Thursday , February 29 2024
"I was discovering I couldn’t find my footing or trust my judgment.”

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

In choosing to marry a man with children, Stepmonster author Wednesday Martin joined a grim statistic: over half of all adult women marry a man with children, and seven percent of those partnerships will fail. So, one in two women will do this, ignoring the warning signs, not fully sure where to fit in, and not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ early on.

As Martin found firsthand, the longer a woman with stepchildren waits to find her way into the family, the harder it is for her to ever draw the line or be taken seriously as an adult with authority. There is a skill to learning when to take a stand and when to disengage.

This issue plagues many blended families, with today’s domestic climate of growing diversity, multiple marriages, and mixed households. So Stepmonster is not a how-to book, but an analysis of what goes wrong and why the role of a newcomer, especially as a stepmother, is particularly difficult. In fact, the divorce rate is three times more intense with a stepmother than a stepfather in a household.

Much resentment stems from factors surely beyond the stepmother’s control. In fact, children are quite powerless in the marriage decision, so stepping into a well-formed life, or being perceived as a rival assures trouble ahead. The “bonds of relatedness” trump new love every time.

Martin’s focus in Stepmonster is to put the stepmother back at the center of her own life. She thoroughly conveys the impact on womens' self-esteem, as only a stepmother could explain.

In a new marriage, children may feel all they get is less time with daddy, new household rules, and changes in routine, all resulting in confusion, insecurity, and hostility. It's no wonder the stepmother feels like an outsider. Another unexpected dynamic that can turn a stepmother into a stepmonster is called “conflict by proxy” where women married to men with children take on their husbands’ emotional work, literally fighting their battles for them, acting on and acting out their unvoiced issues.

Martin pulls together research studies, expert insights, and interviews with people in stepfamily roles. Stepmonster includes some rough stuff about perceptions of stepmothers sometimes utterly difficult to consider, such as being perceived as cold, jealous, or selfish.

The “You’re Not My Mother” chapter resonates with the myth of the blended family and the problems stepchildren have with their parent’s new spouse, including real or imagined competition for love, money, and access to the parent.

Whatever precedes it, whatever comes after hearing "You’re not my mother" becomes the heart of the matter, obliterating all else in the sentence, argument, relationship. It is where everything starts and ends. It is a fact.

Chapter 7, "Sociobiology," has very interesting history and research probing whether people who are not related can learn to love each other and a broad view of stepfamilies worldwide.

Reading Stepmonster can shed light on the heft of balancing risks and rewards that are unknown until the morning you wake up in the role of stepmother. Most are problems that don’t go away as the children age. In fact, many step-family situations get more complicated with in-laws.

Stepmonster opens the door to an understanding of the accompanying sadness or depression that may appear in what should be the happiest time of your life.

About Helen Gallagher

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