Rory and I were driving to school.
Rory is the type of kid who never stops, ever. He wakes up at 5 am and operates on full tilt until bedtime. And even in the car when we drive, even though he’s restrained and strapped into a car seat, he still chatterboxes. It requires a lot of energy. He requires a lot of attention.
In order to save my sanity, because we’ve learned better than to use tablets or movies to keep him occupied… just because of the type of kid he is and how active he and his brain are, movies and screens just overstimulate him. So, we’ve discovered that on Spotify, there are a few shows that are dedicated to kids’ stories, and that if we play those stories in the car then he’ll usually pay attention and listen to the stories, so he’s got some entertainment without it overstimulating him, and I’ve got some reprieve from a barrage of MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM.
Anyway, this kid loves everything spooky, and Halloween. So very often he’ll request a spoooooky story. One of the stories he listened to is called Baba Yaga. And Baba Yaga, if you’ve never heard of it, is Russian folklore. Essentially, the story is one about a little girl whose mother has died, and her father remarries a wicked wretched thing. The story goes on to talk about all the ways the stepmother mistreats her stepdaughter, all the strict rules like changing what the girl is allowed to eat, and making the girl do chores, and getting in the way of the relationship between the girl and her father.
The Russian Baba witch riding on her mortar, carrying her broom in one hand and a child in the other. Victor Vasentsov. Credit: historicmysteries.com/baba-yaga/
The stepmom eventually becomes so jealous of the little girl and so sick of having her around, that she sends the little girl to a witch in the woods, the witch being called Baba Yaga. Then there’s some commotion that happens there, the girl escapes from the witch in the woods, Baba Yaga, gets back to her house, tells her dad what happened, and her dad banishes the stepmom so the girl and her dad get back to the way things were and her dad vows never to let a stranger come between them ever again, and they both live happily ever after.
So, Rory’s now heard this story of Baba Yaga and the Evil Stepmother. And we’re on the way to school one day and he says, mom, can you show me a picture of a… stepmother? Of course I’m instantly triggered by this wicked stepmom narrative that is my mission to dismantle.
I ask why he wants to see a picture of a stepmother and he says, “because Stepmothers are so, so naughty”.
So here now, is a 4 year old child, whose mother is recognized as one of the leading voices and thought leaders in stepfamily relationships, specifically stepmothers, and he has already been programmed with this narrative that stepmothers are evil.
The irony is not lost on me.
But then I got to thinking, why IS this narrative so pervasive? Why IS this stigma that stepmoms live under so shameful. Why IS it that a whole subculture of stepmoms have decided to differentiate themselves from the wicked type of stepmoms, by calling themselves BONUS moms. And if we, as stepmoms are going to change the narrative around stepmoms being evil, then we need to know: What exactly is it that makes a wicked stepmom, wicked?
Now, between the Queen Of Your Castle podcast and Stepqueen, which is among the best in the world at helping stepmoms navigate stepfamily-hood, we have reached tens of thousands of stepmoms and their stepfamily members.
We have had thousands of stepmoms participate in our workshops and trainings, and currently have dozens and dozens of members in our exclusive stepmom club, called Your Stepmom Story, which is an online support community for stepmoms like you who need more intimate, more connected, and less stressful stepfamily relationships so that you can enjoy more fulfillment in your life. We teach you how to navigate complex stepfamily dynamics by cultivating a deeper level of self awareness, and combining that self-awareness with evidence-based research on happily blended stepfamilies.
All of this is to say, at this stage of the game, there is probably nothing that I haven’t seen, or heard, or helped a stepmom with. There is no dynamic wacky enough, no conflict big enough, no circumstance impossible enough, to surprise me anymore. Baby there aint no mountain hiiiigh enough… amirite?
But if anyone knows stepmoms, it’s ya girl.
And, as much as it pains me to say this, some of the things that I’ve seen and heard stepmoms do in order to try to get the kids to respect them, or the ex to acknowledge them, or their partner to pay attention to them, I can see where the wicked narrative has come from.
Now obviously I’m not talking about you. But make no mistake, the narrative didn’t just come out of thin air.
Do I think that there’s always more than meets the eye, of course. Do I think that people are always doing their best, 100%.
Do I believe that desperation to feel loved and accepted and welcome and wanted in your own home can lead to people acting completely out of character, hashtag been there done that.
But something I’ve noticed in basically all of these stepmoms who society would consider to be wicked, is a couple of common themes. We’re going to chat about one this week, and another next week, because these are really big and also really sensitive.
None of us set out to be wicked stepmoms when we first fell in love.
If your love story is anything like mine, then you’ll probably agree that, this head-over-heels, once-in-a-lifetime kinda love is the ONLY kind of love that people like us would be willing to go through what we go through in order to keep. Like, I’ve dated some LOSERS in my day, and I can tell you that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d be willing to subject myself to a life that felt like absolute torture at times, in order to stay with them.
But the kind of love crazy enough to make us into stepmoms, the kind of love that maybe none of our friends or families understand and that’s why they give shite advice like, just pack up and leave instead of going through this for the rest of your life, most people aren’t lucky like us to have been able to find it.
This question then of, what makes a stepmom wicked, in my interpretation, has a lot of nuance to it.
No stepmom wakes up one day and says, today I am going to be absolutely so horrible and rotten and abusive and horrendous that they write folklore about my misery that gets passed on for generations to come.
But something I’ve noticed when it comes to the type of stepmom that, maybe their stepkids think they’re wicked, or maybe their stepkids’ other parent thinks they’re wicked, or maybe the in-laws sit around with the ex and talk about how wicked she is, is this…
The wicked stepmom is often on the lookout for what she considers as bad behaviour.
In other words: the wicked stepmom is constantly in a state of judgment towards other people: judging the ex for how she chooses to spend her time and money, judging the kids for being impolite, judging the spouse for not putting their foot down, judging their in-laws for staying in touch with the ex. And usually, this judgment of “bad behaviour” isn’t just reserved for people in her stepfamily. Usually, it spills over to the guy who’s panhandling on the street corner, to the politicians who are being shady with their agendas, to the people who have the opposite vaccine stance to them…
The wicked stepmom says, those people are bad, their actions are bad and unacceptable, and I refuse to accept their bad behaviour so I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to fix it. They’re wrong, and bad, and it’s my duty to make it right.
But the consequences of this, the really unfortunate part about stepmoms who have this rigid outlook on right and wrong, good and bad, is that more often than not, these stepmoms are the ones who end up suffering most.
Because quite frankly, who wants to be around someone who is always pointing out what’s wrong with the world and everybody in it? Who feels good having a parent who’s constantly criticizing every move they make, picking apart every mistake? Who feels connected romantically when all their spouse wants to talk about is how bad and wrong and no-good the kids’ other parent is?
The really unfortunate part is that, even though this good-bad right-wrong rigidity is probably well-intended, even though it’s probably meant to make the world a better place by pointing out the bad to somehow get rid of it, the simple reality is that when it comes to stepfamilies, fragile relationship dynamics are literally inherent to the stepfamily system itself… and when the focus is placed on, not only what’s wrong with the dynamic, but then it gets so bad that the focus gets placed on, what’s wrong with the PEOPLE in the dynamic? It’s a ticking time bomb💣
And seriously, I get it.
Stepmoms come in, and we have a different perspective on what’s going on.
We see the parenting styles that research has proven to be unproductive, we see the questionable decisions the bio-parents are making, we see the gazillion ways that the kids have been affected by this that and the other thing, and since obviously you’re a good person who only wants the best for yourself and the people you share your life with, of course you’d want to see changes made that would, in your opinion, make life so much better for so many more people.
But, something I’ve noticed about stepmoms who are actually happy, is this: In my dealings with thousands of stepmoms over the last handful of years, I’ve noticed that every single stepmom who is actually authentically happy, who actually has really beautiful connected relationships with the people in her stepfamily, has one thing above all else: a strongly developed sense of self-awareness.
The more self-awareness someone has, the more connected their relationships will be, and, the more fulfillment they’ll have in their life.
Well, if you consider the fact that most people with highly-developed self-awareness have spent considerable resources getting to know themselves on a much deeper level than the general population, then it makes sense that by default, they would also understand other human beings on a much deeper level.
And why does that matter?
Well, because a happy stepmom who has a deeper level of self-awareness would know that, there actually is no such thing as bad or good, or right or wrong. She would know that the drivers behind human behaviour are, in fact, never black and white. That there is always, always a grey area.
And for the skeptics out there who are like, yeah but what about serial killers like, pure black and white there, they’re straight bad and what they do is straight wrong. To that I’d say, sure, you are absolutely entitled to your interpretation and your morals, and obviously I’m not championing the murder of other human beings for any reason at all. And also, some of these folks who grew up to be serial killers suffered absolute atrocities during their developmental years. Atrocities and abuse that literally physically changed the way their brains formed and wired. Does that change the fact that their actions created a lot of pain and grief for a lot of people? No, absolutely not. But it also lends a perspective that the driver behind their behaviour wasn’t as simple as, “They did it because they’re evil.”
As a less extreme example within the context of stepfamilies, lying is often seen as “bad” behaviour. I can’t tell you how many stepmoms I know who have struggled with their stepkids being dishonest in some capacity.
And so, the response of the typical wicked stepmom would be to judge the lying behaviour as bad and wrong, and react to that by thinking it needed to be punished.
It breaks my heart when I hear about kids who have their privacy taken away, doors taken off hinges, that sort of thing, as a punishment response to lying… and ESPECIALLY when it’s facilitated by the stepmom. It breaks my heart when I hear about kids who have their clothes and personal items taken away and held hostage, as a punishment for lying. ESPECIALLY when it’s facilitated by the stepmom.
I’m not sure about you, but to be sent the message of “you’re not worthy unless you do what I say when I say it,” is pretty traumatic.
The happy stepmom on the other hand, rather than seeing lying as a “bad” behaviour, rather than seeing lying as something that is “wrong” and therefore that needs to be “fixed,” would see this behaviour in a completely different way. I want you to notice how this feels in your body instead.
The happy stepmom, the self-aware stepmom, would know that human behaviour is always driven by one thing: survival.
The self-aware stepmom would know that, lying is an act of protection, an act of self-preservation, an act of fear, because somewhere along the way it was learned that telling the truth was not safe. The happy, self-aware stepmom would be able to access compassion and empathy, and bring to mind a time that she herself had lied to protect herself in the past. Because, I don’t care if you are mother dang Teresa, every person on this planet has told lies to protect themselves. And the happy self-aware stepmom would seek to understand, seek to hold the other person’s experience as real and valid, and seek to use a moment like that to create connection and intimacy, rather than to destroy connection and intimacy with the shame and punishment that “badness” and “wrongness” inevitably brings.
It should come as no surprise that, studies have shown that the more self-awareness someone has, the more developed their relationship skills are. Self-awareness leads to the development of skills like, conflict resolution, and healthy communication, and boundary setting. Ironically though, in one research study by organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich PhD, she found that even though most people believe they’re self aware, only 10-15% of the people studied were actually deemed to be.
The reasons for that I’m sure are complex and layered, as is all human behaviour. And if you’re listening to this right now and wondering if you are one of the 10-15% who is actually self-aware, then I have a pretty simple litmus test.
Are you happy as a stepmom? Are your relationships connected, drama-free, authentic? Do you feel fulfilled in your life?
If yes, then chances are pretty good that you have a pretty well-developed sense of self-awareness.
And if you’re not happy… if you notice that you often think of things in terms of this being bad and that being good, or this being right and that being wrong. If you notice that your moods are dependent on the way the kids act, or the way the ex acts – if the other people act right then you feel fine, but if they act wrong then you feel terrible…
Then chances are pretty good that your self-awareness could use some attention directed toward it.
And if that’s you, if you’re noticing like yeah a lot of what I think my problems are boil down to the actions of other people, and yeah a lot of what I think my problems are boil down to what I perceive to be right and wrong, bad and good, then the good news is that self-awareness is a skill.
And the good news about having a skill versus not having a skill, is that skills are something that people learn, not something people are born with. I used to be the least self-aware, most judgmental, and not surprisingly most miserable person on the face of the planet. Self-awareness is something ANYONE can develop, should they choose to devote the resources to it. Will it take time, and money, and energy? Yes. Will it be worth it? Also yes. But hey, you’re the expert of your own life. And only you know what’s right for you.
I’ll be back next week with Part 2 of What makes a stepmom, wicked, and if you thought this episode was helpful then you are NOT going to want to miss next week.
And hey, the fact that you are still listening to this episode (or reading this blog post) MEANS that, something I said has really resonated with you. Which is why…
That’s February 24, 2022!
It’s totally free to participate, and stepmoms who have been through the uplifted challenge in the past have said that that series has done more for them and their stepfamily than years of therapy.
Make sure you’re following along on Instagram and Facebook @thestepqueen, to stay updated with enrolment details, or if you’re not on social, be sure you’ve registered in my epic free mini-course for stepmoms, by heading to www.peacelovestepmom.com . Just enter your info and get instant access, for free.