The Evil Stepmother Speaks: Is Your Stepfamily Afraid of You?

The Stepfamily is Scared of the Stepmom
The Stepfamily Mantra
Ahh! My Dad Married the Evil Stepmother! Run!

Has your stepfamily ever told you that they are afraid of you?  Don’t be surprised if they are terrified.  Yes, I said ‘terrified’.  No one will tell you that they are scared.  In fact, they may act as if they tower over you and give you the impression that you are powerless.  Have you seen this type of behavior by your stepchildren or the stepkids’ Mom?  Maybe, you have complained that they only think of themselves or that they are completely narcissistic.

As some of you are shaking your heads, “yes!”, I want to challenge your thought process.  Although you may be treated thoughtlessly by your stepfamily, I think they are scared.  There is good reason to be frightened of all of us.  We are new to the family.  Even if the family has known us for awhile, once we move into the home, the dynamics change.  We are permanent.  That’s scary.

Here are some good reasons to fear all stepmothers:

  1. Think about your predecessors. 
    Our brains see the world through stories.  We certainly are familiar with the fairy tales and the names of the women that have come before us.  Lovely characters like Malificent, Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s stepmother), Baroness Rodmilla De Ghent (from the movie, Ever After), and The Queen (Snow White).  As soon as the word stepmother is spoken,  deep fear sets in.  Our history speaks for itself.
  2. We might take their Dad/Ex-Husband away.
    It is normal for stepchildren to secretly fear that their stepmother would now be first in their father’s heart.  Mom would worry that her children would be set aside.  Who knows if Dad will spend all of his money on his new wife and forsake his ‘old’ family?  These fears are reinforced by the media everyday.  See #1.
  3. We might be lovable.
    What if the children start to love their stepmother more than their mom?  We all know that this will not happen, but the fear exists.  Every mom shudders at the notion that there is another woman sitting in the wings.  Once again, the media helps to reinforce this deep rooted fear.  (Ever heard of Jerry Springer?)

All of these fears are legitimate and real.  Here is what is happening.  Your left brain is built to be comfortable with what it has seen in the past.  It likes to see familiar story lines from our past experience.  So, when the brain sees an unfamiliar tale, like Dad living with another woman, the brain sends out a signal.  May Day!  May Day!  Whoop!  Whoop!  Whoop!  Our flight or fight system is set into motion.  Our instinct is to push back and flee.  We feel fear.  We say mean things.  We behave in unkind ways and, certainly, want to get life back to the way it used to look.

Don’t expect anyone to admit that they are scared.  Your family members probably do not even realize that fear is driving their behavior.  They just know that they want you to go away.  They don’t know that their flight or fight systems have been triggered.  They are feeling fear.

So, the next time you are frustrated by any member of your stepfamily, consider the possibility that they are scared of you.  Try to counteract the fear with silence and/or extreme kindness. Bake cookies.  Give them space with their loved ones so that the fear dissipates.  It may seem counter intuitive, but give it a try.

5 Responses to The Evil Stepmother Speaks: Is Your Stepfamily Afraid of You?

  1. This is a REALLY REALLY good point – I think too often we approach the issue too simplistically when we label the emotions ‘resentment,’ ‘anger,’ jealousy,’ etc. It really is FEAR at the root of so many stepfamily emotions! Thinking about it in this way, we can consider how we, ourselves, act and what we need when we’re feeling scared, and can approach the members of our stepfamilies in more compassionate ways. I love this!

  2. While I agree with the idea that “fear” is at the root of the responses stepchildren display to stepparents, particularly among stepdaughters and stepmothers, I am not completely sold on the strategy shared, “counteract the fear with silence and/or extreme kindness.” It is quite possible that the stepchild would mistake the “extreme kindness” as a weakness or find the effort to be phony. How do you manage the relationship when acts of kindness are taken for granted or expected? My stepdaughter is attention-seeking and has a sense of entitlement.

  3. Stepmothers have their work cut out for them. And it is not uncommon for tension, compromise, and confusion to rule when the role of parent is shared between a step and biological parent. Some people still feel that stepparents aren’t “real” parents, but our culture has no norms to suggest how they are different. And the less our roles are defined, the more unhappy we are as both parents and stepparents.

    Another role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other in much the same way as biological parents and their children do. In reality, however, this is often just not so. A stepparent might feel a tremendous amount of guilt about his or her lack of positive feelings (or even the presence of negative feelings) toward the spouse’s children. Discipline might be a constant source of family conflict: You might, for example, think your ex-spouse isn’t being strict enough, when in fact, most stepfathers and stepmothers think the real parent is not being strict enough.

    As a stepparent, you might feel like an unbiased observer with a grudge because you’re an outsider and the very thing that’s making you “unbiased” is something you resent, biology. Stepchildren, as well, often don’t react to their parent’s new spouse as though he or she were the “real” parent. The irony of expecting instant “real” parent-child love is further complicated by the fact that stepparents are not generally expected to be “equal” in discipline or otherwise controlling their stepchildren.

    Another reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that your child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility. Commonly children harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. If children had reservations about or strongly disapproved of your divorce, they may sabotage your new relationships in the hope that you will get back together. Children who want their natural parents to remarry may feel that sabotaging the new relationship will get them back together. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

    Although all stepchildren and stepparents are to some degree uncomfortable with some aspect of their new family role, certain difficulties are more likely to affect stepmothers, and others are more common to stepfathers. Conflicting expectations of a stepmother’s role make it especially hard. As a stepparent, your best shot at happiness is to ignore the myths and negative images and to work to stay optimistic.

    As a stepmother, yes, your work is cut out for you. In fact, the role of stepmother is thought by some clinicians to be more difficult than that of stepfather. One important reason is that stepmother families, more than stepfather families, may be born of difficult custody battles and/or have a history of particularly troubled family relations.

    Society also seems, on the one hand, to expect romantic, almost mythical loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel, vain, selfish, competitive, and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtime stories we are all familiar with). Stepmothers are also often accused of giving preferential treatment to their own children. As a result, a stepmother must be much better than just okay before she is considered acceptable. No matter how skillful and patient you are, all your actions are suspect. Is it any wonder that stepmothers tend to be more stressed, anxious, and depressed than other mothers and also more stressed than stepfathers?

    Some researchers have found that stepmothers behave more negatively toward stepchildren than do stepfathers, and children in stepmother families seem to do less well in terms of their behavior. In fact, the relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is often the most difficult. Yet, other studies indicate that stepmothers can have a positive impact on stepchildren. Because stepmothers are much more likely to play an active part in the lives of children than stepfathers, perhaps there is simply more to go wrong.

    Still, some step-mothering situations can make this role especially complicated — such as a part-time or weekend stepmother if you are married to a non-custodial father who sees his children regularly. You may try with all your heart to establish a loving relationship with your husband’s children, only to be openly rejected, or you may feel left out of part of his life because of his relationship with his children. In addition, a part-time stepmother can feel left out by her husband’s relationship with his ex-wife; for example, non-custodial fathers need to spend time communicating with their ex-wives about their children’s school problems, orthodontia, illnesses, and even household maintenance and repairs.

    Yet, well-run by knowledgeable, confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), this modern version of an ancient family form can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

    Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect

  4. I have been writing about my own experience as a step mother for awhile now and came across your blog through researching other women in my position. Thanks for the encouragement in the journey!

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