Know any good books for kids?

15 09 2009

Readers: I got this letter from a dad who is looking for help. Read on and if you know of any books, let us know by commenting on this post!

I’m having trouble trying to find something for my wife (a fantastic stepmom), and am hoping you can help me.

As I expect you’re aware, most children’s books portray stepmothers negatively (not even as ‘stepmoms’, etc.). I’ve been scouring the internet trying to find ones that portray stepmoms in a positive way (how I found your website) to expand our home library. So far the only thing I’ve found is one that does so but in the midst of a divorce situation. Since our daughter has never known her mother and I to be together (left her before pregnancy was known), I’m afraid it will introduce other issues.

We love reading together, and my wife & daughter have an excellent relationship, I can just see that it bothers her every time Cinderella comes off the shelf… Any help would be appreciated.

Stepmothers: The Myths, The Reality

28 10 2008

Better a serpent than a stepmother!” Euripides was a Greek dramatist who wrote that between 480 and 406 B.C.E. Ouch.
There is a cultural assumption that comes from literally thousands of years of stories and movies that stepmothers are bad, evil women who want nothing but sex and money from men. And they will do everything in their power to get rid of their new husband’s children. When that is the image we’re up against, it’s no wonder feeling positive is difficult!
But you don’t have to be a victim to the assumptions about stepmothers. You get to choose to make your own story. Here’s an exercise to try. Write down all of the negative words you associate with stepmothers. Make a list of the bad things you’ve heard about stepmoms. And write down some key words that remind you of negative stories you’ve heard about real stepmothers.
When you focus the power of your attention and intention on something, it gets done. When you decide to act, you do. For instance, you chose to get married. Maybe you worked hard to get your degree. Maybe you wanted out of a job and you set your intention on getting a new one. And you did.
I want you to set an intention right now. I want you to decide right this minute that you will not listen to, speak of, or believe any unflattering stories about stepmothers. Does this mean there are no stepmothers who screw up? Absolutely not. Does this mean there no women out there who harm their stepchildren with harsh words and deeds? Of course not. But we are here together, to help you become a stepmother who is at peace, who has a positive influence in the lives of your stepchildren. I, for one, am going to assume that you are not evil. You are not wicked. You are a woman in a challenging situation who is as human as the rest of the people in your family.
So for now, I want you to work on clearing out those negative associations. I want you to practice cleaning up your vocabulary. I want you to banish self-defeating thoughts and beliefs. That piece of paper you wrote on? I want you to burn it up, rip it up, destroy it in some way. Get rid of it, physically and while you’re doing that, see it as a symbolic gesture. See it as the intention to guard your heart and mind from negativity. Do it now.
I hope that felt good! Now that you’ve cleared some space for positive things, let’s come up with some positive stories about stepmothers. Do you know anyone who developed a close relationship with their stepmother? I do. Sometimes it takes years for stepmothers and stepchildren to develop close bonds, but it happens all the time.
One grown stepdaughter I spoke with told me that when she was growing up her stepmother was a very serious woman who had never wanted kids. She wasn’t a very maternal woman and in fact, never did have any children of her own. As a child, all this girl wanted was warmth from her stepmother, but instead, she received lessons. And for years, this girl kept her distance, had a cool relationship with her stepmother.
But then in her early twenties, her stepmother’s father died. Here’s what this grown stepdaughter had to say: “My stepmom and I have really started to improve our relationship since her dad died and I think she’s starting to realize that she really is my parent, whether or not she ever intended to be.” Though it took this stepmother-stepdaughter pair many years to find a positive relationship, they did create one.
Lynn is a stepmom of three who remembers her stepson’s asthma attack. She rushed across town to be with him and on the way she realized just how much she truly loved him. When she arrived he said to her, “They called you and all of a sudden you were there.” That event became a defining moment of their relationship and one Lynn remembers often “When I got to him so quickly, it impacted him. He really felt like he meant something to me. I will always cherish that memory.”
And then there’s Abraham Lincoln! After his mother died when he was young, Lincoln’s father married Sarah, a woman with three children so Lincoln and his sister lived in a blended family. Lincoln’s relationship with his stepmother blossomed after she gave him three books. There are many accounts of how Lincoln cherished his stepmother and was in fact closer to her than he was to his father.
So now, take a moment to write down any upbeat stories you know about stepmothers. Then write down a list of positive words that you would like to use to describe you as a stepmother. I’ll help you get started. Here are some of the words on my list: at peace, calm, positive influence, friend, trusted, smiling, honest connections. Now it’s your turn!

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.