Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)

Stepmom Central Stepmom Central

What's our role?

Posted by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM
  • 79 Replies
6 moms liked this
I have grown weary of our popular culture’s need to narrowly define the role of the stepmother.  From Dr. Phil on television to Dr. Joy Browne on radio, today’s “experts” readily put forth their opinions on the appropriate role of the stepmother.  In my estimation, their definition of the role of a stepmom leaves these women somewhere between the neighbor lady and the PTA welcoming committee. 

Dr. Phil is fond of telling the biological parents that they need to grow up, take responsibility, and work together for the sake of the children. I submit that it does not take a PhD to suggest that approach.  Similarly, Dr. Joy Browne likes to tell stepmothers that their role in a stepchild’s life is to be a good hostess when they are in their home.  Again, sounds practical, but lacks any real understanding of the reality of stepliving.

When a couple divorces, they admit that they can not get along, they can not come to resolution of major issues, they no longer like or love one another.  They might be in enough denial to not say these things out loud, but the message remains the same albeit subconscious.

The ”experts’” recommendations are therefore founded on faulty thinking.  If these two previously married parents could get along, reach agreements, and put their children’s needs above their own….they would still be married. 

A natural consequence of a divorce is that one or both of the original parties will get remarried.  This person will become not only the spouse to the parent, but also the “step-parent” to the minor child.  If this happens when children are adults, this is a different dynamic entirely.  But when it happens when a child is still a minor, then the ”new” spouse has a role.

The million dollar question is “what role?.”  I subject to you that the role varies greatly based on circumstances and can not and should not be dicated in the cookie cutter way to which the popular culture and its icons seems to want to default.

I focus my attention, here, on stepmothers.  I don’t wish to disregard the contribution that a stepfather has, rather I chose to discuss that which I know most about. 

I know stepmother who have entered a marriage as a custodial stepmother and as such have signed up for nearly 24/7 parenting responsibilities.  They become a surrogate mother to children whose mothers are not up to the task.  These women deserve the respect and admiration they have earned by taking on such a role.  We freely give this respect to adoptive or fostering parents; why not to stepparents? 

I know stepmothers who have entered into marriage as a “50/50″ stepmother and as such have signed up for half-time responsibility for stepchildren which almost always includes a ridiculous amount of organizing, negotiating, scheduling, and assisting with the ins and outs of children moving between two homes.  This is no small task and requires perpetual adjustments in the dynamics of the home, yet again…stepmothers are expected to cooperate, never complain, and take it on as they “knew what they were getting into.”  That is a lot like saying that we all knew what we were getting into by going to college, getting married, or moving to another state.  It’s simply not possible to know “what one is getting into” until one gets into it.  Complaining is reserved for the bioparents, apparently, and stepparents should just put up and shut up with the challenges of child rearing. 

There is the additional population of fathers and stepmothers who have “visitation” or defined “parenting time” with the children.  It is this stereotype of stepmothers that tend to dominate popular culture’s idea of a stepmother.  It is this group who Dr. Joy Browne tells to be the hostess with the mostess.  Heaven forbid she actually experience what it is like to have a child whom both you and your husband love to come and go like a visitor.  Is she possibly suggesting that over the long term, a stepmother is to be as aloof and distant as Martha Stewart putting on a party? 

 These non-custodial parents see and experience so many things regarding these children that they can not help, if they are caring people, but to love and want to support and guide the stepchildren.  They often cook, clean, shop, manage, and assist the father in caring for the child(ren).  Yet they are expected to be a mere hostess?

Look, house guests come but once a year for a pre-defined period of time.  They are adults.  When it comes to stepchildren, they are not guests but family members.  They come at a great frequency.  They often have their own rooms, their own toys, their own clothes, their own domain in the non-custodial home.  House guests are old enough to behave as guests (ususally). Stepchildren require guidance, teaching, supervision. 

Stepmothers are a part of providing all of the above needs for the stepchild.  To treat her as or to suggest that she behave as anything less than a co-parent to the father is insulting. 

We praise our adoptive and foster parents in this country, yet we demean and limit our stepparents.  The only thing I can attribute that to is our tendency to place mothers on a pedestal, even when they have not earned the position.  We need to seriously re-think how we consider a stepmother, her role, and the appreciation that she deserves.   
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM
Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Replies (1-10):
Ms.Gwen
by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:01 AM
This was posted from a web site. Not sure why the link didn't copy. I'm mobile and unable to fix it. My apologies for that.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
whatIknownow
by Emerald Member on May. 21, 2012 at 9:06 AM

I'm a CSM and literally without exception, people I meet give me the impression they are impressed by my role. I have never once felt demeaned by anyone who found out I was a stepmom. 

This has been my experience. I don't know if it is typical. But when we have these kinds of discussions here, many people have posted the same thing, that their feedback from society has been positive, not negative.

Bells2000
by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:14 AM


Quote:

The â€ťexperts’” recommendations are therefore founded on faulty thinking.  If these two previously married parents could get along, reach agreements, and put their children’s needs above their own….they would still be married.


I don't like that line in the article AT ALL.  An abused parent can easily "put their kids needs above their own" in staying in an abusive relationship..... getting beat up often or even once in a while. Who's needs are put first when the abusive person turns the aggression from the other bio parent to the kid? ETC

On one hand.. the basis for a new perspective on step-parents / SM's in particular would be nice....  BUT it feels like it still reinforces the idea that a woman is the one responsable for the house duties and of course men have no place in that.

Ms.Gwen
by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:15 AM
2 moms liked this
My feedback from individuals that know me and/or the specifics of the sitch do give me positive feedback. To everyone else I am "just stepmom" always said in a demeaning manor with a look of disgust or dismissal. Truth is I'm a parent to my skids. To view me as anything less is incorrect. I also agree with the writer that most of the general advice given by psychologists publicly is ridiculous. Societies expectations are generalized and belittling if not absurd and unrealistic. We can not merely play the hostess any more than we can 'love them like our own'. We are not an aunt or their mom. We are parents.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
MamaK313
by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:24 AM
I really hope the Joy Browne person has never been a stepmom. If she was the s-kids must have felt like they were only considered visitors in the home.
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
baparrot2
by Platinum Member on May. 21, 2012 at 9:24 AM
2 moms liked this

 I do think ALL stepmothers should be respected. But there is a population of stepmothers out there who are forgetting that they must first respect OTHERS....yes, including the kids, before running around demanding it.

I like the article.

sassystepmom5
by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:25 AM
I like this article. After many years of me being a CSM, BM has decided she wants to be involved. "because the teen years are so important, ______ needs his mother around". BM quote.

And now she is hell bent in putting me in my place as "just a stepmom"
Juanita679
by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:31 AM
bump


Tarac1012
by Member on May. 21, 2012 at 9:31 AM

DH and BM divorced with SS was 5 - DH had full custody because BM couldn't get it together.... I entered picture when SS was 15 so he lived with us just until a couple of months ago when he got his own place(he's 23 now).  It was a hard transition - here I was this motherly figure doing all the things a mom would do, but I wasn't his mom.  SS had a hard time with the fact that his own mother was such a mess that it made it hard for him to like me he had guilt about it like he was cheating on his mom or something. Plus I brought structure into the home that was lacking.  I grew up in a home where my Stepfather was more of a dad than my actual dad, I appreciated that.  He is fantastic! I wanted to be the kind of parent that he was to me. My husband appreciated the SM role I had in the house, and we make it work but it's hard - and everyone's scenario is so different that there couldn't possibly be a set of rules for everyone.   I do think people need to think long and hard about becoming a step parent though - its the most complicated family set up known and unfortunately, not everyone has the best interests of the kids that are involved at heart - whether it be the bio parents or the step.... it's such an emotional roller coaster of events that it really takes a focused person to look at the kids and remember about them. I wish everyone would take time to remember that its really about the kids but I know it's not an easy thing to do - and especially when so much of what happens (when you are the step parent) its out of your own control.  It would be nice though if society had a little more respect for those of us that take on that big role and take it seriously.

leegirl_jm
by Ruby Member on May. 21, 2012 at 9:36 AM

I don't know if you know this but this additional population is in fact the majority, most mothers are still the custodial parent even though your situation doesn't reflect that. 

Quoting Ms.Gwen:

.....

There is the additional population of fathers and stepmothers who have “visitation” or defined “parenting time” with the children.  It is this stereotype of stepmothers that tend to dominate popular culture’s idea of a stepmother.  It is this group who Dr. Joy Browne tells to be the hostess with the mostess.  Heaven forbid she actually experience what it is like to have a child whom both you and your husband love to come and go like a visitor.  Is she possibly suggesting that over the long term, a stepmother is to be as aloof and distant as Martha Stewart putting on a party? 

Wife, Mother and Career Woman living in Jamaica

Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)