THE BLOG
04/15/2013 12:08 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

Why Nurturing A Stepchild Can Be Difficult

Stepmoms, do you find yourself up against a mental block when it comes to cleaning up after your stepchild or nurturing her? Many stepmoms will gladly make their husband an afternoon snack or pick up his socks, but when they see their stepchild's dirty dishes stacking up, or when they're asked to make them a special snack, they experience a triggered reaction that feels something like "What am I, her maid?"

If this sounds like you, then you might also feel shame about this automatic resistance, thinking "How can I be so nurturing with my husband but then feel a complete block with my stepchild?"

It may all come down to reciprocity -- or a lack of.

One definition of reciprocity is, "The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit."

Did you catch the phrase mutual benefit?

If you're in a happy, healthy relationship, then you know that reciprocity is vital. You're happy nurturing your husband because he may support you emotionally, provide a good home, make you laugh, fix things, etc. Maybe he's the one staying home with the kids while you're working. Whatever the situation may be, reciprocity is at play.

But this is often missing from the relationship between stepmom and stepchild, simply because that's the nature of a child-adult relationship. Even though we know intellectually that we can't expect a "mutually beneficial" relationship with a child, that knowledge doesn't make it any easier for stepmoms to feel like we're giving our all and receiving nothing in return. Many stepmoms don't even receive a "please" or "thank you" from their stepchild.

Now, a parent might say, "So what? As parents we don't receive a please or thank you either." The difference is that the child is an extension of his or her parent, thereby making it easier for a parent to give selflessly.

And although it's often said that parenting is a thankless job, I would argue that parents do receive something -- love. Unconditional love and a biological bond that can't be broken. Granted, they don't receive these things because they do things for their children, but they still receive them. It's sort of like an unintentional reciprocity.

This is why basic manners, such as a "please and thank you", from a stepchild can mean the world to a stepmom. It can make the difference between feeling resentful and feeling good about helping.

What to do?

  • Let your husband and your stepchild (if age appropriate) know how far the words "please" and "thank you" would go. Request to incorporate these manners into your house rules.
  • Adjust your expectations: don't always expect appreciation from your stepchild, but do expect it from your partner. Let him know that you need him to acknowledge your efforts with his child -- frequently.
  • Have compassion for yourself. You're not evil and there's nothing wrong with you. This is just one of those challenges that come with being a stepmom.
  • Try to look at nurturing as an investment. Even if your stepchild has two involved parents, your influence will still help shape the person he or she will become. And when he is an adult, he will likely look back and be thankful that you treated him with such kindness.
  • Ask your partner to step up in the parenting department so you can step back. The best parenting books all say, "don't do for kids what they can do for themselves." Wouldn't it be nice if the parents took that advice to heart, so every once in a while you got to spoil your stepchild without feeling like she's missing out on some life lesson or that you're going to ruin her chances of becoming a responsible adult?

Read more from Jenna at www.stepmomhelp.com