"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.