They like me….They like me not…The Beautiful Ambivalence of Children

   Funny thing about kids- they can be ambivalent about others in their lives.  Few parents want to hear this.  The ambivalence of children has nothing to do with whether they love their parents (of course they do).  Ambivalence has everything to do with how children see their parents and other significant adults in their lives.

I am writing this to remind all the parents out there who have divorced and because of that divorce are now confronted with the idea (real or only imagined) that another adult, other than the parents, may be involved in raising the children.

I have never been divorced, nor do I have children of my own, so I can not speak to what goes through the minds of parents who are divorcing.  I am sure the myriad of thoughts, projections, feelings, fears, and regrets is quite extensive.  Within that volatile mix, I would hope the idea of another adult entering the picture and the children’s lives does take seed- not necessarily sprout- but lands on fertile ground.

In my own situation as stepparent, I have looked to my husband’s ex- as she has “struggled” with my presence in the children’s lives and I have eloquently thought, “What the f**k did you think may happen when you got divorced?”  It’s as if within the divorce situation a sudden barrier erects to deep thoughts about the future.

A note to parents who divorce:  In all likelihood, one or both of you, will re-marry or have a significant other in your life at some point. Do you think it may be a good idea to have some forethought as to how you may effectively approach this situation – if not for yourself, than at least for your children?  If you are divorcing, are you thinking about how you will handle another adult “parenting” your children?  Odds are, whether you think about it or not, it will happen.

And like most things post-divorce, the ever-popular, “Oh, it will be fine.”, has been shown to be less than effective.

This leads me to the point about children and ambivalence (again, please note, I did not say “love”). Children are ambivalent about their parents in some contexts.  Children are very good at deciding about what they like and do not like.  They can look to their parents and think, “I like Daddy’s sense of fun and I like Mommy’s cooking.”  “I don’t like that Daddy forgets things.  And I don’t like when Mommy is too busy for me.”  Or whatever it may be.  All children see the good and the bad in their parents, and no parent is a perfect fit for every child- and parents know this.

So…. don’t you think this same sense of balanced awareness and ambivalence should extend to the stepparent or other significant adults in the children’s lives? Of course!   My stepkid’s Mom is constantly bringing up the negative things the children say about me (of course they do, because she bonds with them over it), and some of these things are traits the children really do not like about me.  But they deal with it. Just as there are many characteristics of mine that they absolutely love.   The balance is there, the beautiful ambiguity of I like this, but not that…

The next time a biological parent wants to jump on the band wagon of “My children don’t like the new stepmom or stepdad or Dad’s girlfriend” or whatever- please remember they feel just as beautifully ambivalent about you.  Help them maintain that balance.


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