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Book Review: Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin

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Tales of demonic stepmothers seemingly can be found in every culture. Janghwa Hongreyon is a Korean folk tale about a stepmother who kills her own stepdaughters. Of course, everyone has heard of Hansel and Gretel whose stepmother lures her stepchildren children into her clutches by offering them sweets. And everyone knows Cinderella's plight until she is saved by a handsome prince.

 

Is a stepmother really a Stepmonster as portrayed down through history, especially in fairy tales? Wednesday Martin’s book is a researched attempt to lessen this persistent myth with evidence to the contrary. However, her book in no way claims that the lives of  stepmothers will ever be easy or that  horror fables about them won't forever continue. 

 

Stepmonster explains the conflict that arises as an ecstatically happy bride, just back from her honeymoon with her charming prince-like husband, suddenly stumbles over the baggage brought into their married life by the children of his ex-wife. Author Martin explains that from the very beginning of the newlyweds' relationship, a head on collision is very likely.

 

According to Stepmonster, the four most hated, words a caring stepmother will eventually hear are: You’re not my mother! Fearing these impenetrable dagger-like words, a new stepmother often tries far too hard to be kind, patient, understanding, and caring, hoping that if she just tries hard enough, a maternal blending might take place — that she’ll be accepted and loved. 

Particularly if she has not had experience raising children from birth, a new stepmother will likely be unaware of the developmental stages all children go through; phases that often cause the best parents some hair-pulling include: 1) difficulty with understanding their children, 2) difficulty with understanding their own marital relationship.

 So many times, problems arise over discipline. A busy husband with a high stress job might leave family discipline matters to his new bride. For the father, the matter seems so simple. He provides financial support for the new family; his wife should mold the family as a unit. To him, not only does she become his wife, but subconsciously, she simply takes the place of their former mother. How is a stepmother in this thoughtless situation supposed to learn her parenting skills? By osmosis?

 

If you are a stepmother, Stepmonster explains that you must first create your own healthy psyche while dealing with your husband’s children. First and foremost is accepting this fact: You are not their mother. Thus, as their new caregiver, there is no way you can ever really take her place. The upbringing they’ve had up till now is not your responsibility, nor are any of their emotional and/or social problems. In time if some type of real bonding occurs — notice I said "if" — you might then be able to influence the kind of people your stepchildren might become. What must be clear from the beginning of a new marriage is this: The ultimate responsibility for these children and their lives belongs to their father. 

As a reviewer, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Stepmonster is as much about divorce as it is about step-mothering. It is difficult for me to accept the fact that marriage, fostering children, divorce, and subsequent remarriage have pretty much become an accepted way of life. Stepmonster states that 70 percent of such unions fail. Would a person hunting for a new automobile even consider a purchase if 70 percent of that model line of cars failed?

 To me, marriage vows are very sacred. They are for life. Thus it is critical that partners really, really, r-e-a-l-l-y, know each other before they produce children because as Stepmonster points out, a second marriage can produce a lot of unquestionably hurtful feelings.

For those individuals considering a marriage where either partner or both already have children, this book and its wealth of wisdom about the importance of cooperative parenting is a must read. For husbands it is critical to understand that his children are exactly that — his offspring. They will remain his obligation after marriage and he must be the one to deal with the way they behave, the way they adjust to their new stepmother, the way they accept their own responsibilities.

For bewildered stepmothers, Stepmonster can ease your pain. It can show you ways of dealing with your husband’s children, even if it means excluding yourself from the household situation. You are not there to be abused. You are there to foster new relationships as a loving, concerned person, so long as you and your husband cooperatively work out family matters.

 

I would also recommend this book to readers who know little about stepmothers and the staggering problems they face with their new marriages. I must confess that I, probably like most people, simply assumed that a second marriage with children would work out because it worked out, often riotously, on the old TV show, The Brady Bunch. Wow! Stepmonster is a real eye-opener!

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