According to folklore, they lock children in towers, use them as slave labor, verbally and physically abuse them, and even try to poison them or send assassins after them … they are dad’s new wife, aka the stepmom!
I can tell you from personal experience that all stepmoms are not inherently wicked. Just as there are sociopaths, psychopaths and just plain mean people represented in every group, there are, of course, some stepmothers who live up to the evil stereotype. Occasionally these real life villains make headlines for acts of cruelty against their partner’s children, making all other stepmoms suffer by association.
Your average everyday stepmom freely makes the choice to wed a man who already has children, and plans to welcome them as part of her home and part of her heart. She imagines forming a loving relationship with her partner’s children and living together as a family. She understands that she is not his first nor the children’s mother; but, she has hope that she will be accepted, liked and allowed to play a loving and supportive role in their lives.
Many stepmoms enter their new stepfamily relationship with high hopes and reach out to the children, perhaps even their mother, in the spirit of peace and friendship only to have their optimism popped like a balloon with a pin when every one of her gestures is rejected. She cries. She forgives. She tries again, and again. Sometimes she makes headway and shares a pleasant moment with her stepchildren, other times nothing that she does is ever acceptable.
Wicked stepmoms (except for the ones who were born evil and would have been so no matter whether a stepmother or not) are largely made, not born. An individual can only be pushed, mistreated, rejected, and reviled so many times before she simply gives up or her heart becomes hardened.
I will never excuse the actions of the evil stepmothers from the fairy tales (or the news); but, one has to wonder what happened in the rest of the story?
No doubt, in the child’s perception, they recall dad’s new wife invading their home and routines, and they see her as a threat to everything they’ve ever known.
Will she interfere with their relationship with dad?
Will she try to replace their mother?
If she has children, will they receive preferential treatment?
The sad truth is, that almost anything a stepmother does is viewed as an attack. The mere fact that she is not the children’s mother is a painful reminder that she is not their mother. Every nice act performed by a stepmom is a stab in the heart because it’s not mom doing it (whether because mom can’t, won’t, or it’s just not her time right now).
And, it’s not just the children that may scrutinize and disapprove of everything she does. It’s as though every stepmom is the star of her very own reality show, and she has her husband’s ex, her in-laws, and sometimes even her partner standing by to second guess her every move, question her motives and assume the worst.
If a stepmom wasn’t of the evil variety before, here are three sure fire ways to ensure she will evolve into one:
1. Being thrown to the wolves.
One thing a stepmom needs is for her partner to have her back. Her partner is a natural buffer between his ex, the children, and others who are likely to challenge her; therefore, he is the best person to enforce boundaries and speak up for her. If he allows her to be mistreated, she doesn’t stand a chance.
Gabby, a stepmom of three shared, “I stay home with his three kids and our baby together, and his kids behave horribly! They lie, steal, call me awful names, and tear up our home! I’m about ready to leave because my husband gets mad at me anytime I try to discipline their behavior. He always takes their side and lets them get away with murder!”
2. Children on a mission to defy, disrespect, and make her feel unwelcome.
All kids, whether from divorced homes or not, go through stages of increased obstinacy, and parents can expect extra sass and trying to assert independence at these times. Attitude becomes abnormal if kids openly, routinely, and aggressively target their stepmom in an effort to drive her away, set her up, or make her uncomfortable. How much patience and how thick of skin is a person expected to have?
Lindsey, a stepmom to four teenagers said, “My teenage stepdaughter is the worst! She goes out of her way to taunt me, has called me the b-word right at the dinner table, and takes great pleasure in seeing me become angry or sad by her actions. I’m to the point where I want nothing to do with her. I avoid her, often staying in my bedroom so I don’t have to see her, and I am just done with doing things for her or even talking to her.”
3. Exes who orchestrate chaos.
If her partner’s ex is jealous, threatened, or still harboring feelings for him, the stepmom may become everyone’s favorite punching bag. If kids are instructed not to listen to or respect her, are discouraged from liking her, or manipulated into misbehaving, she is likely to lose her cool, be miserable, or even leave.
Some exes take this a step further by openly criticizing, mocking, or threatening on social media or even face-to-face. This kind of ex is clearly seeking a reaction, is fueled by anger and attempting to disturb the peace in her ex’s home.
Stepmom, Megan, explained, “My husband’s ex hates me with a passion. I don’t even understand it because she left him! I think she’s threatened by another woman loving and taking care of her kids, so she posts terrible lies and insults about me on Facebook, and the children tell me the horrible things she says about me to them. I want to be the bigger person, but I can barely bite my tongue, and I feel like she’s trying to make me blow up just so she can point to what a bad person I am. I never asked for this!”
When the environment surrounding a stepmother invites conflict, she is vilified, and manipulated into becoming the worst version of herself, it’s no wonder that so many stepmoms evolve into stepparents who are withdrawn and resentful. One might say that stepmothers have an unfair reputation as wicked when, in fact, they live in situations that would be difficult for most people to withstand.
Even the most patient, loving, and kind individual may eventually succumb to continual negative influences around them; so, perhaps more of the blame for allegedly wicked stepmothers needs to be placed on the inner and external forces that otherwise coerces amazing stepmothers to appear cold, impatient, and “wicked”.
However; ultimately, the outcome of each stepmom’s experience is up to her. Though the fairytales and even the people around her may influence her disposition, wickedness is not inevitable. When stepparenting becomes too much, and the temptation to discard her innate personality arises, she should, instead, voice her concerns and frustrations to her partner, ask for help, and avoid situations she knows are problematic. The trail to wickedness is lined with unclear expectations, poor communication, and a poorly-defined relationship; but, can be turned around with patience, a positive attitude, self-care and appropriate support.
Audrey Cade, author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision, is a matriarch of a stepfamily of six children and an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, stepparenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage. She is a featured blogger for DivorcedMoms, contributor for DivorceForce, Worthy Living and has been published in The Divorce Magazine, The Good Men Project, StepMom Magazine, and others. Her professional experience is as a case manager social worker for developmentally-disabled children, and she holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. Follow Audrey on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Listen each Wednesday to her weekly Divorce Warrior Dialog podcast on her website.