Leaving my boys with their father was the hardest thing I’d ever do in my life.
“Why is the stepmummy so mean, mummy?”
This is the tricky question my Cinderella-obsessed three-year-old toddler often asks me of late, right during wind-down time before bed, when we’re reading her favourite fairytale.
And so I often then find myself explaining that of course not all stepmums are wicked and cruel as per the fabled Lady Tremaine character, also known as the Wicked Stepmother and as Cinderella’s stepmother, in both the book and the recent, new Cinderella movie, played with great relish (and an awesome wardrobe) by the exquisite Cate Blanchett (pictured).
In fact, blended families are increasingly common these days and many stepmums are amazing mothers in trying circumstances; unfairly compared to their step-children’s biological mother and forever battling the evil stepmother myth as perpetuated by Hollywood films such as Cinderella and Snow White. I have several close friends who are awesome stepmums, who’ve worked hard to become so.
There’s certainly not much written about evil stepfathers, is there? Motherhood taboos are at play here; that mothering should come naturally and easily to a stepmother, when in reality it’s often a lot of hard work and takes a lot of time to build family relationships. Besides which, parenthood certainly ain’t no picnic, let alone with recalcitrant stepkids who question your authority.
In my mid 20s, I fell deeply in love with an older man and very nearly married him. He had two gorgeous kids aged six and eight. Given they lived interstate with their mother, it didn’t seem like a huge, scary burden at the start – until they came to stay with us every school holidays for weeks at a time.
Being so young myself, I remember feeling completely ill-prepared for motherhood, especially with a cheeky, little six-year-old girl who loudly compared me to her mother at every opportunity. I’ll never forget her once telling me on the beach, while she lay next to me on the sand, us both sporting bikinis: “You’re much skinnier than my mummy… But your boobs aren’t as big.” Oh, the vast and infinite horror and hilarity!
Unlike the much-softer eight-year-old boy, who accepted me straight away, the six-year-old girl took a lot of hard work to win over and build a relationship of genuine trust, affection and love. And, truth be told, when the kids’ father and I split over completely unrelated reasons, I had grown so attached to them, I mourned the loss of them more than the actual relationship.
Today, many years later, with two daughters of my own, I can see a lot more clearly how hard it must have been for those kids to have their parents split and re-partner when they were at such tender, young ages. And I still remember the bitter, hard-fought battle I waged at times to gain acceptance and respect – both within and outside our family – as their stepmother.
So, given blended families are on the rise, how can women prepare for step-motherhood? Relationship experts’ key pointers include:
- Treat the stepkids with love and respect from the get-go and demand the same from them.
- Don’t compare yourself to your stepkids’ biological mother.
- Be compassionate; try not to take stepkids’ initial negativity and resistance personally.
Relationships take time to build.
- Show deference to the children’s biological mother; don’t try to replace her.
- Be yourself; act as a friend to the kids first.
- Accept your husband/partner will always have a close tie with his children from a prior marriage.
- And, while you may loathe it, his ex is in your life to stay, too. Try your best to be courteous and kind to the stepchildren’s mother. You don’t have to like her, but she’s still their mother and it’s helpful if you can work together for the children’s sake.
What do you think? Are you a stepmum battling for acceptance and respect?