Do stepmothers actually love their stepchildren
Why it's easier to love a stepfather than a stepmother
When I started researching my book Step monsters Six years after I married a man with children from a previous partnership, a fact hit me on the forehead: Time and again, people with stepparents who heard about my project let me know that they liked their stepfathers well. In fact, in many cases, they loved her and even considered her "another father". It was their stepmothers who were the problem, they insisted. One woman in her thirties said to me, "I know it's not about me because I love my stepfather. He's a great guy. My stepmother, on the other hand - I don't like her."
This theme - nice stepfather, "terrible" stepmother - was remarkably common, as was the tendency to view a stepfather as "another parent" but a stepmother as "my father's wife", even when the relationship between the stepchildren was concerned all ages and the stepmother was good. Most notable - and saddest - was the pronounced frequency of strained relationships between stepdaughters and stepmothers. Indeed, much of the literature on stepparenting suggests that stepmothers and stepchildren are by and large less close than stepfathers and stepchildren. What explains these differences?
The usual attitude towards stepmother-stepchildren tension in our culture is, of course, that stepmothers are overwhelmingly evil, petty, and jealous, creatures straight out of the Grimm brothers. It would only follow this cultural logic that their stepchildren dislike and dislike them.
Demographic reality - there are now more stepfamilies than early families in the US - has moved a little further to bridge the gap between our perception of stepmothers as a group and their actual identity. For example, we know from research that my own findings illustrate some key truths about stepfamily life: Many stepmothers actually bend over backwards to win over cautious stepchildren, and most women who are with a man with children Living on Every age does so with the best of intentions. As stepfamilies become statistically normative, we have the opportunity to rewrite the stepmother script in a way that is less fantastic and rooted in myth and more rooted in the everyday realities of stepfamily life.
But that's just the problem. Because it turns out that the root of much of the tension between stepmothers and stepchildren lies in lived experience, not just myth. This is especially true of stepmothers and stepmothersDaughters. As it turns out, it's not just that most women with stepchildren make an effort, at least initially. They feel they have to because they are facing huge challenges that a stepfather doesn't have. The next time you hear a child, young adult, or adult talk about not getting along with their stepmother, you can bet that one of the following stepmother challenges is involved:
1. Children, young adults, and adults have a harder time accepting a stepmother than a stepfather. This often leads to hostile and negative behavior. Simply put, the literature on stepparenting shows that stepmothers generally have a tougher set to hack than stepfathers, and a lot of that difficulty is that they feel and are actually rejected by their stepchildren of all ages.
2. What makes it more difficult for a stepchild to accept a stepmother? What constitutes a stepchild's resentment against "Daddy's New Wife"? If you think it's their own malice just to try, guess again. It may have more to do with the children's mother than anything the stepmother does or doesn't do. According to researchers such as Mavis Hetherington and Constance Ahrons, women experience more resentment and anger after a divorce and live it longer than men, who are more likely to cultivate fantasies of reconciliation and work for "smooth sailing" with an ex-spouse. Based on her 30-year Virginia longitudinal study of life after divorce, Hetherington concludes that stepmothers, often taken by stepchildren who pick up their mother's anger and resentment and become their proxy in their father's household, are often for a very bad one Treatment can be selected. More than one adult stepchild said to me, "My mother wouldn't like it if my stepmother and I were close." Often times, a stepchild who "hates" their stepmother feels that they are showing solidarity with their mother. If mom were to specifically give her permission to like her stepmother and let her know that being angry with the stepmother is not an option, the behavior and resentment it came from would likely go away.
3. Women with stepchildren are more likely to feel compelled to try everything to win over their children. Too often this involves trying to be motherly and loving. And for a child or adult child in a bond of loyalty - feeling that the stepmother's liking is betrayal of mother - the encroachment of stepmother and attempting "to act like she is my mother" becomes especially abusive and insulting appear threatening. Thus, it is rejected more rounded. Stepfathers, on the other hand, have more berth to step back and let things develop on their own with their stepchildren. A man with a stepson said to me, "I wanted my wife to be a mother to my son. I even thought that it should somehow come 'naturally' to her. But I didn't feel the pressure to do that for my stepons be." They already had a father and I knew that. I was there to have someone who would do something to them, listen to them, things like that. "Such double standards break against stepmothers. But with less pressure on them to be 'fatherly', stepfathers feel less pressure to act like fathers, and stepchildren feel less internal conflict about 'betraying' father. Don't forget that Statistically, it is generally easier to have an ex-husband than an ex-wife because anger and resentment after divorce are (by and large) different because dad is less likely to have a strong agenda about how his children are from When a stepfather is "brought up" (who doesn't feel so compelled to do the parenting anyway) there are fewer opportunities for conflict between men in different households than there are between women in different households Stepmother household (husband, wife and their children) more combustible than a stepfather household (husband, wife and their children).
4. Girls, young women, and adult women, in particular, are likely to model their mother's feelings and behaviors and sign their beliefs about their divorce from their father. That fact, plus the fact that an ex-wife refuses to have her husband work together again, often fuel the fires of a stepdaughter's hostility towards her stepmother.
5. Divorced Reunited or remarried fathers are often afraid of causing annoyance to their ex-wives ("If she gets angry, I may never see my children again") and alienating their children if they say "no" or the children adhere to a high standard of behavior. For these reasons, an ex-wife can be a very powerful presence in her ex-husband's house, making her agenda deeply felt. And dad's house could become a "no rules" household - meaning there are few rules for treating stepmother with respect, both because he is afraid of alienating his children and because of the influence of his ex-wife . If a woman or partner with stepchildren tries to exercise their right to fair treatment in the household under these conditions, her husband or partner may not support her position. This creates tension within the couple - tension that the stepmother may attribute only to the stepchildren. And so the tension between stepmother and stepchild is further increased, this time within the stepparent / stepchild dyad.
6. Despite increasingly involved fathers, in most states mothers are more likely to have full or primary custody, according to divorce and custody professionals. This means that stepmothers will likely still only see their stepchildren on alternate weekends, bank holidays, and vacations. Experts tell us that it is more difficult to develop a safe and happy relationship with a stepchild of any age in such "spurts". Stepfathers, on the other hand, are likely to live with women who have custody of their children, which facilitates daily interaction and a relationship that develops over time rather than rushed weekends or potentially stressful vacation "visits".
In general, therapists and the rest of us should be aware that when a "step monster" accusation is made, something far more complicated (and common) than a "bad stepmother" is almost always the primary culprit. We should also keep in mind that a stepmother's success with her partner's children does not depend on "good intentions and a good heart" but, as a rule, depends on factors (see above) beyond her control.
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