The Evil Bio-Mom?
How Popular Culture Turned the Tables on Motherhood
Growing up, I pitied the evil stepmother. From Snow White to Cinderella, fairy tales and movies, the stepmother was branded with a bad reputation. Even though her history was often a story of suffering, grief, and abandonment, she was vilified taking on all the glorious attributes of her wicked behaviors. Often, she was an older women, sometimes a mother, and sometimes not. She may have been a widow or an ambitious, childless female, hungry for power and wealth. She was a home wrecker, a whore, and sometimes a sorceress who sold her soul for her own personal gain. Incapable of being loved for who she was, she resorted to trickery, seduction, witchcraft or magic to lure the innocent and unassuming father into her web. Except for Carol Brady, the loving matriarch from The Brady Bunch—biological mother to three girls, and stepmother to three boys, she embodied the all or nothing, full-in mother that most women aspire to be, or view as an unattainable dream. However, the first Mrs. Brady was dead, so it was an easy story line to sell during a time when divorce was an infrequent occurrence.
In North America, the divorce rate is around 47 percent—definitely not the highest rate worldwide, but an average rate. This greater opportunity for second marriages and blended families has forged new alliances and battles in the modern family era. The mom versus mom diatribe plays out on social media, and in popular culture upholding the old narrative of the evil stepmother versus the loving biological mother. Except at some point, an uprising of well-meaning stepmoms forged a new community of support to navigate through the difficult blended family environment, and volatile ex-spouse relationship. In the process, stepmothers have unintentionally turned the tables on biological moms. The catalogue of insulting memes, and new narratives of the jealous-bio-mom ex-wife, embittered by the gracious-stepmother new wife, are numerous. Google, or Pinterest search "evil stepmother." You may get a list of fictional characters, but the barrage of images, quotes, memes, and commentary about biological mothers and ex-wives is overwhelming and inescapable. How else would society counter balance the fictional characterization of step-mothers? In general, parents love their children and this concept of the evil mother/stepmother formulates in the imagination fueled by fear.
When my first marriage ended, I searched online and through experienced friends, for a community of others to join and start healing. I was greeted with an insulting foray of online crudity that made biological moms and ex-wives seem like old, boring, unattractive prudes. Even the positive first-wives groups, and online forums were nominal. Not only were we portrayed as bitter and unhappy, we were now horrible mothers, using our children as weapons to hurt or undermine our ex-husband's wonderful new life, at the psychological determent of our own kids. A largely inaccurate new narrative, I ended up in a group for divorced parents who met once a week at a local church while our children played and shared their own fears about divorce, shared custody, and blended families. These parents proved to be a solace for me and I learned what I had always known: there is more than one side to a story, and you are always the bad guy in someone's version of the story. I understood to a fault how much my children needed their father, trying to mitigate the damage control from our divorce by giving unsolicited advice to him. I was not without my faults but my mistrust for his process was not unwarranted either, based on years of default parenting I had unwillingly been assigned to. As a result of those early months and years, in a volatile separation, I still have my reservations. I don't doubt a father's love but I do doubt intentions. Unfortunately, my concern for my children was often misinterpreted as anger (another flaw attributed to the evil bio-mom). But my authoritative parenting style seemed to work best for our then adolescent children, now nearly adult daughter, and teenage son (their current age and independence of thought is the only reason I feel comfortable speaking about my experience publicly).
I admire my stepmom friends, some of them are ex-wives and bio-moms who have proven that positive relationships between exes and new spouses exist and should be the goal for the blended family. I envy them, and I love them for what they teach me. However, this is not the norm for many of us who are in an uphill battle to be there for our children, while keeping the lines of communication open with the other parent. My children have their own opinions and feelings that I have never been the dictator of. At some point, if you have done a good job, your children turn into independent teenagers on the road to being critical thinkers and adults who hold on to the values that mean something to them.
Most mothers want what is best for their children—biological or not. They love and share pride in the accomplishments of their kids. They care for the fathers and hope for the best, and for parents who are together, and in particular the blended family like my own. (My spouse and I share two younger biological children that have shaped me as a mother in ways I never imagined.) We want the next generation to be healthy, happy, and successful in their own right. This potentially damaging ignorance that crowned biological mothers as duplicitous and jealous women, pitting us against other loving mothers and stepmothers alike, has no place in a child's life.