Children use the words “I love you” for their parents and that may be confusing for stepparents. In particular when the kids and stepparents clearly love each other. Don’t be confused. Kids share their affection gladly and freely. You just have to see them in the ways that they do.
I am very curious to hear your reflections on this. I don’t know that many people write about this. Perhaps this is all obvious to everybody else, but to me it isn’t.