A friend of mine and I were confiding in each other about what is apparently a bit of a taboo subject.  We were discussing the ever-so-subtle differences in the love we feel for our children and the love we feel for our stepchildren or adopted children.  We are blessed to have both kinds of relationships in our families.

She and I lowered our voices, as if we weren’t supposed to feel differences.  We agreed that some other stepparents and adoptive parents don’t recognize any differences or won’t admit to such distinctions.

But I believe in honesty, and I can’t be honest with myself if I don’t examine what I feel.  So what kind of love do I feel for my stepchildren?

Let me first say that it is not a better or worse kind of distinction.  It is simply different.  I have no doubt that I care for Brit and Ian deeply.  With my daughter, however, I also feel a deep and constant two-way mirroring, me to her and her back to me.  I can sense the power of our genetics down to the core of my soul.  (And thus I will likely have a heck of a time when this eight-year-old separates from me down the road).

One way to look at this puzzle is through the descriptions of author C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves.  I’m treading on somewhat shaky ground here in that I’ve only heard a summary of the book as opposed to actually reading the book myself.  But with the help of a great teacher and internet resources, I believe I can accurately portray the four loves:  Affection, friendship, romantic love, and charity or unconditional love.

Affection (in Greek, storge, pronounced store-gay) is fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves gathered together by chance.

Friendship (in Greek, philia) is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity; stronger than mere companionship.  Lewis says that friendship is the least natural of loves in that it is not biologically necessary to the natural act of creating, raising, and providing for children.

Romantic love (in Greek, Eros) is the feeling of being in love.  The biggest danger with eros is elevating it to be the status of a god, as happens with blind devotion.

Caritas or Charity (in Greek, Agape) is an unconditional love directed toward one’s neighbor; one that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance.  Devoting time and resources toward helping hurricane or tornado victims is an example of agape. Providing for our children is another example.  Lewis cautions us to check that we do not flaunt — and thereby warp — this love.

We can eliminate romantic love with regard to children, in that eros only factors into their creation and not the day-to-day relationships.  That leaves affection, friendship, and charity.

I can point to examples of all three kinds of love in my relationships with all of my children, step or non-step.  But I think that since I had little to no familiarity with my stepchildren before I joined the family, my affection grew over a longer period of time.  Overall, I feel as though my actions with my stepchildren are sometimes driven more from the place of charity than from the place of either affection or friendship.  We just have a little less in common than I do with my daughter.

I know from my research for Stepparenting the Grieving Child that each new family relationship — whether a stepfamily bond, foster bond, adoptive bond, etc. — should be treated fresh from the start.  There is no universal way that these loves could or should be, so the relationships need not be loaded with expectations.  Whatever kind of love grows from your bonds is a gift and a blessing to both parties.

I would love to hear your insights on this topic!  Please comment in the box below.

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent located in Northern Colorado.  For more information on her stepparenting book, go to www.dianefromme.com.




Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply