I thought by now they would love me

A few weeks ago, my elder stepson and I were yelling at one another because of his unwillingness to study Spanish and my unwillingess to understand why he’s content to be mediocre in school.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. He’s struggling with intense loneliness at school, possibly even depression, and he’s always been convinced he’s rubbish at language. Zoom out further and you’ll see a divorced kid that spends 3 days a week with us and the rest of the time with his mom. Shuttling back and forth, week after week — I was there at one point in my life and it sucks. His little brother is on the specturm and despite also not trying very hard at school he is very bright and has been put on a scholarship prep course. He wants to be popular, cool and have a girlfriend. But his peers don’t seem him like that and the girlfriend thing hasn’t happend yet. Being a teenager is horrible.

In the midst of this fight, he reminded me ‘I wasn't his parent.’ This used to be a regular occurrence several years ago but it’s not a charge that’s been thrown at me in at least a year. I’m fairly immune to it. It’s a statement of fact and is no different to when I told my parents ‘I hate you’ or ‘I wish I’d never been born.’ I’ve made a truce with the fact that I’m not his parent. If I was his parent, he wouldn't be who he is — the stepson I love. Step-parenting while often painful has some benefits: I am less emotionally involved in the children and as such I can often offer a fresh perspective. Usually, I play a role of friend-ish confidant to my older step son. I talk to him about feminism, safe sex, and metal health. I teach him how to cook and I make him endless bowls of popcorn. For the most part, he seems to respect me and my opinions and that’s a pretty big achievement for any parental figure with a teenager.

In December, my husband and I will have been married for 4 years which means I have known the children for about 5 years and have lived with with them for 3.5 years and I thought by now they would love me.

Perhaps they do. But when I say ‘I love you’ (usually once a day) to them when saying ‘goodnight’ neither the elder nor the younger one say it back. The younger one used to say it in response. That may have been more automatic than anything or maybe it was real. However, what I do know is I’ve not heard it from him in ages and his older brother has maybe said it once ever and due to mumbling I wasn't even sure I’d heard him right.

They say it freely to my husband. I even tested it the other week. He said ‘I love you’ as he and I were headed out for a run. They chorused ‘I love you too daddu.’ I followed up with, ‘and I also love you boys.’ Silence.

I’m aware much of this is not about me. I am an interloper in their life. Whilst they’ve known me for nearly 5 years, they’ve known their parents for 15 and 12 years. Also, their mother also detests me. Again, more on principle than anything to do with me. In the past, she’s had periods where she’s actively worked to poison the children against me and my husband. Unfortunately, it did work for a time.

I can rationalise all of the reasons they don’t love me yet or perhaps do but don’t want to express it or cannot express it. However, it still makes me feel incredibly isolated. Do I stop saying it to them? Do I stop ‘pushing the boundary’? Maybe, but if I do how will they know how much I do care about them?

It all makes me incredibly sad because I thought by now they would love me.