Relationship Connection: My kids refuse to acknowledge stepfather on his birthday

Question

My first husband and I divorced many years ago while our children were still in the home. He left our family to be with another woman. Our children did their best to maintain a relationship with him through the years, however painful and frustrating it was to them at times, until his death in the past year.

I have been married to a really good man for 17 years who has been a father figure throughout their lives. He was always present at their games when their father wasn’t, provided for them and has been a grandfather to their children.

My children are now grown and good people, but most of them make no effort to recognize my husband on Father’s Day and his birthday, which comes soon after. It hurts me and makes me angry. I have asked them about it and, until this year, reminded them about both days.

One son said he doesn’t like me putting pressure on him to send a card. Others have said they just don’t send cards. A couple will send a Facebook message, others may call and others say they just can’t keep up with birthdays.

I keep up with everyone’s birthdays and spouses’ birthdays with cards and gifts, as well as, right now, over 20 grandchildren’s birthdays, plus Christmas presents and treats for other holidays. Am I asking too much for them to remember their stepfather twice a year?

In my worst moments, I want to threaten to not send a gift to the spouses of those children who forget my husband. But we are a family who usually gets along beautifully. I just don’t understand why they won’t do this.

This year I didn’t mention Father’s Day, and only one sent a card and gift, one sent a Facebook message and one said Happy Father’s Day on Skype.

Am I being unreasonable? My husband doesn’t mention being ignored, so should it bother me? Why are my otherwise good, kind children so inconsiderate? Is there anything I can do? They know how I feel and it doesn’t seem to matter.

Answer

I agree that your husband is a good man. Any man who can step in and become involved in the lives of wounded and betrayed children has a huge and unselfish heart. You can see how much he’s done for your children, especially in contrast to their own father who left them with a fragmented family. I can see how much it must hurt you to see them fail to recognize him on his special days.

What’s important to remember, however, is that the same selfless character traits that have driven your husband to be there for his stepchildren without thought of reward are the same character traits that allow him to continue to be there for them without any recognition. Even though he may notice and be bothered by their lack of thoughtfulness on Father’s Day or his birthday, he has the grace and dignity to not make a huge deal about it. This speaks volumes about his character.

I can imagine how much it hurts you to see your own children be so indifferent toward the man who was hardly indifferent to their plight when their own father abandoned them. You hold the history in your heart and you can see how much they needed their stepfather, even when they couldn’t.

You’ve said your piece to your children and they know how you feel. I encourage you to let your children grow up and gain perspective as they raise their own families. It takes time for all us to understand exactly what our parents do for us.

I think this is a great opportunity for you to take all of these feelings of gratitude and love for him and make his special days true celebrations of his life. He’ll probably play down the attention, but you can let him know (and anyone else who happens to be there) how important he is to you and your family. You don’t need your children to be in charge of this. You can celebrate him with all of your love and gratitude.

My guess is that they will eventually see what he’s done for you and them. In the meantime, continue showing him and them what he means to this family. Your energy and frustration toward your children doesn’t have to contaminate his special days. He doesn’t fret about it, and neither should you. There is plenty for you to celebrate on your own.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • ladybugavenger July 1, 2015 at 8:51 am

    If this is the biggest problem you have with your kids then count yourself blessed. Chill out. Relax. Enjoy.

  • anybody home July 1, 2015 at 9:51 am

    If your kids get along with him and still have contact even though grown, that’s plenty. Daughters are sometimes better about cards than sons, but the habit of card-giving hasn’t really taken with younger generations. In my family, I solved it this way – I send cards and sign them from me “and the family” or sometimes include the names of the kids with mine. I agree with LBA…ease up, mom. Dad seems like a happy guy without expectations for recognition. Count your lucky stars.

  • htown July 1, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Step -Dad is a good man, only mom knows all the crap and innuendo he has put up with over the years. Of course it bugs him, and it eats at him to some degree. He is trying to be the better person because that is his nature. He signed up for this blended family.

    Mom knows the sacrifices that he has made with time, emotion and dollars for those kids. I’m sure they have played him over the years, they will not change until their little families have issues, then they will all of the sudden understand how stuff like this happens.

    The ole boy will be fine, or he would have rebelled by now, sounds like mom is bothered and needs to give him some TLC. That would mean more to him, she is the one that he wants to make happy.

  • native born new mexican July 1, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    This is the way kids are now days. I remember when I graduated from high school my grandmother made me sit at her kitchen table and write a thank you note to every single person who did any thing at all for me; gifts what ever. I just put a lot of work and time into a nice hand made wedding gift. I heard from several sources that it was well liked but I have not nor do I expect to get a thank you of any kind or even an I like it from the persons it was given to. This whole modern generation with a few exceptions are like this. It is not OK( it is terrible behavior.) and it is part of what is wrong with today’s society. I just chucked the gift up to doing a good thing for the parents of the groom who are the ones with whom I have a close family relationship and who matter in this situation. Yes I would do the gift again if I had to do over again because I did the right thing and it is about family and not about the modern generation’s manners.

    • Simone July 1, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      If you give a gift but expect something in return, it’s not really a “gift”.

      • native born new mexican July 1, 2015 at 4:49 pm

        Simone you missed the part about the virtue of gratitude. It is in the end not about me. You are correct. It is about them having the good character and the good heart to feel gratitude and to express it. Taking things and people for granted is a very big character weakness that makes me feel sad for them because I want the best for them but I know this taking things for granted and not getting around to saying thank you will come back to bite them. If they behave this way with each other in their marriage things will go south in a hurry. No one especially a spouse likes to be over looked and ignored which is what this article is about in the first place. I will and did do the best I could for them out of love but the rest of the world doesn’t have to and won’t do that and I am sorry they will have to learn that lesson.

      • hb bev July 1, 2015 at 11:39 pm

        …amen…

  • CaliGirl July 1, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Maybe the kids weren’t raised to show gratitude. That, Madame, is your fault!

  • hb bev July 1, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    I think sending cards and calling on birthdays and holidays are lost on this younger generation. They Facebook message and send texts, that is their generation’s way of showing they care. It’s different than yours (and mine, believe me, I feel the same way) and seems to cause you concern, but they ARE recognizing this wonderful man you married. Count your blessings, you have him, he has you and any other recognition from them is frosting on the virtual cake {{hugs}}

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