QUESTION: I have been married
for six months. My wife has two kids from a previous marriage. We
are currently separated because of the children. I don't have any
kids of my own so I don't have any parenting instincts. Should a marriage
end because of my inability to love my spouses' child?
ANSWER: It is not an "inability to love"
your stepdaughter presently that is problematic to your marriage.
Liking her is enough for now. Instead, reflect on your willingness
to accept a share of the responsibility for her development. In fact,
it is the nature of your ongoing care and commitment to your stepchild's
welfare that creates the potential for feelings of "love" to develop.
Your wife is right to expect and require you to address
the needs of your stepdaughter. After all, you are an adult and you
made the choice to marry a woman with children.
But stop short of any expectation for "instant love"
that you or your wife may foster. Instead, take it slow, and be willing
to develop your parenting skills over time. Your wife has had nine
months of pregnancy and two years of caring for her daughter which
you have not experienced.
You are right to expect and require that "couples"
time be carved out to strengthen and nourish the marriage. A strong
bond, as well as a good relationship between stepparent and stepchild
are the best statistical predictors for success in your marriage.
Start by taking an honest look at your situation.
Are you part of the solution or a part of the problem? For example,
do you initiate responsibility for finding an appropriate baby-sitter
when you want to go out with your wife, or merely complain to her
about not getting out? Do you setup an atmosphere at home for an enjoyable
"date" after your stepdaughter has gone to bed, or do you wait for
your wife to create these opportunities?
Have you developed some shared activities or caretaking
responsibilities that would allow for bonding with your stepdaughter,
such as reading stories regularly, playing with her or comforting
her when she cries? Do you know what developmental tasks your two-year-old
will face in the next six months, or do you expect your wife to consider
and respond to caretaking issues alone?
Ask your wife to discuss and work toward a vision
of family rather than continue this separation. This is your family,
too. Step up to the plate of responsibility as a spouse and as a stepparent.
Then request that your wife do the same.
The most common reason for failure in remarriages
is the lack of knowledge about the normal stages of stepfamily development.
The key to success in your marriage lies in togetherness
and teamwork. Striking a balance between parenting and carving out
couples' time is a dilemma all families with young children face.
Stepfamilies are no exception.