“I Only Like One Stepchild” writes:
I have been a step mom for almost 6 years now and I have two stepdaughters. We’ll call them X and O. X is the older of the two and hands down my least favorite. When I started dating their father she was a very difficult child and he had low tolerance for her. I didn’t know much about children and for the most part I didn’t find them difficult. But X was difficult at the very least and the more I was around her, the more I saw why her father was easily frustrated. Then there’s O who was born with a happy disposition. She was a lovely child and as she got older, I became closer to her.
It’s apparent that O is my favorite which doesn’t sit well with the grandparents. But how can she not be? While X spit at other children, threw rocks at them, stole and nearly sent the pregnant kindergarten teacher into a nervous breakdown, O’s only issue was kissing boys and refusing to participate in gym class because it made her arms hot.
I’m not confrontational and having to discipline X is headache-inducing. I don’t want to do it. I honestly don’t think I’ll stop favoring O over X. She’s a great child and if I were to have a daughter I would want her to be like O. The way I look at this situation is: parents have favorites no matter what they say. If they were my biological children I would favor the one who’s easiest and most similar to me.
Now, how do I resolve this with the grandparents?
Look, I can see why you’d write in. I am big on self acceptance, and here I wrote a whole post telling a guilty mom not to beat herself up over having a secret favorite. But a mom who feels guilty about preferring one kid to the other, is likely already trying to compensate for her preferences. You, on the other hand, are just a bit too self-accepting. It is not X’s fault that she’s a difficult kid. She is not trying to be that way. Her brain is wired differently than O’s. You say yourself that O was born with a happy disposition. How is it X’s fault that she wasn’t? Does she deserve a stepmom who prefers her sister so overtly that the grandparents notice?
In the article I previously linked you to, I said:
4. Make sure you seek therapy for yourself if you recognize that you are overtly behaving like you like one child better. It is likely that the unpreferred child is triggering unresolved issues from your own childhood and past. Here is a quick test: if your kid has screamed at you more than once per week that you prefer his sibling, why not just make the therapy appointment? It can’t hurt, and one day you can tell your child that you did this to be a better mom to him.
You need to immediately seek counseling to explore your background. Were you the preferred child? Was a sibling? There is something in your personal history that is rendering you incapable of realizing what a toxic situation you’re creating here. I understand that one kid is difficult and one isn’t. But, that is your cross to bear. You signed up to be a stepmother. Your favoritism is not something to “help the grandparents understand.” You yourself must gain the perspective to understand how immaturely you are acting here. Having a secret favorite is one thing; openly preferring one kid is another.
You cannot continue to obviously and flagrantly act like you like O better. Not only are you harming X, whose self esteem is already low because other people outside the home likely also like her less than they like X, but you’re also harming O. O, if she’s as awesome as you think, will likely be consumed with guilt in later life over how she was the preferred stepchild. Or else, she will distance herself from X and take your persona on, and tell X how much she sucks all the time. Often, the preferred child expresses the unspoken desires/preferences of the family, so O may in later life act even worse to X than you do. Additionally, you’re messing up the relationship between X and O. There is no way for them to feel like equals as siblings if they are not treated as equals. Don’t forget that you are going to mess up your husband’s relationship with his kids by overtly preferring one. Either he will side with you against his own kid, which will hurt her tremendously and irreparably, or the family will be split, with you, him, and O against X. Either way, in later therapy, X will ask, “Why did Dad let her treat me like that?”
Speaking of which, I think it’s sad and strange that your husband hasn’t brought up your obvious favoritism. He’s falling down on the job as a dad if he lets you overtly prefer one to the other, so much that even the grandparents notice. I can see how he would empathize with your thoughts and feelings, since you can’t help them, but if you prefer one kid so obviously that others notice, we are talking about behavior here, and that’s something you need to change. Maybe your husband is passive or scared to rock the boat, and he is relying on his parents to bring this issue up with you. You need to talk with him about what he has noticed and how he feels about your treatment of X versus O.
After scheduling therapy, start spending a lot of special time with X. I don’t care how annoying she is. I recommended the same to this woman. Write a list of the ten best things about X. Visualize X as your biological kid and then you died and some new stepmom was treating her poorly. Do whatever you need to do in order to drum up some empathy for X, which is sorely lacking. If you are doing anything passive aggressive, like rolling your eyes about X’s behavior when O can observe you, or telling people that X is “difficult” and sighing loudly, STOP NOW. Oh, and as for discipline, that’s your husband’s job right now while you change your attitude. Your job is to have positive, warm, and loving encounters with X. No discipline; I hereby decree it and if your husband has a problem with that then ask him to read this article. It would be better for him to work a second job and hire a full time nanny than it is to leave these kids with you where your favoritism can mess them up emotionally.
To recap, you need to start viewing X as lovable and good in her heart. You can really mess her up if you don’t. Own and acknowledge your power here. You can make or break this kid’s self image. Some people’s stepmothers are sources of love and support. Some people’s stepmothers are the cause of many later psychological issues. Step up to the plate, put your personal preferences aside, and make it your job to treat this kid like you love her. Hopefully, one day, through faking it till you make it coupled with intensive therapy, you will love her as she deserves.
You can change your attitude. You can be a person you are proud of instead of someone who covers over morally wrong behavior with bravado about how self-accepting you are and funny stories about how X sucks and how the grandparents have to get with the program. (The program here, of course, is watching their kid’s new wife treat their grandchild badly. Kudos to them for stepping up.) If you still want to resolve anything with the grandparents, I would say you should write them a lovely card thanking them for bringing your behavior to your attention so that you can work on it. Maybe also flowers. And ask your husband if he never noticed your overt favoritism or if he was just ignoring it. He ought to schedule some special time with X himself, by the way.
Thank you for writing in. Since you picked me to write to, I am hoping you appreciate the tough love, or you will after a few rereadings. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says You Can Accept Your Thoughts and Feelings, But Don’t Accept Your Crappy Behavior.
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