The ‘step’ factor

by Carolyn on July 4, 2009

Oh, you know who this is

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Oh what a difficult road lies ahead for the person taking on the role of ‘step parent’.  It is a struggle.  An uphill battle. The experts give some insight on how to make it a little less painful but all agree that there will be mountainous bumps along the way.  They also list a number of fundamental rules which offer some promise when followed.  I found a great resource on an interesting website entitled Twenty Rules for Being a Good Stepparent.  There are a plethora checklists just like this available on the internet and in books.  One could read them all day if they were ever so inclined.

But despite all the how to’s and rules, there is always one precedent that every step parent must overcome.  You know what I’m referring to.  What do we all think of as soon as we hear the term ‘step parent’?  That’s right, Cinderella.  Not even the dreaded mother-in-law has such a universally accepted icon assigned to it.  Between Cinderalla, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney sure didn’t do blended families any favors. For as emblazoned as the image of Cinderella’s evil stepmother is for all of us, can you think of one character portraying a step parent in a positive light?  Off hand, I can’t.

So already behind the eight-ball, the potential step parent enters the shark infested waters.  The only safety cage available being knowledge.  And I would hope they would try to learn everything they could; read all the information available on how to create a harmonious blended family.  Because the sharks will come from all directions.  Everyone in the new family bringing their own collection of emotional obstacles to the table.

For the parent will bring their guilt.  The step parent their jealousy.  Both feelings being very natural according to the professionals.  But I’m not sure if anyone brings more to that table than the child.  Perhaps drowning in guilt themselves thinking that somehow the divorce rests with them.  Wondering that if by loving this new outsider they are betraying their other biological parent.  Thinking that this biological parent won’t have any room left for them after loving his or her new family.  Hoping this new person will like them, but not sure if they can be perfect enough to maintain the sentiment.  Yes, the child sits atop a mountain of obstacles that they can’t even hope to overcome on their own.

And yet, it is also generally accepted that younger children are the easiest to incorporate into blended families.  If a child is teen aged or older things only get harder.  And when the children are adults the hurdles can appear insurmountable.  And that is only understandable.  Young children have yet to feel any control over their own lives.  When they are told this new person is going to be an authority figure, their tendency is to obey and consequently accept.  That tendency diminishes with age.

Meeting your parent’s new significant other as an adult must feel so bizarre.  I have only one similar experience; that of my grandfather introducing his present wife after the death of my grandmother.  It was almost funny.  One minute I was a rational adult human being.  The next I was contemplating bringing up the topic of ‘circles of trust’ and fighting the urge to point from my eyes to her while muttering ‘I’m watching you, Focker’.  I felt defensive.  But defensive for who?  My grandfather obviously loved her.  My grandmother was gone.  Feelings can be so feral.

Yes, blended families have it hard.  But there have been successes.  With happy blendings.  And their success is a testament to all those involved.  Biological parents, step parents, extended family and children alike.  With everyone not only staring at their own plates working to overcome the obstacles they brought, but also looking around the table with gentle eyes and helping the ones they love overcome theirs as well.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Urchin July 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Julia Roberts. I forget the name of the movie, but she ends up taking a ton of pictures of the two kids (one boy one girl) for the biological mother, who has cancer, to make the kid’s Christmas presents with.

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2 Carolyn July 4, 2009 at 6:00 pm

I loved the movie Stepmom. I had forgotten about it until I was looking for the image to put with my post. That movie did do a nice job of portraying a stepmother in a positive light. But it’s not the iconic role that Cinderella’s stepmom had. *Everyone* is familiar with that one. I’m not so sure as many would recall Stepmom. Cinderella is one of those rite of passage movies that every little girl sees and boys see by default. Stepmom isn’t really in the same category, but is a good example nonetheless. And boy did I ever cry at the end of it!

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3 Tammy July 4, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Brady Bunch and that cheesey sitcom with the thighmaster lady and bobby ewing (dallas). I guess they both were cheesey sitcoms.

Stepmom was the movie and it is a really good movie.

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4 Urchin July 4, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Thanks, Tammy!

See, Carolyn, lots of good examples out there!

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5 Carolyn July 4, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Thanks for bringing up the Brady Bunch. Talk about a show before it’s time with respect to blended families! But I was never an avid watcher. Did they ever disclose if the Brady’s were divorced or widowed? I always assumed they were widowed because I don’t remember seeing any of the kids go to visit another parent. But regardless, Mrs. Brady was a great stepmom.

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6 Tammy July 4, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Not sure if they are good but they are examples!

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7 Carolyn July 4, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Tammy, Urchin, you guys crack me up. Talk about enjoying a challenge! I guess my point was just that the connotation of the term ‘step parent’ tends to be negative thanks to Walt Disney and his princesses (did he have an evil stepmother himself?). I’m not sure there is another representative that is as easily recognizable as Cindarella’s stepmother.

But I am glad you were able to come up with a few positive examples. Although considering that some experts believe more children live in blended families today than in nuclear families, I’m not sure if three good examples are an adequate representation.

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8 Urchin July 4, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Well Disney doesn’t like happy families at all really. Someone always ends up dieing somewhere. Or they’re orphaned. Seriously, look at the movies (most of which I wasn’t allowed to see until I was much older…)

Cinderella, lost her mother, and then her father.
Ariel, no mum.
Belle, no mum.
Snow White, where’s dad? All we see is step-mum
The list goes on. With Bambi and Nemo both we see mum killed.

The only Disney movie I can think of where there’s an actual family is Sleeping Beauty. But they’re all put to sleep, so she grows up with no parents…

I dunno, maybe I’m just cynical. ;)

Anyway: I can see the point you were making, and it’s true. Most people think of the Wicked-Step-Parent. I dunno what it would be like to see my mother rewed. I think I’d be happy for her, so long as Husband B meets my requirements, background check, and thorough psychological screening. Protective? You betcha, but I don’t want to see her go through stuff again. Not that she will, she’s still married to Husband A. (oi)

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9 Carolyn July 4, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I did a quick google search and found this. The list looks pretty comprehensive. I only saw one error – we all know that Simba’s mom in the Lion King lives right through the whole movie and fights with him at the end (and doesn’t even die then either). But it does seem like Walt had an issue with moms. Misogyny? Was his mom absent? According to that link he lost him mom pretty tragically shortly after Snow White (which was a Brother’s Grim tale, so the story line wasn’t really his fault). Maybe that’s why moms are always dying in his flicks. Anyway, I just thought you were on to something there. And apparently you were. :)

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10 Frank July 5, 2009 at 1:49 am

Oh my god. I never knew that about Walt Disney’s mother. That’s horrible.

On a side note, your Google Fu is *strong.* Wow.

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11 Carolyn July 5, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I didn’t know it either. Sad. And yes, the internet fairy’s blessed me with some mad keyword skills. :)

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12 Tammy July 4, 2009 at 8:45 pm

I was just joking really about the brady bunch. No family could live up to that happiness blended or not! I was actually laughing when I typed the two out. The other was Step by Step.

As for my mom remarrying as a child I could not have handled it. As selfish as it may be, I would have hated him before I even met him. I was definitely daddy’s little girl. Now as an adult and in my own relationship, twenty-three years later, I kind of wish she had or atleast had a friend or someone now. We(my 2 sisters and I) are all married ourselves now and she is home alone now. Well she is alone in the evenings and nights b/c someone is almost always there in some part of the day. I can’t imagine not having my husband around to talk to and to just sit with. I know it happens sometimes but everynight for the rest of your life. Hind sight is always 20/20 but as a child, I would have been his worst nightmare( whoever he would have been).

As for Disney they may not have been happy in the being or middle but they always “lived happily ever after”. So maybe there is hope for us still>

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13 Carolyn July 4, 2009 at 9:39 pm

I thought your Brady Bunch example was great. I never had the pleasure of seeing Step by Step – I should look on Youtube.

Isn’t it funny though how what we want for ourselves and for those around us can change so dramatically throughout our lives? I really feel that unless you have a real and tangible point of reference, you can never really understand something. If your mom had met someone years ago, you never would have understood the pleasure of simply having that intimate adult company. Now that you have it yourself and really know how important it is, you can see how she might have wanted it too. How it would be good for her, not just bad for you. But you are probably right. You would have been his worst nightmare. (smirks)

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14 Robyn September 29, 2009 at 11:53 pm

I liked my stepmother. I saw her on weekends and holidays when I went to see my father. She was an airline stewardess. I thought she was soo cool because she would fly to London and Paris. When as a child I told her she was my stepmother she told “No, I’m just your friend, you only have one mother”..I thought that was so cool of her to say to me that I still remember it to this day.

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15 Carolyn September 30, 2009 at 10:16 pm

It’s wonderful that you have such a warm memory of your stepmom.

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16 Robyn September 29, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Yes, the Brady Bunch had no issues. No outside previous partners. It was perfect because their previous mothers and fathers had passed away..How convient..LOL!!!

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17 Carolyn September 30, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Convenient indeed! ;)

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18 Meg March 25, 2010 at 6:09 am

What about Juno?

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0467406/

The stepmother rocks!

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