How to Stop the "Love Competition" in Your Stepfamily
Blended family life is a big competition!
We compete with the Ex, secretly hoping our kids will see things our way. We compete with our partner over who's going to be more fun for the kids to be around. Or sometimes we're stuck in the middle of a competition between our partner and our kids.
Eventually, everyone in a step-family feels like they're competing for love from someone. At some point, we all need to STOP the competition!
The Mindset Shift
When Annika (my step-daughter) was 7 years old, Kim was pregnant with our first "ours" baby. It was an exciting time! We had recently moved into a fixer upper and had lots of projects going on around the house. We had Annika 50% of the time and at that point in our story, Kim was parenting peacefully with her Ex - we had very little drama then.
We had already been married for two years. Annika and I were growing closer and she was always tagging along helping me with a project here and there. On one particular Saturday, she was helping me install some new flooring in our sunroom and we were having a great time.
In the midst of our conversation, she started wondering what we might name the baby. We hadn't found out the gender and were purposely wanting to be surprised. She and I came up with all kinds of silly names and were having a great laugh.
As we talked, I started to wonder what it was going to be like for her - and for me - when the new baby arrived. My love for Annika was growing, but I began worrying that this new child…a child who I was biologically connected to would eclipse that love. I didn't want Annika to feel "less than". I didn't want to lose ground on the bond we were building. I was afraid.
As we talked and laughed, I realized that I was worried about who would "win" my heart. But suddenly, I realized this isn't a competition!
It's so easy for all of us to get stuck in "better or worse", "less or more" thinking - even when it comes to love in our stepfamilies. And it struck me that at some point, Annika might be worried about some of the same things.
So, I asked her, "Honey, how are you feeling about the baby coming?". I don't remember her exact answer, but essentially she was excited. I assured her that I was excited too, and then I went on to reassure her how much I loved her.
Then it struck me - Annika was already dealing with the "love competition", so I asked her about it. I said, "So, kiddo - now you kinda have two dad's right?"
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"Yeah", she replied.
"And I've noticed that you tell me that you love me, but I wonder if that love feels a little different for your dad than it does for me."
"Um…yeah, I guess so", she said, seeming to feel a little uncomfortable.
"Honey, that's okay. It should feel a little different. But different doesn't mean more or less, and different doesn't mean better or worse. It's just - different. Does that make sense?", I asked her.
She thought about that for a minute, and I still remember the look of realization that came over her face as she smiled and said, "Yeah, it's just different!"
Then I took us back to talking about the baby and said, "You know, that's kinda like what might happen when the baby comes. My love for the baby might feel a little different than you and me, but it's not going to be more or less or better or worse - it will just be different."
"Yeah, it's just different!", she repeated.
We kept installing the flooring and talking about the baby, but the worries I was having just melted away. And I can honestly say that 15 years later, they never came back.
It's been a blessing and a privilege to love my step-daughter and both my bio-kids over the years in different ways - but never more or less, better or worse. And it was that day, hanging out with my little 7-year old step-daughter that triggered my "different" mindset that has allowed me to do that for the past 15 years.
Now It’s Your Turn
If you're trapped in "better or worse", "less or more" thinking, you're keeping yourself stuck in a competition that really can't be won. End the competition and change your mindset - focus on "different" instead and that might just change everything.
And one last thing…in your current relationship with a step-child or bio-child it may not work to have this kind of conversation. The BIG idea here is not about the conversation - it's all about your thinking.
If you need some support or ideas sorting out these thoughts or planning for a conversation, we're here to help. Leave a comment or question below…or you can email me directly.
I know you love your kids and your step-kids…and it's okay that your love for each of them is different!
QUESTION: How can you begin to change your mindset to think "different"? Leave a comment below…