Marilyn Heins: ParenTip of the week: He's trying hard to love his stepdaughter but just can't

2013-03-31T00:00:00Z Marilyn Heins: ParenTip of the week: He's trying hard to love his stepdaughter but just can'tMarilyn Heins Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A recent question of importance: I do not recall being asked this before as a columnist, although when I was in practice occasionally a new mother or father would be greatly troubled about the same issue: I try to but I don't like my child, doctor.

"I've been with my wife for three years. She has a daughter from her previous marriage and they share custody. One big problem! I don't like kids. I always knew this. I feel awkward around children and they make so much noise and mess.

"I have tried so much to love the little girl. I take her to fun places, buy her gifts, and give her a hug once per day. Still, after three years, I feel no fatherly connection or even a love connection. She is not a naughty kid, either."

Some people just don't like children. Children are noisy and messy. They need a lot from the grown-ups responsible for them, and they can demand a lot even from grown-ups who are around them occasionally in a social situation. Most people like children, and I can understand why you feel uncomfortably different. You are concerned that you are not "normal" or that you are lacking something that everyone else seems to have.

Why do most people like children? It's a biological thing: We are wired so that when we see any baby that has the big eyes and cheeks, we recognize a "baby face" (even in other species like puppies or kittens), and we melt. Right after birth, the mother has lots of oxytocin that does two important things. It acts on the uterus to shrink it down so it won't bleed and it makes the mother extra-receptive to the sight and feel of her new baby.

Why don't you feel this way? There could be lots of possible reasons. Maybe you grew up the only or eldest child and were never exposed to babies or young children. Maybe you don't know beans about how to act around little kids. Maybe you are afraid of doing something wrong because you don't understand how children feel or think.

You could get counseling to figure out why you feel this way and should if this is a big concern. But if the checklist of your life adds up to "good" (you and your wife have a solid, loving relationship; you have adult friends you like; you are employed at a satisfying job; you have hobbies and interests outside of work; and you aren't stuck in today but think/dream about your future), perhaps another tack will work.

I don't think it matters why you feel this way. What matters is that you are now a stepfather and want to be a good daddy to this little girl or you would not have written to me.

Some suggestions:

• Give yourself more time. You only see this child part time.

• Shakespeare wrote, "Assume a virtue if you have it not." A "fatherly connection" need not ever be there as you are not her father. A "love connection" may or may not develop. But you can act kindly toward her and be generous with your time and attention.

• Tell her about things you did when you were a little boy. Read to her and take her to the library. Share with her the things you really care about, like hobbies or sports.

• Provide tender care for her safety and well-being when you are with her. Be a role model of a responsible man who loves her mother.

• Give yourself a challenge. Try to learn as much as you can about children the age of your wife's daughter. Delve into child development. Have you ever thought about how a newborn baby becomes a person? It's a fascinating journey that will teach you much about people.

• Be patient, not only with this little girl, but with yourself. My son-in-law was overwhelmed by his twins and reluctant to do much baby care, but he became a great dad when the children grew older. You may find that you prefer taking your stepdaughter to her soccer games and sharing popcorn at movies to pushing her on the swings.

• Do things together with the little girl and her mother. Show the child the affection you have toward her mother. Talk with your wife about how difficult being a stepdad is for you and how much you want to be good at it. And ask for her help.

Dr Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your individual parenting questions. Email info@ParentKids Right.com for a professional, personal and private answer to your questions.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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