The Wicked Stepmother: When Disney gives us our best-known script, it’s a miracle we make it at all.

27 10 2008

Friday, August 31, 2007 marked the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, and the world watched royal stepfamily dynamics play out in the international press. According to Reuters UK, Charles’s former mistress, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, was invited to Diana’s memorial service by her husband and her two stepsons, William and Harry. However, she decided not to attend after receiving a ton of flak in the press.  

Diana blamed Camilla for breaking up her marriage to Charles; in a 1995 TV interview, Diana said, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” In the years following that comment, Camilla was made out to be an evil witch who broke up the family. Of course, this scenario meant Charles was innocent, and so was Diana.

Who knows what really goes on behind locked doors? It doesn’t really matter to outsiders. Stepmothers are blamed by the kids or the community for breakups or for parents not getting back together, even if the stepmom didn’t meet her husband until years after the first divorce was final. Fair? Absolutely not!

But a child simply cannot blame Dad or Mom because that’s far too painful. Kids already feel like they’ve lost their parent in the divorce; and to blame the parent would make it feel like a double loss. So stepmom becomes the wicked, evil target of all the anger the children feel about the fact that the divorce happened at all. 

Sure, there are women who have a hand in breaking up marriages. Yes, there are women who will do anything they can to get a man. Camilla was having an affair with Charles. I do not advocate affairs at all. The harm they do to children and biological moms (or dads) can last a lifetime.    

But most of the women I have interviewed across the country are real people, doing the best they can. They’re just like you. They’re just like me. They make mistakes. They do stupid things. But they’re not evil. And they do not deserve to be punished for the rest of their lives.  

This quote ran in an interview in the BBC News: “Prince Harry said the Duchess of Cornwall was a ‘wonderful woman and she’s made our father very, very happy, which is the most important thing. William and I love her to bits. To be honest with you, she’s always been very close to me and William…but no, she’s not the wicked stepmother. I’ll say that right now.'”  

At the end of the day, it’s those people living it who have to decide if they will listen to societal scripts or not. Even women who enter into a stepfamily after an affair can still find their place in the family. It’s certainly more challenging, but perhaps Camilla has proven her loyalty and dedication to her stepsons over time. Maybe they have forgiven her for her role in the end of their parents’ marriage. Having an affair is an awful thing to put kids through. But if it’s happened, then what? Where do you go from there? The people involved in situations like this have to move on – have to grow or remain stuck forever as the victims.  

Whether you had an affair or met your husband years after his divorce was finalized, you too, will have the whiff of scandal attached to you anytime you reveal that you’re a stepmother. People assume we’re guilty.  

No, in case you were wondering, I did not have an affair with my husband. I met him after his divorce. But people ask me, “So did you meet him while he was still married?” When they should be saying, “My gosh, you are one of the most generous people I’ve ever met to take on three kids who are not your own! I don’t know how you do it. You must be a saint.”  

Now that’s more like it.  

Perhaps it’s time for Disney to create a positive new role model of a stepmother: A woman who we can all aspire to emulate.

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