The stepmother stigma
If a father and his adult children were invited into his sister’s home for dinner and they said to auntie, “This looks like dog food. I am not eating this crap.” Father would be embarrassed for his children’s rude behaviour and he would correct them. Because if he didn’t, auntie wouldn’t have them over anymore, and she would never be accused of being a hateful, wicked, greedy aunt for doing so.
If a father’s adult children said to his best friend during conversation, “You are so stupid! Nobody cares what you think.” he would be (rightly) embarrassed about his children’s rude behaviour and he would correct them. After dad’s best friend picked his jaw up off the floor, he may very well not invite these adults into his home anymore. And if he did make that decision, no one would accuse him of trying to drive a wedge between father and children.
Yet, when this same father’s same adult children say the same things to his wife, he is (wrongly) embarrassed about his wife. Why is this? Do these fathers actually think that their adult children acting rude obnoxious, condescending and hateful is actually his wife’s fault and that somehow she has failed as a woman? No, it is as it is in every other situation the rude behaviour of his adult children that he should be embarrassed over and correct.
Of course the children shrewdly assess that father will react exactly the way that he does. Then to compound the injuries to wife they reverse the story and tell anyone and everyone who will listen, and astonishingly be believed by all, that it isn’t we who are rude to HER, it is SHE who is rude to us. Yet, if aunty told people what the children had said to her, she would be believed and get nothing but support from everyone. Why is a second wife treated like a pariah and not even given a modicum of respect that would automatically be extended to a SIL, MIL, stranger, teacher, friend or cab driver?
And why is that when wife defends herself against these attacks, because Lord knows no one else will, she is accused of being hostile, cold, bringing it on herself, not trying hard enough, trying too hard, and of trying to drive a wedge between dad and his children? Yet, it is perfectly acceptable for anyone else, except for wife, to say they will not tolerate this shabby behaviour and not be socially condemned for it.
One of the biggest obstacles in proper bonding in stepfamilies is that you have a whole host of others, mostly women but sometimes men, in the family and in the community who want a stepmother to fail—to get rid of her. The children’s obnoxious behaviour is silently condoned and even actively encouraged and the rest jump on the bandwagon under the guise of helping poor Hansel and Gretel defend themselves from the wicked scheming of that evil woman who has a burning desire to get rid of them; exactly the opposite of the facts. These children are taught that they can treat stepmother any way they want to, and NO ONE will side with her, not even dad; because “nobody likes her and nobody wants her.” This happens, no matter how loving, generous, and concerned a stepmother is.
These grandmothers, exes, aunts, SIL’s, MIL’s etc. who place their entire personal worth on being a mother exploit and cultivate the children’s fear and anger in the changed family, rather than helping them to understand their turbulent feelings and letting them know they are still of huge importance to everyone in the family including dad. The thinking is if she can love my children, what does that make me? If they love her, they won’t love me. Why does she want to love my children anyway? There must be something wrong with her! Why doesn’t she go love her own children? Yet, if you don’t lay flat on the ground and let them walk all over you, you are labelled as unnatural, unloving.
It’s a double bind and a social problem that needs a social solution beginning with mothers letting their children of any age know that they aren’t threatened by their children caring about other females including dad’s wife. And dad must build a partnership with his wife first so the changed family can develop in a healthy way so that stepmother isn’t always the brunt of everyone’s unprocessed anger and treated like an unwelcome interloper in the so called *real* family.
Let’s welcome stepmothers into the family instead of vilifying them. They are great women who have a lot to offer.