Step Parenting - A step mothers perspective
The wicked stepmother
With higher divorce rates and separation of cohabiting couples, stepfamilies are on the increase; in 2009, 19.1% of marriages involved the remarriage of one partner and 15.8% involved the remarriage of both partners. But in real terms the number of stepfamilies is actually far bigger than this as stepfamilies are more likely to living together than married.
When couples split up, children usually live with their mother. But a significant 18% of stepfamilies are made up of biological father and a stepmother and this number is on the increase. Sadly despite stepfamilies being the fastest growing family type, the negative stereotypes around stepmothers still persist. It’s still commonplace that the word "wicked" is attached to the front of stepmother. While the stereotypes around mothers tend to be loving and nurturing, what is it about stepmothers as opposed to stepfathers that makes us immediately think of the negative? Are some women born to play the wicked stepmother or does one simply become "wicked" as a response to difficult, unnatural, family situation?
Having children from a previous relationship makes your chances of divorce 50% higher than those marriages without kids, so the pressure on stepmothers to make their relationship work is huge. Added to this, disliking stepmothers seems all too easy. They are often treated with suspicion and mistrust. But why is this? Most issues come from the painful mix of feelings, loyalties and practicalities involved; in a new stepfamily nobody quite knows where they stand anymore. Kids whatever their age are caught in the middle of loyalty binds between their mum and dad; so as step mum you are by far the easiest person to blame. Through a child’s eyes you are also real concrete proof that mum and dad won’t be getting back together again; moreover you'll even get blamed for this. Up until the 20th century there was a stepmothers were almost the norm as many women died in childbirth. But fortunately this is now rare; now it’s the crisis of divorce that has means stepmothers are common again. Stepmothers used to be heroines to some extent saving a motherless child from a life underpinned by grief. But today stepmothers are still managing grief leftover from a relationship that went sour, children grief for the loss of their mum and dad being able to be together. But these grief stricken children have a lot of power. Often they see their mum struggling to adapt to life as a single parent, their dad alienated, wronged, or guilty.
Both parents indulge them to make up for the guilt they feel and the pain they have inflicted by not being able to love each other as their children want them to. Children pick up on this; they feel powerless in the situation so they direct all their pain, anger and frustrations on to the woman who has replaced their mum in their dad’s affections. This is an area where they feel they can stand up against all the adult wishes and exercise what little power they feel they have. This can be a destructive force in a new relationship. Dads will be wary of reprimanding the children for bad behaviour towards a new partner, for fear of losing their child’s affections.
Whereas mums will find it all too easy to condone hostility towards the new woman in their dads life cause she feels it too. You tread a fine line as a stepmother desperate to be liked and not conform to any wicked stereotypes wanting to understand but not really knowing where you fit.
Trying your best to be tolerant but feeling secretly let down when your new partner ignores another insult or a scowl. You have to remind yourself you are the adult here and as all your friends tell you it is not about how you feel. In pecking order how a stepmum feels is right at bottom of the pile. Making it work takes time and a thick skin and remembering a few key things
- Accept your partners kids come first.
- Don't get involved in the disciplining
- Discuss how you feel when kids aren’t around not in front of them.
- Don't try too hard Don't try and replace their mum and be clear about that to everyone
- In time with love and patience they will come around.