Stepmothers: Beyond the Fairy Tale
Keeping it fair with Twinkie matters and more
-Anne Belli Perez
Consider a stepmom’s typical morning:
She’s making school lunches and has just two of the kid-favorite Twinkies packs left and two less desirable treats. She has two natural children and two stepchildren. Who gets the Twinkies?
Think this is a trivial problem? Think again.
Stepmoms with natural children of their own are bombarded with fairness situations dozens of times a day, and each time they’re torn between their humane desire to treat all the children equally and their maternal desire to make their natural children as happy as possible.
Step parenting experts will tell her to do the obvious: Always be fair; divide-up the Twinkies. But few will tell her how to practically deal with the emotional whiplash these situations cause on the ever-increasing population of moms/stepmoms.
As courts increasingly award equal time to biological fathers, those men’s wives turn into more than just weekend stepmoms. Indeed, the “fairness” issue can permeate virtually every one of her child-rearing decisions – from how to mete out discipline to how often to volunteer at the children’s schools to, yes, even the trivial Twinkie matters.
“There is this paradoxical position that we need to juggle where, yes, indeed you are the mother figure and you are doing the mother’s chores, but you are not the real mother,” said Sue Patton Thoele, author of The Courage to Be a Stepmom: Finding Your Place Without Losing Yourself.
In cases in which the natural mother is the primary parent, “the stepmother’s place is more as friend and mentor,” she said. “You are the mother of your children and that is always the primary responsibility for you.”
In cases in which the natural mother is either not the primary parent or is deceased, the stepmom must strive all the harder to be two things, Thoele said. “We are asked to do and be an awful lot are given very little in return,” she said.
However hard, she said, “It is incredibly important to be kind and it is incredibly important to be fair.” In the Twinkie case, she said, “Cut them in two and give them each some. It is okay to want to just slip them into your own kids’ lunches. But the fallout is too great because it doesn’t fall under fair and kind.”
As years pass, the Twinkie issues become much larger and become money-for-college issues or inheritance issues, she noted. Practicing fairness and kindness with the trivial will make the tougher decisions easier.
Thoele, a psychotherapist who most recently authored, “The Mindful Woman: Gentle Practices for Restoring Calm, Finding Balance & Opening Your Heart,” also advises stepmoms to find a support group of others like them. All the better if they could talk their husbands into going to some meetings, too, she said.
“Find a way to hold your husband accountable,” Thoele said. “These are his children. Find a way for him to hear what is really going on in the family. Sometimes the only way for this to happen is in a group with other stepparents.”