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As Mother’s Day approaches, I would like to pay tribute to one woefully maligned woman–“The Stepmother”. Now before you begin rolling your eyes at your computer screen, consider the amount of stereotyping, preconceived judgments and jokes that relentlessly demean the woman who bravely faces the challenge of caring for another woman’s children.

Let’s first look at the early messages regarding stepmom. She is introduced to very young children via the fairy tale. The portrait of stepmother is indeed a grim figure. She plots against her stepchildren, overworks them, tries to poison them and competes with them. She is portrayed at evil, ugly and a real “child hater”.

If you are a woman in a position where you are parenting someone else’s children then you know how those preconceived notions of malfeasance conspire against you. The first time you correct or even gently encourage your step child, you are likely to be met with, “You are sooooo wicked,” or “You are not my REAL mother.” Suddenly this half-pint person slathered in chocolate or mud (or whatever) reduces you to tears.

Women who take on the role of stepmom do so only after the children have experienced their parents’ divorce or the death of their mom. These kids are sad, confused and often very, very resentful of this new woman in their dad’s life. The woman who steps into the position must tread lightly. Too involved and enthusiastic she is called pushy. Too hands off and she is accused of being cold and aloof. She is being watched and every move scrutinized by the all involved.

Women who take care of other people’s children are the unsung heroes of our culture-whether a nanny, grandma or day care provider. We recognize these people for their — what feels like and may indeed be– herculean patience. Mothers do not hesitate to sing the praise of these “mother surrogates” who add love and kindness to the children’s lives. However, the stepmother ( and I use that term broadly-you don’t have to have married the guy before you find yourself reading bedtime stories, encouraging hand washing and flushing or making ridiculous amounts of macaroni and cheese) is not privy to this praise . Step mothers are often held to unreachable standards. The only time they are noticed is when they screw up.

These women know if the kids don’t like them, then the relationship won’t work. In a first marriage, in-laws, money and sex are often the biggest sources of contention for a couple. In a second marriage, it is not your in-laws but the kids that can break up the relationship without too much effort. So these women often go above and beyond to make the children happy.

Lots of mothers feel ambivalent about their children’s stepmother—on one hand they want this woman to take impeccable care of their kids. On the other hand, it can feel threatening to have your kids “really” like her. To those anxious mothers, may I suggest that you see her as another caretaker- nanny, grandma, day care worker or even a favorite aunt- and you will not be as threatened. You will be grateful.

Remember that your kids have only one mother. They can like their stepmother, even love her but it is never, ever, the same as what they feel for you. Consider your relationship with your own mother-even if that relationship is terrible and you have other mentors and role models whom you dearly love and respect, the simple fact is that your relationship with your mother stands apart.

So, moms relax. As Mother’s Day approaches, consider telling your kids stepmother how much you appreciate her. Or at least try “thank you”. It goes a long way in encouraging good feelings. Being a stepmom is a thankless job. Stepmothers are as overwhelmed as you are but without the recognition, love and devotion of the kids she cares for. That allegiance is yours, all yours.

To all the women everywhere who are doing mothering- mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, scout leaders, counselors, teachers, nurses, day care workers, babysitters and everyone else who nurtures and cares for someone in their life–  Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist is Farmington, CT and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. To purchase Click here  or visit www.donnaferber.com

 

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4 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 29. Apr, 2012 remarked #

    I was fortunate to become the stepmother of two beautiful girls who have grown into gorgeous young women. We worked hard, learned to understand each other, found our places in each others’ lives and have created a most wonderful relationship.
    And that now continues with the step-grandchildren who know me as “grams”, understand the family dynamics and love me (as i do them) as fully as if we were related through blood lines.
    It takes work, patience, love, caring, understanding and the desire to have this relationship work. And the reward is a life time of love.

  2. Danna D on the 29. Apr, 2012 remarked #

    A powerful blog, Donna!

  3. Mrs L on the 02. May, 2012 remarked #

    when i first met my husband, my now stepson was 3, almost 4. I am so lucky to have such a good relationship with him. I never sensed any hostility or resentment from him thus far. what a sweetheart. It is paramount to me to stay within my role as a stepmother and never border into his moms territory, because as a mother myself i know and understand how this would greatly upset me if it were me. even before i became a mother i was very respectful of my place in my stepsons life. And i never take it personally when he expresses his wishes that his mother and father would still be together, but with me too! (lol!) Because as a child of a traditional family i couldnt imagine my parents being apart and seeing other people. The key to stepmotherhood is really being able to put yourself in other peoples shoes. that of the child, his mother, and his father. Some people are better at it then others, and yet still there will be those who will judge you no matter what. You’ll know in your heart whats right 🙂

  4. Shamika on the 03. Feb, 2013 remarked #

    I bumped into your post. I don’t usually post in blogs but your blog forced me to. Awesome work! Thank you for sharing!

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