Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you
– Aldous Huxley
It is very difficult to be a stepmother. A stepmother is naturally under suspicion and there is often no shortage of people ready to accuse her of having wicked intentions toward her stepchildren.
In Roman times, the word for stepmother was nouerca, the root nouus meaning “new”. She was viewed as a new member in the family, a scheming intruder. Ancient writers used the word nouerca to depict negative events or objects so frequently that it led to a widespread belief that stepmothers instinctively harbored negative feelings toward their stepchildren.
Patricia A. Watson, author of Ancient Stepmothers: Myth, Misogyny and Reality, writes that the stereotype for stepmothers is, “an encapsulation of the negative traits assigned to females in general by a misogynistic tradition which flourished in Greece and Rome”.
Plato felt so strongly against stepchildren having stepmothers, that he proposed legislation to compel widowed men with children to raise them and “not bring upon them a stepmother”.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Anglo-Norman writers used the character of a stepmother as a literary vehicle for personifying the very worst womanly attributes. Cunning, vicious and venomous, they were compared to serpents, the symbol of Satan.
Stepmothers have long been prominent folktale characters, the cruelest of all relatives. The Grimm brother’s collection of tales is full of stories depicting stepmothers as wicked and their stepchildren as innocent victims. Some of their most famous tales featuring malicious stepmothers are Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and The Juniper Tree.
Illustrating how natural it is for a stepmother to hate her stepchildren, the tale “Sweetheart Roland”, authored by the Grimm brothers, begins.. “There was once upon a time a woman who was a real witch and had two daughters, one ugly and wicked, and this one she loved because she was her own daughter, and one beautiful and good, and this one she hated, because she was her stepdaughter.”
Hollywood has capitalized on the evil reputation of stepmothers through many films, commonly depicting them as murderous, evil and often as witches.
Women who fall in love with men who have children are often too naive to believe they would ever be viewed as such. They don’t consider themselves evil and many times believe their loving personalities will somehow make them the exception to the stepmother stereotype.
To the contrary, Wednesday Martin, PhD, author of Stepmonster writes, “the more appealing, attractive, and kind a stepmother is, the more hostility and resentment she will get from her stepchildren if they feel guilty, sensing that befriending her would be a betrayal of mom.”
The toll for many women whose attempts to build a blended family have failed can be devastating. Feeling as a resented outsider in their own families, often the experience can have a very negative effect on these women’s self-esteems.
If your stepmother experience has brought you many unpredictable challenges, you’ve come to the right place. If you are now seen as an evil stepmother, you need to stick around.
This blog is dedicated to the very common challenges most stepmothers face, and to help you create strategies to bring peace back into your life.