When Your Expectations Change the Way You See Your Stepkids

A teenage boy sits on a couch with his lecturing mother. Focus is on the boy as he looks away as if trying to ignore her.
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When I remarried after my first husband's death, I became the stepmom of a 14-year-old boy. After spending so much time together in the car the first year, we had a pretty good relationship. Seth told me about his crushes, and I asked him about my outfits. (I didn't want to look unhip.)

I thought I was a pretty great stepmom, but when Mother's Day came, I didn't expect much, maybe a homemade card. Nope. For my birthday? Nope. Deep inside, I hoped his high school graduation day would be like a Hallmark movie, complete with a hug and "Thank you for being here for me." But that didn't happen, either. My husband was willing to demand that my stepson acknowledge me, but what good is a thank-you that isn't sincere?

Don't get me wrong. Seth was always friendly and respectful. Still is. I didn't want to force my way in while he was grieving the loss of his mother to cancer — and his father to a new family. I just wanted to hear that he thought I was a good stepmom.

Then the explosion came. Seth was home from college. I hadn't heard from him in weeks, even though I made several contact attempts. So, when he asked for money, I screamed (yes, screamed), "I texted and you didn't text back! I sent you gifts and you said nothing! I am not a human ATM machine!" I stomped out, bursting into tears. That was not a good stepmom day.

I found out later that Seth was ignoring everyone. It wasn't personal.

Something inside us wants to know our sacrifices are acknowledged. But could our desire to receive explicit appreciation keep us from seeing the discreet signs of acceptance? Here are four thoughts to keep you motivated even when you don't get direct credit:

Gratitude isn't always explicit.

The first time I overheard Seth say to one of my kids, "Mom said ...," I thought, He called me Mom! And I felt accepted as part of his family. Sometimes he took my advice or gave me a hug. A friend once confided that Seth was proud his stepmom was a writer. Those little actions were evidence that Seth appreciated me, even if he had trouble saying it.

Love shouldn't require anything in return.

We can't call our love "sacrificial" if we expect compensation. God loved us long before we loved Him or even acknowledged His great sacrifice for us. Just as He loves us, we should love our stepchildren even when it's not returned (John 13:34).

We are storing treasures in heaven.

Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father" (Matthew 6:1). When we do work without receiving credit, God gives us our reward. He knows our desire to raise stepchildren of godly character and loving dispositions. And that does not go unseen.

Maturity makes a difference.

I wholeheartedly believe one day I will hear the words I long to hear. A friend recently told me that her grown stepson — the one she had always clashed with — sent an unexpected letter. He called her Mom and praised her for all the things she thought he never noticed. Stepkids are kids, after all. And when they mature, they begin to see things differently. It just takes time. Love like God loves. And keep the long view in mind.

Sabrina Beasley McDonald is the author of Write God In: Journal your way to a deeper faith.
This article first appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "The Unappreciated Stepmom." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2019 by Sabrina Beasley McDonald. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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