Father’s Day here in the United States is Sunday,16 June. Some of us will be celebrated and honored. For some of us and painfully so it will be just another day. Your stepchildren may be spending the day with their biological dad. Perhaps they are with you or they are already grown up and living on their own, but the day goes by without an acknowledgement or single word of appreciation. Regardless, of what happens on Father’s Day, I applaud and commend you for your role in your family’s life. Marriage and Family Therapist Karla Downing gives some insights and useful tips on handling those feelings of unappreciation.
This question could easily be, “How should a Dad handle feeling unappreciated?” because men commonly need to be appreciated and struggle at many levels when they are not. However, there is a slightly different twist for a step-dad that has to do with the fact that you are doing so much for children that aren’t yours biologically making the need to be acknowledged at a higher level. You may also find your step-children struggling with acceptance of you as a step-dad which leads to the expression of more negative feelings and naturally increases your need to be positively acknowledged to balance the negative.
The danger of feeling unappreciated is in how you handle those feelings. You can deal with them appropriately and improve relationships or inappropriately and cause damage to the very relationship you are trying so hard to build. Here are some ideas for how you can deal with this issue in a healthy way:
Pay Attention to Your Thoughts
Your thoughts directly affect your emotions. If you nurture and feed your feelings of being unappreciated with thoughts like “Yeah, I do a lot and no one even notices, “ “If I am not acknowledged for what I do, I will stop doing anything for these ungrateful kids,” or “They wouldn’t treat their real dad this way.” If you change your thoughts, you will change your emotions.
Pat Yourself on the Back
A whole lot of life involves taking the high road and doing what is right regardless of what others do in response. You have a choice to do what is right with your step-children whether you are appreciated for it or not. It is great to feel good about your choices. Pat yourself on the back and give yourself all the credit you deserve for everything you do right.
Get a Proper Perspective
No parent is appropriately appreciated. Kids are naturally self-centered. They have a limited perspective about life because they are children. They naturally expect parents to take care of them and don’t offer thanks. When I asked my teenage daughter one time to show me gratitude for all I did for her, she reminded me that she hadn’t asked to be born! When you get a proper perspective, you will not be telling yourself that your step-kids are the only ones that don’t show their thanks and you won’t make it about you being a step-dad.
Be Honest About Your Feelings
I know guys don’t like to talk about their feelings but it really can help. Communicate your feelings to your wife in a healthy way that takes ownership of them rather than blaming her or the kids. Explain that you are having a hard time with this and trying to handle it in a healthy way. And if you want to tell the step-kids, you can. Tell them everyone wants to be thanked once in a while and you’d like to know that they notice your efforts. You might be pleasantly surprised at the response. (Be careful about your expectations with this one especially if your step-child is rebellious or mean.) And don’t forget to ask your wife to show her appreciation too.
Recognize the Difference Between Not Being Appreciated and Disrespected
Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully which simply means they are given proper honor for who they are as a person and for their position. Disrespect is treatment that goes beyond a lack of appreciation and treats you in a condescending contemptuous way that is unacceptable and disregarding of you as an adult in the home. This situation requires boundaries and a different response. The challenge is that you have to be able to distinguish between the child’s emotional struggles with the divorce and remarriage and a choice to be disrespectful to you.
So how should a step-dad handle being unappreciated? He needs to pay attention to his thoughts, pat himself on the back, get a proper perspective, be honest about his feelings, and recognize the difference between not being appreciated and disrespected.
The above post is by Karla Downing, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, author and founder of ChangeMyRelationship. Karla grew up in a dysfunctional family and eventually found herself in a difficult marriage. Through her personal struggles, she discovered biblical and practical principles she now teaches to others to change their lives and relationships. I’m signed up for her free relationship tips and truths and I encourage you to visit her website and sign up for them. Karla contributed an earlier post Reconciling with an Estranged Adult Stepchild.