With mothers historically being seen across many cultures as the source of familial warmth, it is probably not that surprising that a negative stereotype has emerged about the next woman who steps in after “the real mother” has left the family. Numerous studies have been conducted on the effects of this transition on a first-time stepmother. They have shown that there is undue stress placed on these women brought on by numerous factors, not the least of which is battling this unflattering, long-running stereotype. This stereotype is rooted in numerous myths about what it means to be a stepmother, and how her presence will affect the family she is joining. Let us try to dispel some of those myths and give some much-needed ease to any anxious present or future stepmothers out there.
- The Disney Villainess: Hundreds of stories have been written with evil stepmothers playing the role of the villain. They are the forces that crush the protagonist’s dreams, the characters who abuse them and create discord within the once-loving family. This, of course, is far from reality. The majority of stepmothers are not villainous disciplinarians who are tough on their new stepchildren. In fact, a lot of new stepmothers try to overcompensate by being overly sweet and accommodating to their stepchildren, which, in turn, can lead to hazy boundaries and lack of respect. Therefore, a new stepmother should take care to learn the unique dynamics of her new stepfamily, to understand how to create a fair set of ground rules to build healthy relationships, which encourage trust and respect. It could also be helpful to have a support system ready, whether that be friends and family or therapy, to help transition into this difficult role.
2. Love at First Sight: No relationship is instant, and just because the stepmom and father are in love and get along well, does not mean that the children will instantly love their father’s new partner. Children are individuals with distinct thoughts and experiences, and building a connection will take time. Every relationship is different, and sometimes, a deep love never forms at all between a stepmom and stepchildren, and that is okay! What is important is fostering the nurturing, supportive and caring environment that a family is there for. So, rather than panicking when the children are not running into her arms days after joining their family, it would be beneficial to the stepmom to manage her expectations of what a relationship with stepchildren could look like. Being ready to work with any one of a variety of relationship outcomes can make life a little easier for a stepmother.
3. Mom: Version 2.0: A stepmother is not there to replace the mother who is no longer part of the family unit, nor is she trying to become an exact copy of the person the mother was. There is plenty of love to go around, and it is possible for children to love their biological mother and stepmother without conflict, though it will naturally take time for the adjustment to happen. And while the stepmom will most likely perform a lot of the duties that the biological mother played in the household, she is a different woman with her own personality and will make the “mothering” role her own.
4. You’re Not a “Real” Family…:There are many different types of families. An adopted child is no less than a child born to two parents. A common-law couple is capable of parenting just as well as a couple with a marriage certificate. A grandmother caring for her orphaned grandchildren is still a family unit. In the same way that all of these combinations of people are families, a stepfamily is just as legitimate. As stated before, what is important is the willingness and ability to create a caring environment and to provide for each other’s needs.
Stepmoms are not wicked intruders demanding love from their stepchildren, despite what fiction says. It is no easy task to become a stepmother, and there is no one way to do it right. A stepmom is likely to receive the brunt of hostility and resistance from her stepchildren, while she is already managing her expectations and feelings from adjusting to her newfound family. To make this adjustment smoother, the father should do his best to be involved in paving the way for healthy relationships to form and give support to his new wife. If possible, it may also help the children adjust better to the change if their mother (and probably her own new family) can safely be present in their lives. With support and time, stepmothers prove themselves to be immensely valuable and loving members of a family.