Dealing with the Stigma of “Step” Parent

Growing up as a Disney movie addict, I have a lot to thank them for. Their films introduced me to the world of fairytales, princesses, prince charming, and basically all things magical and amazing. However, I have a HUGE bone to pick with them. Growing up with a stepmother and now being a stepmother myself, I have been forever plagued by the word “step” because of these moviemakers. For some reason, they decided to make the word “evil” inextricably linked to the term “stepmother.” Doesn’t it just roll off your tongue? Of course, like all familial roles, being a stepmom has not been a complete fairytale. No little girl dreams of growing up to be a stepmother. Nevertheless, in all honesty, my overall experience as a stepmom has been wonderful and I am so happy, fulfilled and proud of this title.

But even though I’m delighted to be a stepmom, sharing this fact with other people is always an interesting experience to say the least. During a conversation, it is totally normal for someone to ask you how many kids you have. Instead of just nonchalantly spitting out a number like a “traditional” mom, I always cringe when I get this question because not only is my answer an hour long (“well, I have a biological two-year-old with my husband but he has two kids from a previous marriage but he has full custody so they live with us, so basically 3. Final answer, 3 kids”), but I am usually met with eyes of pity, sympathy or outright shock.

Why is this? Like I said, I have no issues with being a stepmom. Literally my biggest issue is dealing with the stigma the word carries. We love each other like a traditional family, we fight like a traditional family, and nowadays when more than 1300 stepfamilies are forming per day, you would think that the word “step” would be no big deal. But in reality, it still is for people. When I admit I’m a stepmother, I feel like people automatically assume that the kids hate me, that I have a terrible relationship with the ex, or that I stole my husband from his ex. After I give my spiel about my family structure I always feel inclined to mention that the kids and I really get along and that there is no beef with the ex.

Some stepfamilies have chosen to cope with this stigma in “step” by changing the language. You might hear terms like blended family or bonus mom. These words definitely have a more positive connotation but they aren’t perfect. The term blended makes me feel pressure for everyone in the family to so intensely mix and mingle. Just like any other family, some relationships within the family unit will be closer than others. It isn’t necessarily always a homogenous “blend.” And bonus mom just sounds like something you got in your cereal box.

The reality is, I’m a stepmom and I love my stepkids and treat them like my own. I am often stigmatized for this title but with the prevalence of stepfamilies on the rise, I have hope that the stereotype of strife with stepmotherhood will be overcome soon or at least lessened. Or maybe I should just write in to Disney and suggest they make a movie where the stepmom is the superhero. That would be much truer to life anyway!