Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Tishrei 5765 - October 13, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

The Unconditional Love of a Mother and Father -- or a Stepmother or Stepfather
by Devorah Saslow Weinberger

"Wait a minute. How dare you compare a mother to a stepmother? I had a stepmother and I resented her. I didn't resent her as a person; she was even quite likable, but I hated what she represented -- a substitute mother. She even wanted me to call her `Ima' and tried to behave as a mother to me. The nerve!"

A look at the title of this article reveals a very perplexing problem. How can we even try to understand the emotions and concepts of what unconditional love actually means? Attempting to be objective on this highly explosive topic is our challenge.

Let's begin with `unconditional love.' Please correct me if I'm wrong, but don't all mothers love their child/ren unconditionally? When a baby cries at night, isn't Mom -- even after a hard day's work -- the one who usually wakes up to care for her child's needs? Who comes running first when a hug or kiss is needed to sooth a wound? A first tooth, step, or report card is most important to whom? Why Mom and Dad, of course.

The ties that bind a child to his mother or father are usually strong and very permanent. As they should be. Hashem made us able to love, respect and completely identify with our parents. We need them as much as they need us. I remember my mother caring for me when I was ill and whispering under breath, "Hashem, please send a refua sheleima to my child. I am prepared to accept suffering and pain in her stead."

That seems to me to be a true model for unconditional love. Even the arguments we had, Mom and I, were always cushioned by the knowledge that my parents wanted only the best for me. My life was formed by my relationship to my parents. "So," we ask. "How can a `stranger' even consider disrupting or simulating that relationship?"

Let's try to determine where a stepmother/father fits into this new family unit -- if s/he can. First of all, in order for this new person to enter the family circle, a drastic change must have occurred. A parent has left. I believe that this tragic event is the basis for most of the misconceptions people have from the point of view of both the parents and the children. Often, the children are not ready to accept the loss of a beloved parent, thereby making it impossible for a new `parent' to enter the private world that is called `their family.'

Whether the reasons for this inability to face reality are valid or not is irrelevant. Very strong feelings of pain, anger, abandonment, jealousy, grief, resentment, guilt, disloyalty and even hatred come to the surface uncontrollably. Any new person will be looked upon as inferior to the lost parent. Memories that were warm and loving may overtake the child and restrain him from feeling anything positive about this new `parent'. I've often wondered where the name `stepparent' comes from. Does it mean `a step' away from the biological parent or a `step' towards him/her? I would like to believe the latter.

How does this new stepparent feel? For the stepmother, how does she act? Is there a script for her to follow? What is considered too much love and attention or too little? Let's focus on the stepmother. She has already made a decision to enter this new family unit. She probably knows that there may be resentment towards her from some of her new stepchildren. She may also understand the loss that they are still experiencing. If so, her being there will be a challenge that she has undertaken and therfore, has agreed to give them her unconditional love.

How can that be? They are not her biological children. There is no bonding relationship -- yet. Unconditional love means the ability to love another without preconditions or expectations of something in return. That indicates that this new `mother' will be there whenever her new children need her. She will cook, clean, wipe noses, kiss wounds and sing to them when required to do so. That, after all, is a mother's job, biologically or not. Yet this job is much more difficult for a stepmother than for a natural mother.

A natural mother doesn't have to overcome a baseless dislike or even hatred. She will not experience possible or frequent outbursts of grief and anger. A stepmother will try her best to give these new children -- her husband's children, all the love and attention that any child deserves. It often seems that the job is more difficult than climbing the highest mountain. And it is. It's like climing the mountain with weights shackled around each foot. Every child who is resentful of her and shows that resentment becomes a weight pulling them both down.

But will Stepmom fall or let the child fall? No. Hashem puts us where He wants us to be and never gives us a test we cannot pass. We must always remember that the Ribono Shel Olom rules the world. No one asks for difficult challenges in life and not everyone wants to be in the position that Hashem puts him. We don't rule our lives and if He placed us into a new family situation, then our job is to fulfill our obligation to the best of our ability.

I believe that stepchildren are super children and I believe that a stepmother is a super mother. When both sides are able to take an unnatural situation and turn it into something real and warm, then an extraordinary bond can develop. My friend introduces her `blended' children as "my natural children and my supernatural children." Unconditional love means loving the other even if it's not natural or comfortable.

Unconditional love means giving even if it's hard to give. By giving, I mean appreciating the other person and making him/her feel loved and cared for. Hashem doesn't ask us who we are before He gives us what we need. We don't need to be a member of a special family of kohanim or hold another pedigree for us to feel His love. He loves the tiniest, most insignificant creation as well as the most important of man. Why can't we, mortal humans but with astounding intelligence, love each other unconditionally?

A stepmother or father should be welcomed into the new family as a part of this unit. If they're not, they should remind themselves over and over again, "`They're not angry at me. I did nothing to provoke ill will. `They' are angry at the situation and because of their loss, and no one can do anything about that except the child himself."

If the child is very young, time will activate a bonding and a new relationship will eventually develop. If the child is older, patience and understanding will eventually relieve his pain and make it bearable. Ahavas achim, sibling or fraternal love, should become the most prized possession of everyone in this blended household.

A family can only become truly blended if Hashem, chessed and love play the leading roles. (This is the second in a series of articles on blended families.)

Devorah Saslow Weinberger is also available for professional psychotherapy and counseling in various areas of life. She welcomes interest in her support groups and may be contacted at 02-6519216 or 056-355982.


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