Monday, March 30, 2009

Evil Stepmothers: Myth and Reality

Between us, the people in my innermost circle have had five stepmothers and one stepfather. The stepmothers have been, to a woman, difficult at best, appalling at worst.

My stepfather, on the other hand, is a paragon. He is loving, supportive, and unobtrusive, always delighted to welcome my mother's children and grandchildren, never intrusive or difficult, with regard to us or my mother. This stems in part from his personality: he is loving, supportive, and unobtrusive.

But our ease with him (now--I hated him for years, but that was about me, not him) also stems, I'm quite sure, from the way he and my mother set up their relationship. Coming together when their children were grown, or nearly so, they each kept responsibility (financial, emotional) for their own. I have never asked my stepfather for anything (significant--I'm sure I've asked him to pass the salad), and he has never told me what to do.

As importantly, my mother has always been financially independent--her own salary, pension, bank accounts--and, aside from the house they bought together, their finances are separate. Perhaps it is not coincidental, then, that she appears to be a stepmother as benign as my stepfather.

Yesterday, when I started thinking about a post on stepmothers (stimulated by current events in other people's lives, not my own), I was thinking along the lines of a disappointed rant against evil stepmothers who live up to their stereotypes, thus betraying the feminist cause. And, don't get me wrong, there are some serious bitch stepmothers out there. But I also know, though not from personal experience, that there are some godawful stepfathers. So why the hate on stepmothers?

All of the stepmothers I'm intimately involved with came along, like my stepfather, when we were adults, so issues of childrearing, authority, etc., were less salient. Money, on the other hand, has been highly salient, and this is where I need to pull in the materialist feminist analysis.

You're older; you haven't worked, or haven't worked in a while, or haven't worked enough; you've been married to this man for some time now; perhaps he's ailing and you need to care for him; perhaps you're ailing and wondering who will care for you; the house and bank accounts may be in his name; you have lots of reasons to wonder what will become of makes perfect sense, then, that you would try to secure your financial future, and get your own needs met, regardless of his children, whom you've only known as adults. And those children...they place demands on your husband, they pull him from you, they are entitled, when you are the one who lives with him day to day, who care for him, who makes his home (this is, for now at least, surely a generational argument).

Stepfathers, in general, do not face these challenges. They are, largely, financially independent, and often, if they are of their generation, emotionally independent as well. They are free, thus, to be independent of our emotions.

Stepmothers get the short end of the stick, so I can understand why they throw that stick back at us. Still, I wish they wouldn't.


Libby said...

brilliant analysis. I've said something like it when teaching fairy tales, but this is clearer and more succinct. I'm totally stealing it.

(BTW, word verification: vitch. Love it. Vixen crossed w/b*tch?)

Jackie said...

My stepmother came into my life when I was three, so I have a different feeling about all this, but I can agree that my understanding of her has greatly evolved since I became a wife and mother myself, as Susie Homemaker as that sounds.

I had a stepfather once, from age 3-8, so again, my experience is different. My husband has a "stepfather" now, who came into his life when R was 30, and his experience is much like yours-- we both love his stepfather, but it's certainly a totally different kind of relationship

Anonymous said...

Look people, adult women who manipulate families for their own devises, are worse than white men who killed the native americans.
They know better but do the wrong thing anyway...

Anonymous said...

I have to agree. My step-mother came into my life when i was 6 years old. It didn't take long for me to become her little slave. There was never any love or nuture with her...just rants, rages and complete and utter turmoil. The woman was not happy unless she was making me cry, sweat or freak out for something she was teasing me for. She said her persistent teasing was a the only way to give me a sense of humour. Apparently,at 6 yrs of age, after being pulled from my mother's arms, and moved to Quebec, i guess i didn't really have much of a sense of humour. To this day, the woman cannot even be decent enough to speak to me with courtesy and respect and wants me to just hand over my child to them for vistiation. I find this diffuclt, after growing up in a maniupulative web of lies my stepmother has created. She is nothing but evil. TODAY, I also blame my father, because he has sat idly by and let all the abuse, the emotional torrent go on and on...and has not once, stood up for me, his true, blood daughter. She has destroyed every single one of my relationships...she even had a hand in my separation a few years ago. Her manner has always been to divide and conquer. My 3 brothers will not even talk to me today..because they think they know me through the wicked tongue. She is that good that they never even had to communicate with me, they just somehow know that i am this horrible person..which i am not. I cannot take the abuse anylonger, i am 32 years old and want peace. My Dad and his wicked wife, can live their own miserable lives and leave me and my loving family out of their wicked ways. I will write a book about this some day....i have a really good story to tell.

Anonymous said...

i agree it is not fair to prejudge,there are many loving stepmothers who face hostile stepchildren.Evil stepmothers do exist and they start out as gold diggers,divide and conquer.My evil stepmother lost me when my father was diagnosed with alzhiemers disease.In a similar situation I would be concerned for my husband,instead it was all about her needs which included moving him several hundred kilometers away from those who loved him.He passed away recently,and after being generously provide for for the rest of her life she had him cremated and left at the funeral home for us to collect and return to his hometown and family.We were shocked to collect a cardboard box.

Anonymous said... father raised hell if we spent money foolishly...after he made his fortune...he left us for a gold-digger that has spent most of his money on her children and grandchildren...she has undermined and interfered with what little long-distance phone relationship I could maintain with him...she is the most selfish-greediest person I could ever imagine...than she tells me how unfair it has all been