to have a relationship.

We have an unfortunate climate today of self-centered young people.  Today’s youth have had challenges, as have we all.  What’s missing from this generation is accountability and selflessness.  Nobody is asking them to fawn over their stepmothers, but all too often today’s youth would rather dispose of their fathers than make any effort, other than the occasional FIGHT.

Fight does not equal love, for anybody.

If you relate to this situation please comment below.  We help each other by talking it out.





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