Elevate Difference

Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

Wednesday Martin lists Step-Dilemma Number One as “The Myth of the Blended Family” in this emotionally charged look into the real experiences of stepmothers: Stepmonster. She writes, “The blended family myth depends on and derives its potency from another myth, a notion just as widely embraced, just as dearly cherished, and just as fantastical–namely, that all women should love all children all the time.”

Interviews with stepmothers of all ages and experiences revealed to her how common some of the feelings and contradictions are for anyone who takes on this role. Pulled between a new marriage, the ex, and children who aren't mature enough to perceive the complexities of the situation everyone is in often make for a powder keg of negative feelings that are utterly taboo to express. Unlike new mothers, who can share their burdens by commiserating about how rough it is to lose sleep, stepmothers are faced with looks of horror if they dare admit any aspect of their new lives might be less than perfect–or a complete disaster on a daily basis.

Stepmonster came about after this Yale-educated woman with a doctorate in comparative literature married a man with two teenage daughters and, (surprise!) had a rough time adjusting and overcoming the desire to make everything… blend. She uses her own nine year experience as the kindling for an in-depth study into the half-truths and sociological myths underlying–and thereby negatively effecting–women who attempt to situate themselves into the stepmother role. Fairy tales, sociobiology, and a genuine understanding and empathy all make this an essential read for anyone about to enter into, or already steeped in, the maze of the stepmother role.

As an adult stepchild, I have recently become very close with my own stepmother after years of virtual estrangement. Reading this really opened my eyes to a lot of my own behavior as an adolescent that kept her at arm’s length without my having even been aware of it. The nature of a divorce and remarriage is so intricate and emotionally complex, and involves so many aspects of the both new partner’s self-image and the formulation of the pre-existing children’s identities, that it is daunting to unravel.

Our culture has a tendency to be overly child centered. Mothering my four year old twins, I see that my rose-colored glasses about what it is like to raise children were idealized, fantastical notions of nurture over nature. I believed if you treat a child like Buddha, Buddha they will be. Reading this book only gave me a glimpse into how difficult it might be to negotiate one's position in a dynamic already haunted by past family habits; a family that did not manage to successfully work things out.

This book is an important addition to the literature of motherhood that has been so popular in recent years. As we allow ourselves to admit that motherhood consists of messes and calamities alongside the miracles and tears of joy, we must also admit that “blended” families are not formed overnight, if ever. Some children never forgive their parents for perceived injustices of childhood, and sometimes, it is not the parents' job to fix everything for their children.

Written by: Jen Wilson Lloyd, September 21st 2009

...yup...and I could go on Oprah to give a bit of advice on the wisdom of marrying a man (maybe it's better when your spouse is a woman? I don't know, never been there...) with children from a previous marriage--DON'T! Especially do not marry this man if you have no kids to bring to the madness. I haven't read the book, but I'm glad someone is talking about how vile other people's children can be to their stuck-in-the-middle stepmother. The day will never come that my stepkids realize how many times I was their ally in a standoff between hostile, uncommunicative parents. And guess what? That's exactly what they grew up with: no communication. So, don't be a Pollyanna and think that your love of kids or your empathy skills will keep your particular blended family above the fray. If you insist on blending, be pro-active and see a family therapist FROM DAY ONE...even if your husband insists that everything is going along just fine...