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I have grown weary of our popular culture‚Äôs need to narrowly define the role of the stepmother.¬† From Dr. Phil on television to Dr. Joy Browne on radio, today‚Äôs ‚Äúexperts‚ÄĚ 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¬†‚ÄĚexperts‚Äô‚Ä̬†recommendations are therefore founded on faulty thinking.¬† If these two previously married parents could get along, reach agreements, and put their children‚Äôs needs above their own‚Ķ.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 ‚Äústep-parent‚ÄĚ 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¬†‚ÄĚnew‚ÄĚ spouse has a role.

The million dollar question is ‚Äúwhat role?.‚Ä̬† 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 ‚Äú50/50‚Ä≥ 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‚Ķstepmothers are expected to cooperate, never complain, and take it on as they ‚Äúknew what they were getting into.‚Ä̬† 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‚Äôs simply not possible to know ‚Äúwhat one is getting into‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúvisitation‚ÄĚ or defined ‚Äúparenting time‚ÄĚ with the children.¬† It is this stereotype of stepmothers that tend to dominate popular culture‚Äôs 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.   
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by on May. 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM
Replies (21-30):
OliveNYC
by on May. 21, 2012 at 2:13 PM

I dont know why they would feel this way. I really do try to be there for him and I know to not overstep my boundaries. Perhaps they think I'm inexperienced which is not the case at all. I try to not let it bother me though.

My husband has shared custody but his son is usually with us or at least likes to spend time in our home. Him and I finally have a good relationship and we talk about things like school and college and we even talk about things that he can't tell my husband. I help out when I can.

whatIknownow
by Ruby Member on May. 21, 2012 at 2:19 PM


Quoting OliveNYC:

I dont know why they would feel this way. I really do try to be there for him and I know to not overstep my boundaries. Perhaps they think I'm inexperienced which is not the case at all. I try to not let it bother me though.

Maybe it has nothing to do with you being a stepmom. Who can say.

lilangilyn
by on May. 21, 2012 at 2:33 PM
4 moms liked this

Love the article, agree completely with it. I have had good acknowledgement from the courts as a stepmother, none from schools, and medium from doctors and dentists. The hardest and most judgemental people have been my two sisters who are not stepmothers and who have not one clue about what I do has a stepmother. They think everything should be all glitter and rainbows and that everything would be fixed if I would just be nicer to Hammy. Hah!

I do believe that it is very important to realize in general that what works in one situation won't work in all. For instance, what we have done with SS would not work for some families and vice versa. A lot also depends on what kind of BM one is dealing with. A dysfunctional, crazy BM is hard to parent with no matter how nice one is.

Ms.Gwen
by on May. 21, 2012 at 2:42 PM
No matter how big or how little of a role the SM takes in her skids lives she is still going to have a major impact on those skids(adult skids not included). SMs role is significant even if she is disengaged. Even if a SM steps back and let's BD do everything she is still a significant part of the family. Her role will still have a significant impact on the skids. I don't understand why anyone would down play the role of any SP. Pretending SM is irrelevant, insignificant, or invisible is damaging to the skids! Refering to SM as nothing more than a hostess, maid, nanny, aunt etc. Does not down play SMs impact on the skids. It just sets the stage for that impact to be negative. Or how about the "just dads wife" role.... Not only does this down play SMs it also insinuates that dad is insignificant to the skids! It's just as harmful to the skids as calling mom the 'egg donor' and just as ignorant and untrue.
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whatIknownow
by Ruby Member on May. 21, 2012 at 2:50 PM


Quoting Ms.Gwen:

No matter how big or how little of a role the SM takes in her skids lives she is still going to have a major impact on those skids(adult skids not included). SMs role is significant even if she is disengaged. Even if a SM steps back and let's BD do everything she is still a significant part of the family. Her role will still have a significant impact on the skids. I don't understand why anyone would down play the role of any SP. Pretending SM is irrelevant, insignificant, or invisible is damaging to the skids! Refering to SM as nothing more than a hostess, maid, nanny, aunt etc. Does not down play SMs impact on the skids. It just sets the stage for that impact to be negative. Or how about the "just dads wife" role.... Not only does this down play SMs it also insinuates that dad is insignificant to the skids! It's just as harmful to the skids as calling mom the 'egg donor' and just as ignorant and untrue.

I agree with this, BUT saying she isn't a parent (in a certain situation where she does not, in fact, play a parental role) is not saying she's insignificant. It's not downplaying her role at all.

Why do you have to add the words "nothing more than" to "hostess, maid, nanny, aunt?"

(although I have never heard ANYone suggest that a SM should have a maid-like role, but we often say she should [when appropriate] have a nanny-like role or aunt-like role).

These roles are not insignificant.

Sometimes the SM really is "just dad's wife." What about a SM who joins the family when the kids are grown already? Wouldn't "just dad's wife" apply to her? And is that so bad? As "dad's wife" she can have a wonderful adult relationship with his kids. 

I think the problem is, people refuse to recognize that there are many, many roles a SM can play that are not parental, but still significant. You don't have to be parental to be significant.

leegirl_jm
by Platinum Member on May. 21, 2012 at 2:56 PM

I think you need to recognize that a SM's role is very circumstantial.  What's wrong with being Dad's wife? For some people, Dad's wife is enough and very significant to the couple and the marriage.

Quoting Ms.Gwen:

No matter how big or how little of a role the SM takes in her skids lives she is still going to have a major impact on those skids(adult skids not included). SMs role is significant even if she is disengaged. Even if a SM steps back and let's BD do everything she is still a significant part of the family. Her role will still have a significant impact on the skids. I don't understand why anyone would down play the role of any SP. Pretending SM is irrelevant, insignificant, or invisible is damaging to the skids! Refering to SM as nothing more than a hostess, maid, nanny, aunt etc. Does not down play SMs impact on the skids. It just sets the stage for that impact to be negative. Or how about the "just dads wife" role.... Not only does this down play SMs it also insinuates that dad is insignificant to the skids! It's just as harmful to the skids as calling mom the 'egg donor' and just as ignorant and untrue.



Wife, Mother and Career Woman living in Jamaica

newstepmom61811
by on May. 21, 2012 at 3:09 PM
2 moms liked this
I think it's a tragic sign of a blended family when either SM or SKs hav resorted to this title. It says there is not desire to have a relationship and it cuts so deep that traditional titles used that come with the marriage aren't even recognized. I AMA stepmom because my husband has children from a prior relationship. For ME to say I'm just Dad's wife is saying I so look down on them and place my self so above them as a person they are not worth of being in a relationship with me...not worth the work of being anything more to me, though traditional society would expect more and I think question me. If the kids said I'm nothing more than Dad's wife something is damaging their ability to relate and build something with me that we can't have some minimal bond...either I'm messing up or something is interfering, DH or BM arwn't being supportive or are sabotaging...it's a sad state when a SM is just dad's wife. The only time where I can see that as appropriate is in the case of adult SKs who are already raised or if SM is much younger that DH and near the age of the SKs. Still can form a friendly bond if possible, more that "just dad's wife". If something, God forbid, happened to my mother I would work, until she proved not worthy, to welcome, a SM in my life because I wouldn't want my father lonely I would want them both happy, feeling included in family, I have a good one to share, any step would lucky to inherit at this point, we've come a long way as a family through many trials and issues to become close. I would work to make a SP feel welcome, more than "just a spouse", like family.


Quoting leegirl_jm:

I think you need to recognize that a SM's role is very circumstantial.  What's wrong with being Dad's wife? For some people, Dad's wife is enough and very significant to the couple and the marriage.

Quoting Ms.Gwen:

No matter how big or how little of a role the SM takes in her skids lives she is still going to have a major impact on those skids(adult skids not included). SMs role is significant even if she is disengaged. Even if a SM steps back and let's BD do everything she is still a significant part of the family. Her role will still have a significant impact on the skids. I don't understand why anyone would down play the role of any SP. Pretending SM is irrelevant, insignificant, or invisible is damaging to the skids! Refering to SM as nothing more than a hostess, maid, nanny, aunt etc. Does not down play SMs impact on the skids. It just sets the stage for that impact to be negative. Or how about the "just dads wife" role.... Not only does this down play SMs it also insinuates that dad is insignificant to the skids! It's just as harmful to the skids as calling mom the 'egg donor' and just as ignorant and untrue.




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Lasttime
by on May. 21, 2012 at 3:14 PM

Amen.  Each sitch is different.  And yes, those dysfunctional crazies make it all the more "special" to deal with.  

Quoting lilangilyn:

Love the article, agree completely with it. I have had good acknowledgement from the courts as a stepmother, none from schools, and medium from doctors and dentists. The hardest and most judgemental people have been my two sisters who are not stepmothers and who have not one clue about what I do has a stepmother. They think everything should be all glitter and rainbows and that everything would be fixed if I would just be nicer to Hammy. Hah!

I do believe that it is very important to realize in general that what works in one situation won't work in all. For instance, what we have done with SS would not work for some families and vice versa. A lot also depends on what kind of BM one is dealing with. A dysfunctional, crazy BM is hard to parent with no matter how nice one is.


Ms.Gwen
by on May. 21, 2012 at 3:14 PM
BM in my sitch doesn't play the role of a parent. Does that mean she's not a parent? SF plays even less of a role than BM! The skids still see him as a parent, respect him that way, vie for his approval and time etc. He is a parent. His level of authority or role that he plays, that of a friend does not make his impact any less then the other 3 parents in the skids lives.


Quoting whatIknownow:



Quoting Ms.Gwen:

No matter how big or how little of a role the SM takes in her skids lives she is still going to have a major impact on those skids(adult skids not included). SMs role is significant even if she is disengaged. Even if a SM steps back and let's BD do everything she is still a significant part of the family. Her role will still have a significant impact on the skids. I don't understand why anyone would down play the role of any SP. Pretending SM is irrelevant, insignificant, or invisible is damaging to the skids! Refering to SM as nothing more than a hostess, maid, nanny, aunt etc. Does not down play SMs impact on the skids. It just sets the stage for that impact to be negative. Or how about the "just dads wife" role.... Not only does this down play SMs it also insinuates that dad is insignificant to the skids! It's just as harmful to the skids as calling mom the 'egg donor' and just as ignorant and untrue.

I agree with this, BUT saying she isn't a parent (in a certain situation where she does not, in fact, play a parental role) is not saying she's insignificant. It's not downplaying her role at all.

Why do you have to add the words "nothing more than" to "hostess, maid, nanny, aunt?"

(although I have never heard ANYone suggest that a SM should have a maid-like role, but we often say she should [when appropriate] have a nanny-like role or aunt-like role).

These roles are not insignificant.

Sometimes the SM really is "just dad's wife." What about a SM who joins the family when the kids are grown already? Wouldn't "just dad's wife" apply to her? And is that so bad? As "dad's wife" she can have a wonderful adult relationship with his kids. 

I think the problem is, people refuse to recognize that there are many, many roles a SM can play that are not parental, but still significant. You don't have to be parental to be significant.


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leegirl_jm
by Platinum Member on May. 21, 2012 at 3:16 PM

Well, obviously I disagree with your views. My husband's son with BM is a nice boy, I can't think of a bad thing to say about him. I am his Dad's wife, my husband is NCP with occasional visitation, we have a very respectful relationship and there is nothing negative about it.

Quoting newstepmom61811:

I think it's a tragic sign of a blended family when either SM or SKs hav resorted to this title. It says there is not desire to have a relationship and it cuts so deep that traditional titles used that come with the marriage aren't even recognized. I AMA stepmom because my husband has children from a prior relationship. For ME to say I'm just Dad's wife is saying I so look down on them and place my self so above them as a person they are not worth of being in a relationship with me...not worth the work of being anything more to me, though traditional society would expect more and I think question me. If the kids said I'm nothing more than Dad's wife something is damaging their ability to relate and build something with me that we can't have some minimal bond...either I'm messing up or something is interfering, DH or BM arwn't being supportive or are sabotaging...it's a sad state when a SM is just dad's wife. The only time where I can see that as appropriate is in the case of adult SKs who are already raised or if SM is much younger that DH and near the age of the SKs. Still can form a friendly bond if possible, more that "just dad's wife". If something, God forbid, happened to my mother I would work, until she proved not worthy, to welcome, a SM in my life because I wouldn't want my father lonely I would want them both happy, feeling included in family, I have a good one to share, any step would lucky to inherit at this point, we've come a long way as a family through many trials and issues to become close. I would work to make a SP feel welcome, more than "just a spouse", like family.


Quoting leegirl_jm:

I think you need to recognize that a SM's role is very circumstantial.  What's wrong with being Dad's wife? For some people, Dad's wife is enough and very significant to the couple and the marriage.

Quoting Ms.Gwen:

No matter how big or how little of a role the SM takes in her skids lives she is still going to have a major impact on those skids(adult skids not included). SMs role is significant even if she is disengaged. Even if a SM steps back and let's BD do everything she is still a significant part of the family. Her role will still have a significant impact on the skids. I don't understand why anyone would down play the role of any SP. Pretending SM is irrelevant, insignificant, or invisible is damaging to the skids! Refering to SM as nothing more than a hostess, maid, nanny, aunt etc. Does not down play SMs impact on the skids. It just sets the stage for that impact to be negative. Or how about the "just dads wife" role.... Not only does this down play SMs it also insinuates that dad is insignificant to the skids! It's just as harmful to the skids as calling mom the 'egg donor' and just as ignorant and untrue.





Wife, Mother and Career Woman living in Jamaica

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