Susan* can’t help but love her daughter more. Yes, she loves her stepsons, too, but she admits that her love for her biological daughter runs deeper. Susan often struggles with feelings of guilt for giving her daughter special treatment. Her husband, Dave, pays a great amount of money to his ex for child support, so Susan spends additional money on her daughter to make sure the score is even. She realizes, however, this may not be the best approach to ensuring that all the kids feel they are treated fairly.
One of the greatest challenges in a blended family is accepting that a preference toward biological children is normal. But how can we show our stepchildren love and fair treatment while staying true to the love we have for our biological children? Here are some ideas:
Refuse to segregate by relationship terms.
Instead of telling others you have two stepsons and a daughter, you could say, “I have two sons and a daughter.” Use words that bring unity within a blended family.
Show equal respect.
If you spend 30 minutes on your biological child’s homework, be prepared to do the same for your stepkids if they ask for help. Always defer to the biological parent if your stepchild does not want your help. Show equal expectations when it comes to chores, bedtimes and mealtimes.
Set equal limits.
Hold family meetings and discuss expectations, rules and consequences. Let each child know that the same guidelines apply to all (with adjustments for various ages, of course).
Consider the emotional makeup of the child when determining consequences. If your biological child needs consequences different from those your stepchildren require, that’s OK. That doesn’t mean you’re showing favoritism. For example, your biological children may tolerate having their cellphones confiscated for breaking a rule, but your stepchildren may feel terrified if their phones have been their primary source of connection during a traumatic divorce.
Allow for reasonable differences.
Don’t feel guilty if you can provide something for your biological child even though his or her stepsiblings don’t have a similar luxury at the other parent’s home. For example, you have primary custody of your biological child who wants a full-size bed. Your stepchildren, who live in a different house most of the time, are happy to sleep in bunk beds when they’re at your house. That’s what they have at the home where they spend most of their time. It’s OK to buy the roomier, more expensive full-size bed for your biological child.
Be open to the truth if you are accused of being unfair.
If you’re accused of treating your biological child better than your stepchildren (favoritism), listen respectfully to their concern. If your stepchildren feel they are more harshly punished when a rule is broken, simply respond with, “I appreciate your taking the time to share your concern with me. Can you give me an example of why you feel this way so that I can better understand?”
Schedule one-on-one time with your biological kids.
If your biological child feels slighted when you pay attention to your stepchildren, discuss strategies that will help him or her feel more loved and included. For example, if your child says he or she would like to watch a movie that the two of you enjoyed before becoming a blended family, schedule time alone to watch the movie while your stepchildren spend time with their biological parent.