Who let stepdads off the hook?

by Carolyn on August 18, 2009

Single mom's and single dad's

Single mom's and single dad's

Stepmoms have an unfortunate image to shake.  Good old Walt wasn’t kind to them and he helped stick stepmother-hood with a legacy of connotations like wicked, evil, green eyed and (step) monster.  Many stepmothers feel like they’re hated before they even begin.  That no matter how loving and attentive they are or could ever be, they’ll still labeled as a witch.  Here on the Internet, multitudes of stepmother blogs can be found.  Many telling angry tales about dealing with ex spouses and unruly kids.  Others speaking out about their true feelings of resentment, isolation, jealousy and anger; not just towards their stepchildren, but towards everything those children represent as well.  It’s fascinating for a grown up child of divorce like me to read.

And yet, something strikes me.  Where are the ranting stepfathers?  Why aren’t they taking advantage of the anonymity and platform that blogging provides?  Where are all the angry men detailing the trials with ex husbands and children who aren’t theirs?  When I try to find them, I always come up short handed.  And I wonder why that is?  Are societal pressures kinder to them or are they kinder to themselves?  Or could it be something else entirely?

Our culture holds men to different standards than women.  Although roles are beginning to shift, men are still typically regarded as the head of the household; the breadwinner.  Women are regarded as nurturer’s.  Perhaps the role of step parent is harder for a woman because both she and society feel she should automatically feel maternal towards her husband’s children.  That she should instantly want to nurture and love them.  And of course that expectation is unrealistic.  All relationships take time to develop and not all adults form bonds easily with children.

In this regard, maybe a stepfather doesn’t worry so much when his wife’s children don’t warm up to him instantly.  He doesn’t have the preexisting expectation that they would or feel like a failure personally when they don’t.  Maybe he doesn’t worry that everyone is looking at his relationship with them under a microscope, making judgements.  Taking those emotions out of the blended family equation can indeed make it’s transition and everyday life much easier.

And maybe that’s just it.  The psyche of a man.  Less emotional.  More confident.  His self esteem not completely intertwined with how other’s view him.  Both connotation and symbolism lose their sting in the face of that.  Maybe he doesn’t focus so much on his feelings, thereby diminishing the sense of isolation or jealousy or resentment.  Perhaps when his spouse spends time with her children he looks at it as an opportunity to pursue his own activities instead of feeling isolated and not included.

Or maybe it’s something else.

What if it’s not our cultural tenets about stepmothers or our gender based stereotypes governing the discrepancy? What is it has less to do with the differences between men and women and much more to do with the differences between single moms and single dads.  What if the core of the issue doesn’t lie with the step parent at all, but with the biological parents themselves?

One underlying theme I see from disgruntled step mothers is that although they knew their spouse had a child or children before they were married, they didn’t really know what they were getting into.  That they really had no sense of the sacrifice or difficulties involved with step parenting (or I would argue parenting overall).  That they fell in love with their spouse alone and that they don’t agree with the concept of his children and him being a ‘package deal’.  And I wonder why that is?  As well as why we don’t hear the same decree from stepdads.

Although there are far more fathers being awarded equal physical custody of their children and being made their primary custodians, traditionally women have had the upper hand on the custody front.  I wonder if this issue of custody impacts how divorced fathers and divorced mothers approach their subsequent relationships.  If it enables divorced fathers to meet and date women as single men as opposed to single fathers.  That perhaps because of the custody arrangement, they tend to meet women who fall in love with them and live with them as if they were simply single men even though they know (logically) that they have children.  Perhaps even being somewhat mislead by the extrication of his fatherly role in those initial weeks or months.

Maybe single moms date differently.  Even if they don’t introduce potential suitors to their children at first (as is advised), perhaps they speak more about them when courting.  Almost making them present even though they are not.  Making it clear to potential suitors that their children are an integral part of themselves, not just a person who they are bound to care for.  Ensuring that the ones they get into relationships with are clear that there in fact is a ‘package’ involved.

And looking at the next stage a relationship; perhaps when the children are introduced to divorced parent’s new loves, moms more often have the advantage of seeing their new mates interacting with their children a majority of the time.  Allowing for the relationship to encounter and resolve many issues prior to any commitment to marriage.  I’ve seen single mothers dissolve relationships based simply on the issue of interaction with their children.  I wonder how commonly this happens with single fathers.  How high of a priority is the relationship between their children and potential spouse when weighed beside their own relationship?

These are all interesting questions.  There is a difference; that part is undeniable.  The question is, what underlies that difference?  Why does it seem that stepmothers as a whole are so discontent in comparison?  Could it be that the stepfathers of the world are simply not as vocal in this medium?  Perhaps their close friends or family would say they feel exactly the same.  It’s hard to say for certain.  Societal strains, gender bias, gender differences all play their roles.  But I still ask this question:  Who let stepdads off the hook?  Or is it that they aren’t let off the hook at all; but held to a different standard instead.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Beth August 19, 2009 at 9:28 am

Just coming over from SITS. You posed some very interesting questions and brought up some great points.

Have you ever noticed that many Disney cartoons kill off the Mom? What is up with that? I think you’re right about the expectations on the women.
.-= Beth´s last blog ..Sheets, Afgans, and Umbrellas. =-.

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2 Carolyn August 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Yes I did notice that! I actually found a website that detailed almost every movie and how mom’s were always ‘knocked off’. The exception was Lion King and the Pixar movies don’t seem too intent on booting out the moms (except for Nemo of course). On this website it said that his own mother died rather tragically after Snow White was released (which was a Grimm fairy tale and already had the step mother/witch thing already going) and that this could be why mom’s seem to always have died in his movies. Interesting, though.

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3 Theta Mom August 19, 2009 at 10:41 am

You always ask some really thought-provoking questions, and although I cannot speak directly from experience here, I do wonder about some of the things you ask. Especially, is the reason behind the differences because of stepfathers not quite as vocal as stepmothers? Food for thought…
.-= Theta Mom´s last blog ..Are You In? =-.

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4 Carolyn August 19, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it and that it made you think. It’s a topic not thought of often enough, I think.

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5 Lindsay August 20, 2009 at 10:28 am

This is really interesting.

I think stepfathers have just as many complaints and issues with stepkids as stepmoms do, but there really aren’t a ton of male personal bloggers if you think about it. It’s not really a medium for personal expression for men.

I totally agree about Disney. I was terrified that my daughter’s impression of stepmothers would be horrible, based on the Disney movies she loves. She still hasn’t figured out that I’m technically a stepmother to her sisters yet, although she does know they have a different mommy. She seems to think that makes total sense! :D
.-= Lindsay´s last blog ..The Car Rider Circle of Hell =-.

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