Despite the fact that many experts believe that families with a stepparent are increasing more quickly than any other household constellation, books and movies continue to perpetuate the wicked stepmother stereotype.
While she’s not wearing a cape and poisoning apples, even the stepmother in the modern version of Disney’s “The Parent Trap” is portrayed as a witch—the conniving, money-grubbing, send-the-kids-to-a-Swiss-boarding-school variety. The audience, of course, roots for the mother—a beautiful, successful, independent woman—and the happy ending is one where the biological parents get back together.
It is imperative that we undergo a cultural shift that creates a new standard for stepmothers, one that is less inspired by evil stepmother myths and more reflective of the dedicated, loving women who are willing to sacrifice their own fantasy of a storybook romance—no young girl casts herself as the stepmother in her wedding dreams—to step into a ready made family with the person she loves.
Stepmothers can support such a change by taking pride in their unique family role. Because stepmothers are so vilified, they often avoid reference to themselves as stepmothers (using words like bonus mom) and do what they can to assimilate into the mom role. In their quest to avoid being labeled evil or wicked, many stepmoms overcompensate. They play supermom, doing all the mom jobs but usually failing to receive any of the mom perks. They don’t have much mom power or mom authority, so this behavior can lead to disappointment and resentment.
Stepmothers who buy into the idea that their relationship with their stepchild does not have to look or feel like a mom-child one in order to be important position themselves for success. It is only when we start comparing ourselves to society’s maternal standards that we feel bad about what we are able to contribute to the child’s life. Children benefit from having many loving adults in their lives.
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