*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Bonding with a new partner for one of your parents can be challenging since stepparents aren't often seen positively, but what happens when the new spouse is the one who rejects their partner's kids even though they want to look up to them as their parents?
Is it ok to be in love, get married, and then refuse to get close to your stepkids?
My friend Sandra has been married to her husband Paul for nine years. Paul had a daughter from his first marriage, and her mom passed away when she was just a toddler. Since then, Kylie, his daughter, hasn't really had anyone to look up to, and she truly wants to feel she has a mom.
A few weeks after they started dating, Paul introduced Sandra to Kylie, and they seemed to get along just fine, with the little girl showing her dad's new girlfriend her toys and trying to play with her.
"She was a bit annoying even back then, but I put it down to her being curious about me. She hadn't seen me before, so maybe that's why she felt like I wanted to see her toys or play. I didn't; kids are not my thing," Sandra said.
Things went on this way, with Sandra visiting occasionally and Kylie getting excited every time she was around.
His daughter's reaction made Paul think he'd made the right choice and that his family would feel complete again once he made his relationship with Sandra a permanent one.
"Kylie didn't care about any other girlfriend I had before, but with Sandra, she was always laughing and smiling. I took that as an indication that they would be happy to be mother and daughter," Paul said.
He proposed one year after they began dating, and the wedding was set eight months after that,
"Kylie had to be the flower girl despite all my objections. I actually wanted one of my cousins to do that, but she was set on it, so there wasn't anything I could do. I just went along with it for everyone's sake," Sandra said.
Paul did notice that his wife wasn't really warming up to his daughter in a few weeks and that she kept a distance while still talking and playing with her for a few minutes every day.
He was the one preparing her meals and getting her toys, but he was convinced she just needed more time to adjust to her new role as a parent.
"It's not easy to become a stepmom right after you get married. I understood that, and I decided to be patient and let them bond in their own time," Paul said.
As it turns out, years passed, and their family situation is similar to how it started.
Kylie is now in high school. As a teen, she still wants to be close to her stepmom, and she looks to her as a parent.
"I liked her ever since I was little, and she came to our house for the first time. I felt that I could really trust her and that I wanted to be like her one day. Looking so confident, always having the right answer, and always playing sports," Kylie said.
It's not the same for Sandra, though. She's used to being a stepmom by now, but that doesn't mean she enjoys it.
"I don't have anything against Kylie. I think it's great how she asks for my opinion, wants me to guide her, and talks to me about what's going on in her life or with her friends. I'm ok with being a friend, but not a stepmom or a mom. That's just not for me. She is a good kid; I just wish she would understand that and stop trying to turn me into something I'm not. And I don't want to be," Sandra said.
Kylie is still wondering if there is something she didn't do or if she can still change the situation and have a mom by her side, not just a friend like Sandra wants to be.
"I told her I feel she's my mom; she wants nothing to do with me. Not as a mom would. She doesn't really want to give me advice; she listens more than anything and then asks me what I think I should do. I still like her as a mom. I don't get why it's so hard for her to see me as a daughter," Kylie said.
The issue is complicated even more by the fact that Sandra and Paul didn't have any kids together, so she feels like everybody expects her to be a stepmom because she couldn't have her own child.
"It's like people take it for granted that I'll be glad to be a stepmom or have Kylie call me mom because I'm not a mother yet. That's not the case. And even if we don't have kids, I still want to be friends only with Kylie. It may be harsh, but she needs to deal with it," Sandra said.
What do you think about this situation? Should Sandra be more flexible and agree to be a mom for Kylie, or is it ok to keep being a friend if that's the only thing she's comfortable with? Will her marriage be happy if she keeps rejecting her stepdaughter, or could Paul resent that gradually?
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