I don’t “love” my stepdaughter

My fiancé’s daughter has been in my life for three years, but I don’t feel that I love her yet. Is this wrong?

Don’t be so hard on yourself, says our elder. You look after her and would do anything for her — isn’t that love?

Dear EWC

I want to start by saying I didn’t even realize pages like this existed. This could’ve been more helpful during my HS year of “coming out the closet” but anyhow, thank you for the advice you’re about to give me! This is my dilemma. I’m engaged to a wonderful female; we’ve been in a relationship since 2016. She has a ten-year-old child, and I’ve been in her life consistently since she was seven. Is it wrong that I don’t love her yet? I really like the child and would do anything for her, and I play that extra mother role in her life, but when I see on the internet that motherly love feeling and bond between mother and child, I don’t feel that with my fiancé’s child. Is that bad? Should I tell my fiancé this? I feel bad because we all live together and for the past two years or so every day I’ve told her I love her before she sleeps, when I drop her off at school, and at random times. I feel like I should actually love, not just like, her by now but I don’t.

Folk replies

I think you are expecting too much of yourself. You have been a second mother to this child since she was seven. You take her to school, listen to her problems, and are there for her whenever she needs you. Most importantly of all, you say you would gladly do anything for her. In my opinion, all of this means that you already do love her. The reason you think you don’t is that you don’t feel the special connection with her that you read about on the internet. But the reason you haven’t developed this special maternal connection isn’t that you don’t love the child; the reason is that you are not her biological mother. Because human babies are born so helpless, they need a lot of care for a long time. In order to make sure that their mothers supply this care, Nature floods mother-to-be with powerful hormones to help them to bond with their young. Since you did not carry your daughter in your womb for nine months and were not responsible for her when she was a tiny infant, you did not benefit from this hormone surge to help you “fall in love.”

That said, you fell in love with your daughter anyway. Maybe not as powerfully and as blindly as your fiancé did — but this could be a very good thing. The maternal bond can sometimes blind biological mothers to the shortcomings of their children. When this happens, it is good for a child to have at least one parent who is not blinded by love and who can see him or hear clearly.

Look at it this way: Three years ago, you and your daughter were virtual strangers to one another. Now, you would do anything for her. In other words, your feelings for her have grown deeper over time — and they will continue to get even deeper as more time passes, and you and she share more memories and experiences together. For this reason, I suggest that you not say anything to your fiancé about the way you feel about the child. It would just make her feel bad and add stress to your relationship. Love, after all, is a process, not an event. And there are many kinds of love, not just one.

My advice to you is to be patient with yourself. Don’t have high, unrealistic expectations for yourself about how you should feel. Take time to let your relationship with your daughter develop naturally. It may surprise you by ending up somewhere way better than you could ever have imagined it would.

Letter #: 449845
Category: Family

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