One Step Forward, One Step Back

While Snow White gets a new kick-butt persona, the stepmother archetype remains stagnent.

Who doesn’t love a Hollywood makeover?  Especially when well-worn stories that once  featured the helpless damsel in distress are retold with a more empowered, feminist point of view.

Case in point, the two upcoming releases featuring retellings of Snow White. Both feature sword-wielding protaganists determined to take control of their fate and reclaim their rightful kingdoms all the while looking amazing. So what can be anti-feminist about kick-butt versions of classic fairytale princesses?  Enter the villian. 

In order to become heros in their stories, both Snow Whites must face off with their respective Evil Queens who both perpetuate the evil stepmother archetype: one played by Julia Roberts and the other by Charlize Theron. While the classic Disney version of the tale never made the Queen’s connection to Snow White clear, both remakes in question explicitly cast the villain in the stepmother role.

So why is this a feminist issue? This archetype perpetuates the notion of stepmoms as hateful, controlling interlopers who do nothing but seek to fulfill their own desires even if it means crushing their stepchildren in the process. An archetype that in most cases could be nothing further from the truth. According the Wednesday Martin, author of the book Stepmonster, stepmothers are often the most powerless and vulnerable members of the stepfamily system.

To those outside of stepfamily life, it is difficult to perceive the differences between a stepfamily and a first family.  As a result, roles within the stepfamily are judged by a first family standard.  To an outsider, the situation appears simple, the new wife fills the former wife’s role in the household.  If she loves her husband, loves the children, attends to their needs and is nice, everyone will get along and be a happy family.  If she fails to show anything other than enthusiam for her role or his kids, she is judged harshly for it.  “You knew he had kids when you were dating him, what did you expect?” 

In reality, stepfamilies are complex situations that are based in loss. Remarriages bring together individuals who bring their different histories and past hurts into the situation. The child inevitably hurts from the disentigration of his first family. The parents feel guilty about the hurt they’ve caused their children, which often leads to overcompensation by way of lessened discipline, increased privileges, or even treatment of the child as an equal, blurring the line between adult and child.  Adding another person to the mix is not as simple as snapping a puzzle piece into place.  It does not make what is broken whole again.  It creates choas which doesn’t resolve easily. Boundaries must be re-established, discipline needs to be addressed, old wounds are opened… all related to issues that existed before the stepmom came along, but are attributed to her as her presence brought change about.  Very often, she feels responsible for fixing what she didn’t break. It’s part of what makes her role so difficult.    

The perpetuation of the evil stepmother archetype continues to cast a shadow on a greatly misunderstood role.  It creates more stress. Stepmoms seek to avoid the label even to their detriment.  According to Martin:

“Canadian researchers have found that, owing to their conviction that they must “blend” the family, and owing also to their fear of being perceived as wicked, stepmothers tend to take on the role of family counselor and marital therapist, and to bend over backwards to be “perfect.” The result is feelings of exhaustion and burnout. And such feelings, combined with the hostile environment she often finds herself in when the kids are around, prime her for anxiety and depression.”  

Not exactly the stuff of female empowerment. 

As a stepmom, I long for the day when stepmothers are portrayed against the archetype as someone sympathetic you can cheer for instead of distain.  Until then, the closest we’ll get is Alison Janey’s character in Juno who passionately defended her pregnant teenage stepdaughter to an insensitive ultrasound technician and, of course, Julia Roberts, in the somewhat unrealistic Stepmom.

Late in Life Babies are a Rich Woman’s Game

God, I hate going to the OB/GYN. 

After my last miscarriage in 2010, I avoided going just because I couldn’t bear to be in the same room with a bunch of pregnant women.  There they sit: all glowing, cooing, comparing notes and blissfully unaware of the storm of emotions welling up inside that quiet 40-something woman sitting along with them fighting back her tears and mourning her losses.  Then, of course, there was the inevitable face off with the clueless medical assistant who didn’t think to look at my medical records to see that I was there for a post miscarriage visit who asked “have you ever been pregnant?” 

Today, I got back in the game and went to a new office and a new doctor in hopes of a fresh start.  Once again, I was sitting in the lobby with pregnant women and their husbands with the choice of Baby or Parenting magazine to occupy my time. ( I think I am going to found and create Childless Mother magazine, just so people like me have something to read at the OB/GYN!  Think of stories I could write: Why You’re Not Good Enough to Bear Children – Take Our Fun Quiz!; She May Be Pregnant, But You Can Have a Margarita: 10 Ways to Console Yourself… the possibilities are endless.)  Other than fueling my sick, self-depreciating sense of humor, I made it through this part.

Then came the part where I had to tell my sad, pathetic story to the doctor. ( I just love crying in front of people I’ve just met. Don’t you?)  I must say I am glad that she was extremely sympathetic and, thankfully, frank with me.  After reviewing my medical records, she said what I expected to hear.  At my age, healthy pregnancies are not impossible, but not common.  Chromosomal abnormalities are extremely likely making miscarriage risk high.  I can conceive. I show no other signs of being unable to carry.  I present no other risk factors.  My eggs are just, well, old.

She told me the surer bet is egg donation, which – much like adoption – is a $30 to $40k investment.  Money I do not have either way you look at it.  

In communicating with Hubs, we both realized that this is one of life’s crueler games.  Men have the capacity produce healthy sperm in their more mature years, but the woman’s contribution to the party is finite.  The eggs have a shelf life. 

I hate to be negative here, but starting that magazine is looking very attractive to me now.   Perhaps the advertising revenues for it will buy me a baby.  Then I could be on the cover (just like Oprah) beaming proudly holding my baby with the headline, “Crossing Over: Our Final Issue.”

I really wish I could end this on a more positive note.  I’ve actually felt much more at peace lately, but today is emotionally messy.  I am brokenhearted and confused.  Where do I go from here?  How do you move on when the sure bet turns into a long shot?  I’ve dreamed, hoped, and planned on being a mom throughout my life.  I never counted on the alternative.   I always had hope, but now I’m not sure.

I think I need a margarita.

Reposting Because It’s True…

Thank you Becoming Stepmom for this post.  Hope you don’t mind that I swiped it!

Above is post from a very wise author and blogger about something that I deal with everyday: the lack of control. It is especially poignant when I look at it in terms of the other elements of my life where I had no say in what happened to me. Namely, losing my first husband and losing two pregnancies. The strain of all of this is taking its toll and I am trying desperately to not let this take me down. Life often requires that we surrender, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up.


“You know what you gotta do when life gets you down?
Just keep swimming
Just keep swimming
Just keep swimming swimming swimming
What do we do we swim, swim, swim
OH HO HO How I love to swim
When you WAAAAAANNTTT to swim you want to swim”
– Dory

Becoming A Stepmom

When I interviewed Dr. Paul Rosch, the president of the American Institute of Stress, he told me that when you don’t feel like you have control, you feel stress. This comes as no surprise to stepmothers everywhere. But I’ve noticed in my own life and in talking to stepmoms that we often react to this lack of control in our home lives by becoming tense and controlling over things that the research on stepfamilies tells us often result in backfiring. (Manners, cleanliness, rules, grades, food,  schedules, ex-wives, etc.)

I reacted to the stress of moving in with three children and their dad. Boy did I ever. But after a while, we found our equilibrium. I found little things I could control that made me feel more involved in the family. And I worked hard to develop a really strong marriage so I felt safe enough to let go of some…

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Hello world!

First post is bubbling inside my head and slowly leaking out.  It’ll be here soon!