In Praise of Stepmothers

In Praise of the Stepmother

In Praise of the Stepmother (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There once was a horrible woman who treated her biological daughters better than her step-daughter. In fact, she treated her step-daughter like the most lowly of servants. Then a rich guy fell in love with the servant girl, married her and took her away from her bad situation. The end.

Sound familiar? Other than the fact that this silly story suggests that marriage is the answer to a woman’s dreams, it has historically been the bane of every stepmother in at least the last 200 years.

The wicked stepmother. By now it has become an archetype. I’m not sure what its origins are but it certainly has had staying power. It encapsulates the notion that if  children are not your own, that you can’t love them, and worse, that you actually hate them and will carry out that hatred in nefarious and crushing ways.

What an image for women to have to cope with! Not only do they have to deal with a ready-made family but they also have to overcome these ridiculous fairy stories.

Most stepmothers try to do their best. I know, because I used to be one. It’s difficult, demanding, and requires the sensitivity of a professional diplomat. And there are few rewards for getting it right, but lots of condemnation for getting it wrong.

Yes, lots of step-parents are crap. But lots of biological parents are crap, too.

Mother’s Day is coming. Its popularity did not come out of the idea of honouring one’s mother. That came out of war. Out of the heartbreaking losses of sons that women had to endure because a government decided to send them to die. And there were lots of stepmothers among them.

Hallmark and other companies have commercialized and capitalized on Mother’s Day and it has become a colossal money-maker for florists and restaurants and the makers of cards. Its founder, American Anna Jarvis, was disappointed by this. It has been turned into flowers and hearts but that’s not really what it was supposed to be about.

It’s supposed to be about work. Hard work. And love and tears and worry and sleeplessness. And lots of people, not just mothers, have done that for us.

So, this Sunday, we should perhaps honour the fight that our mothers, stepmothers and others have carried out for us. For many of us, it was the struggle that saved us, not the flowers.