Stepmoms are the worst! Wait, they're not, you say? Well, they certainly seem that way if you believe what you see on television shows or in movies. The media depictions of step-moms that every mom hates not only get things so wrong, they make life difficult for stepmoms (and birth moms, actually). It's hard to find a realistic portrayal of a stepmom in the media that doesn't either blame them for everything or set unattainable expectations for them. A stepmom is either the source of any and all conflicts, or the only person responsible for resolving all conflicts while effortlessly learning the ropes in a matter of episodes (or hours).
I love my husband, and work hard to be the best stepmom I can be. Being a stepmom is one of the most challenging things I've ever done, sometimes harder than being a birth mom. And I am still learning. To be perfectly honest, you don't fall in love with your step kids in an instant — and their mixed feelings of loyalty to their mom, jealousy, confusion, and even anger at you for entering the picture — can make the process complicated. To make matters worse, stepmoms are rarely the heroes in the stories our collective media pushes, often finding themselves the object of other characters' hatred and fear.
With their typical portrayal in the media, who can blame kids for being frightened or at least a little bit ambivalent about the new "parent" in the mix? Or for expecting their new stepmom to live up to unrealistic expectations, which is also problematic. Psychologists theorize that wicked stepmothers in stories are a way for our culture to deflect bad feelings away from idealized mothers (thanks Freud). In a reality, when many parents divorce and remarry and have to find ways to blend their families, it's time to give stepmoms a break.
The Evil Queen
This one's a classic. Almost every stepmother featured in Disney films or fairy tale themed stories fits this bill. She is evil. Seriously evil, and jealous of her stepdaughter, often wishing her harm or trying to have her killed. There is often no logical explanation for her behavior other than being rotten to the core.
This trope comes from children's desires to punish adults without ruining their idealized image of their mother. A stepmother is easy to hate. Regardless of its origin, this media depiction makes this stepmom feel like crap. It's not accurate or funny. Please stop.
The Clueless Stepmom
The clueless stepmom is featured frequently in modern media. She is so clearly not a mother, and often makes huge mistakes when trying to learn how to be a parent or even just a friend to her spouse's kids. Julia Roberts played the classic clueless stepmom in the 1998 dramedy, Stepmom. She makes serious mistakes and has serious conflict with the children and their birth mom but, as often is the case, they're all resolved in 90 minutes.
If only real life worked that way.
I mention Mrs. Brady here, because The Brady Bunch makes blending families and forming relationships with one another seem like child's play. Spoiler alert: It's not easy. At. All.
The show rarely deals with conflict or conflicting emotions, of which there are so many I could write a book. I will never be Carol Brady and, to be honest, real life is much better.
The Gold Digger
From Disney's evil queens, Angelica Huston's Baroness in Ever After to Bo Derek's ambitious character Beverly in Tommy Boy, stepmoms are often depicted as gold diggers, clearly after a man's money. Can we please get past the anti-feminist idea that women crave only power and money in their partners? This stepmom is an independent woman, who makes her own money thank you very much.
The Controlling Stepmom
Speaking of Angelica Huston, her portrayal of a stepmom is another trope — the controlling mother. She is power hungry and controlling, a stereotypical abuser, who seems to gain pleasure in controlling her stepdaughter's every move. She is easy to hate, and gives stepmoms a seriously bad name.
The Younger Woman
The younger woman is a archetype that appears as an enemy in so many different stories. As a stepmom she is inserted to contrast the kind, selfless, older woman who sacrificed everything for her kids only to be set aside. Again, this stereotype plays into our worst fears, but is the younger new stepmom really to blame for her husband leaving his ex? Is it her fault she's young, sexy, and beautiful? This depiction often associates youth and being sexy with being a bad person. Slut-shaming at it's worst.
The Nanny Turned Stepmom
From Maria Von Trapp to Nanny McPhee, these stepmoms are perfect in every way. Even though they needed to change their stepkids' hearts and minds, they are a model that no one can live up to.
The Other Woman
Not only is the stepmom prettier and younger than the birth mom, she stole dad from her. What a b*tch. This is another anti-feminist portrayal that depicts women as the only ones responsible for men's infidelity. Also, this stereotype is so prominent that people automatically assume that stepmoms were or are the other woman. I was not the other woman, but people immediately suspected I was. My husband was asked so frequently, "When did you meet Steph?" Followed by, "Was it before or after?" Nope. Absolutely not. Stop talking. Seriously.
The Cool Stepmom
I love Allison Janney. Her character in Juno seems like the coolest stepmom ever. Sadly, I don't think I will ever be that cool, or be as active in my stepkids' lives as she is. I will always be available to talk to my stepdaughter (and all of my kids) about anything, including unplanned pregnancy, but I always try to leave the main parenting of my stepkids up to my husband and their birth mother.
And, I am pretty sure that if my stepdaughter ever got pregnant, I wouldn't be as shy about discussing her options and future plans for birth control.
Stepmoms are literally so hated that they must be aliens on a secret mission to infiltrate the earth, like the stepmom in My Stepmother Is An Alien. I know I have blue hair, but come on, people.
I honestly want nothing more than to get to know you and become a trusted adult in your life. If you disagree with me, that's totally normal and OK, but I'm not evil, wicked, or an alien. Just give me some time. I might not be as cool as Allison Janney, but I have amazing taste in music and can be an awesome friend and ally.