In a world where 50% of first marriages end in divorce, and of that 65% are likely to have children and 75% go on to remarry or have new partners, it seems that we’re still sort of stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to our perceptions of stepfamilies. They are still almost always viewed negatively, and most often, people fortunate enough to NOT have gone through a painful separation or divorce always seem to have the most to say about it.
According to the National Stepfamily Resource Center, nearly half of all Americans live in some kind of stepfamily and new reports say that there are nearly 20 million stepfamilies in the United States. There are approximately 15 million stepmothers in the United States today.
Disney and the Brothers Grimm have a lot to answer for because Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel set a nasty precedent for how life, and art, would reflect stepmothers (and stepfathers) in the future. Barring Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, not many artists have had much good to say about stepmothers, beginning with Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield, going forward. In fact the only positive film I can think of off the top of my head with positive connotations is Stepmom, starring Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts.
So without further ado, here are the top four dumbass things people say to stepmothers:
4. “The kids always have to come first”.
Really? This relationship is between me and my partner. This is something that always gets drug out of the woodwork where there’s a divorce and someone’s started dating or shacked up. When you commit to a man with kids, yes you accept that there’s a kid or kids who will need your partner’s time, attention and energy. But also when you commit, you become a family of sorts, and thus the good of the FAMILY gets put first, not just one element of that family.
It’s also ironic that it’s usually people with kids who drag this stick out of the closet and beat you with it. They wouldn’t dream of allowing their own kid to call the shots at home. And any bio-mom worth her salt will tell you that if she doesn’t make herself and her relationship with her partner a priority, her relationship with her family suffers.
Furthermore, I don’t have to love his kid any more than his kid has to love me. If ends ups that I love his kid and his kid loves me, it’s rainbows and unicorns time. It’s not always that way, though. It’s something to hope for- not something to expect. It’s unrealistic to think otherwise. Certainly, I can be caring and respectful in my interactions with his kid but I don’t have to love his kid. My partner and I can have a great relationship without it. I’ve promised to love him, not his kid.
3. “Well he has to go easy on them, look at what they have gone through, poor kids”
This is usually a stock answer to a stepmother who has issues with the kid’s behavior and their partner’s inconsistent discipline.
It’s generally accepted that because their parents got divorced, kids are so traumatized that they cannot cope with the word “No” or be expected to behave in an appropriate manner. A parents’ divorce isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card. It doesn’t exempt ANY kid from having to be respectful to people or behaving in a courteous, acceptable manner.
Nobody is going to pretend that divorce is easy on children. It’s not. Unfortunately, they are often the ones who suffer most but it does NOT give parents a green light to stop parenting and become their kid’s buddy or their bank account.
Parents who quit parenting their kids out of guilt are doing their children a gigantic disservice. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that shit happens, and a parent’s job is to HELP their kids cope with that shit the best they can – not use it to give them an excuse to get out of their chores/practicing the basics of courtesy/listening and paying attention/eating their dinner/doing their homework/and being polite to people, including their stepmothers.
2. “You don’t understand what it’s like, you don’t have children of your own”
Exactly. I don’t have a bio-logical or an emotional bond (yet) to my partner’s kid and she has none to me. And while I might not have children of my own, I am spending a fairly large chunk of time around my partner’s kid, and in some instances, I’ve done the full time gig in bio-mom’s unexplained absences from her kid’s life. Would they say this to someone who has adopted kids and are finding difficulty? Probably not, but its fair game to say it to stepmothers.
And honestly, there is probably a grain of truth in it, because I am not my partner’s bio-mom and therefore cannot fully grasp what it is like to be in a biological parent‘s shoes. It works both ways though – they can’t fully understand what it’s like to be a step-parent either.
1. “You knew what you were getting into”
Well, yes. Yes I did. I knew during the shiny happy honeymoon phase of the relationship just exactly what was down the line for us. I had crystal ball, didn’t I? Evidently, only clairvoyants can be stepmothers. The reality of step-parenting is that it’s impossible to anticipate the turns and roundabouts this journey will take. There’s no map, no GPS.
Yes, I did know my partner had a kid in the shiny, untarnished honeymoon phase of our relationship. Back then it meant other weekend and a few holidays. Six months into it, his ex dumped the kid in his lap for three-quarters of the summer without so much as an explanation to him or to the kid. Then followed days and weeks of acting out, the endless questions about why “mommy doesn’t want me anymore”, to name but a few. How is the mere fact of knowing that he had a kid supposed to make me feel better about the mountains of shit that often goes with that fact? I’ll tell you. It doesn’t.
I’m pretty sure there’d hardly be a rush to apply for stepmothering if an accurate description was published in the daily classifieds and yet, not only is a stepmother increasingly recognized as a presence in our society, more importantly, nearly one third of all children under eighteen are personally affected by a stepmother’s success or failure in her role.
As unceremoniously as a kid arrives in her life, a stepmother lands in theirs. For better or worse, stepmothers affect a kid’s home life, their sense of family, life with their dad, birthdays, Christmases, and weddings from here on out- even if the kids live with their mother. More than just an adjunct to contemporary family life, a stepmother has not just an important place in a stepkid’s life but an integral one.
Don’t let four dumbass statements, ruin it for you.