Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. has written Stepmonster with a highly personal yet professional view (with many references to studies and statistics regarding stepmothers).
My marriage was meant to be. It was also doomed to fail. You see, I chose a man with children. Experts estimate that more than half of all adult women in the United States will do the same in their lifetimes and that up to 70 percent of those partnerships will fail. … The greatest predictor of divorce is the presence of children from a previous marriage. In fact, divorce rates are 50 percent higher in remarriages with children than in those without.
. . . E. Mavis Hetherington, Ph.D., psychologist and author of the landmark, three-decade Virginia Longitudinal Study of 1,400 families that divorced and remarried, notes that whereas children frequently come to appreciate having a stepfather–particularly if he brings in income, provides companionship to Mom, and proves to be a friend to the child–“the situation with stepmothers is more difficult and stepchild resentment is more intense.” And this state of affairs is more or less unavoidable. As Hetherington writes, “Even those [women] who would like to be less involved [in running the family] rarely have the chance. They are often expected to be nurturers to already difficult and suspicious children [and] to impose some kind of order on the household, which is angrily and bitterly resented by many stepchildren.” Hetherington found “a real demonizing of the stepmother” in situations where the husband did not support his wife’s efforts to parent and discipline, and where the husband’s ex treated her as a rival and was highly involved in the children’s lives and their father’s household.
…Yet stepfamily life, remarriage with children–whatever you want to call it–has been largely viewed through the prisim of its repercussions and emotional effects on the children. Books on the subject tell women how their stepchildren feel, what their stepchildren need and want, and how they can help their stepchildren adjust to and accept their father’s remarriage. This is tremendously helpful–it can only improve matters to know where his kids are coming from and to have confirmation that it is all more or less normal. But where, we are likely to wonder at some point, is the stuff about stepmothers and how we feel? That is more difficult to find.
. . . What got lost in these child-centric exhortations and lists about how to be a better stepmother, it seemed, was any acknowledgment that the experiences and emotions of the woman with stepchildren mattered just as much as anyone else’s.
. . . Acknowledging the simple fact that stepchildren can and do affect a remarriage, sometimes for the worse — that they are, if you will, actors as well as acted upon — can help us better understand what we might call “stepmother reality,” the specific, shared experiences of women with stepchildren. . . . I believe we tend to sweep the stepmother’s difficulties under the rug because they strike us as unseemly. Her pain, struggles, and failures set us on edge, make us want to turn away, because they smack of guilt. A stepmother’s suffering is, more than anything else, an indictment — of her. An admission not so much that she is falling short as that she is flawed.
. . . Stepfamily developmental expert Patricia Papernow, Ed.D., estimates that most stepfamilies take anywhere from four to twelve years to come together. In some cases, they never do, and much of the time, no one can be singled out for blame.
. . . Yet a great deal of research now indicates . . . some children and adult children simply never come around to their stepmothers. And in spite of what we read and what we suspect and what we’re often told, the drama, difficulty, or simple indifference that is likely to unfold us when we marry a man with kids is not necessarily an indictment or a referendum on our value as people, wives, or stepmothers.