How to Fight Against the Damaging Portrayal of Stepparents in the Media
The complex bond between stepchild and stepparent, how the movies could be damaging to this relationship, and tips for connecting with your partner’s child
I am a stepmother to a ten-year-old girl named Charlotte, given her affinity for movies, it’s surprising she likes me as much as she does.
We have a great relationship. Her father and I met when she was a toddler so this arrangement is all she knows.
I sometimes wonder if she would’ve accepted me if I came into the picture later in her life. Maybe she would fear a new woman in her father’s life because according to the movies, step-mothers are evil bitches.
Watching movies is one of a child’s favorite pastimes. As we all know, the media can influence impressionable children and have an impact on their belief system.
This is why the negative portrayal of stepmothers and stepfathers in movies and television shows is so damaging.
The challenges of being a step-parent
Being a step-parent is one of the hardest relationships to solidify for a few different reasons:
- We are continuously treading the fine line between authority figure and friend.
- In many cases, we have to deal with jealousy or boundary issues with the child’s mother or father.
- Our role can be confusing. We are not the parent but must act in this role while being careful not to flip into “parent mode”. Depending on what you and your partner have agreed on, you may or may not be considered a disciplinarian figure to your stepchild.
- In some cases, we have to work for acceptance from the child or children due to them wanting their parents to be together again.
- We are not typically recognized on Mother’s or Father’s Day. Stepparents take all the flack with none of the recognition.
Being a stepparent has its rewards, but it can take a while to gain trust, respect, and love from a stepchild.
I am lucky. I have a little girl in my life that is like one of my own. She treats me with a lot of respect and is always very sweet to me and I love her as if she were my own child.
There were some bumps along the way, but it was well worth “sticking it out”.
Why are we always the evil ones in the story?
Sadly enough, some stepparents are not given an opportunity to bond with their stepchildren the way they should. Not every child is as accepting of their stepparent as Charlotte has been to me.
I believe it’s possible that some potential stepparents are not given a fair chance due to preconceived notions that kids and teenagers have because of our portrayal in the media.
Potential male suitors of a divorced woman with children are either portrayed as abusive assholes (“The Craft”) or bumbling idiots (“The Santa Clause”).
While potential female suitresses of a male with children are almost always shown to be gold-digging, shallow, shrieking messes (“It takes two”) or tyrannical, jealous bitches (“Cinderella”).
These are very inaccurate, unfair stereotypes.
In reality, there are some cases of this behavior being exhibited by stepparents but generally, we are only there to be another loving person in the child’s life.
I have friends who have given everything to their stepchildren: love, trust, affection, time, and money.
They have worked hard to build a relationship with their stepchildren. Sometimes it has worked and other times, it hasn’t. Every situation is unique.
I was optimistic that most step-parents are given a fair shot but when I did the research for this article, I found numerous advice columns with questions from desperate step-parents asking for help.
There were also articles about stepparents who were jealous of their stepchildren. Google search results showed almost 2 million inquires about this complex relationship.
They wanted to know why their step-kids hated them so much, even though they did everything under the sun for them. Some stepparents even confessed to feeling resentment towards their stepchild.
On the flip side, it appears that children and teens are just as confused about their relationship with their stepparent as their stepchild is. This is due to a lack of communication.
Does the media play a large part in a child’s distaste for their stepparent? I couldn’t find any studies on this subject, however, I think the media is more influential on our children than what we realize.
Children are extremely impressionable and have a hard time separating what they see on the television from reality.
We all wanted Robin William’s character in “Mrs. Doubtfire” to get back together with the mother for those cute kids, didn't we?
We wanted that nice, polite man that the mother seemed to really care about to get the hell out of the way so we could have our happy ending.
Kids want this as well. In the movies and in real life.
Tackling unfair stereotypes of family roles at home
When your children are consuming media where the portrayal of a stepparent is negatively stereotypical, be sure to talk to them about this. Let them know that this is only a movie and that it is not reality.
Kids sometimes have a hard time separating the two.
Educate them about the tough but important duty that a step-parent takes on before and after they say “I do”.
Ask them if they have any questions about it, keep an open dialogue on these stereotypes and any other prejudices that you notice in the media.
Always educate your children about stereotypes!
Tips for creating a special bond with your stepchild
If you are a potential suitor or suitress of a person with children, you can build a foundation of trust, love, and respect. It just takes time and effort.
- Take time to get to know your partner’s child, ask them questions about their hobbies, friends, and school work.
- Don’t try to buy their love. There’s nothing wrong with picking up a thoughtful little gift for them sporadically, but be careful not to overdo it.
- Never get in between the child and parent, especially at the beginning of your relationship. I used to leave the room if Charlotte and her father were having a disagreement. You will know when it’s your place to get involved.
- Never speak ill of your partner’s ex in front of the child. If the ex is being difficult, close your mouth and bite your tongue. It will be difficult but it’s essential that you do not say anything against the other parent. If you do, it only alienates your stepchild from you.
- Stick up for yourself. You are not a punching bag for your partner’s child or the mother or father of the child. Be assertive, not aggressive.
- If there is a time that the ex becomes confrontational towards you in front of their child, stand up for yourself while killing them with kindness. An assertive statement in a sugary sweet voice usually does the trick!
- Be a safe place for the child. Let them know you’re always there for them. While you become serious with their mother or father, work on building your own bond with the child.
- Take the child on outings alone and encourage your partner to go on outings with the child only. It's important for you to each have your own bond.
Regardless of what your situation is: A jealous ex-partner or a stepchild with an attitude, please know that it will improve. If this person is worth it, stick it out.
I know this from my own experience. If I had given up on my husband because of external influences, I wouldn’t have gotten my happy ending.
I realize the topic of the stepparent and stepchild relationship is more complex than what is shown in movies. However, the media’s influence does have its place in this complex bond.
Stepparents and stepchildren are being thrown into a world of the unknown. One where they are forced together by a common love of their partner or parent.
You’re not always going to get along. There will be personality clashes, jealousy, and bumps along the way
The evil stepparent is a real entity but from all of the families I know, it is rarer than the media portrays it to be.
My father raised my brother because his father was not around. He faced many challenges as a young step-father at the age of 23 in the 1970s.
My brother refers to my father as “Dad” and he is my brother. He is not my half-brother, not my stepbrother, he is my blood brother.
Charlotte and Willow are sisters. There is no talk of step or half-sisters in this household. They have a pure deep love that only true sisters can share.
When Charlotte’s mom isn’t around, I act as her mother. I do her hair, talk to her about good touch and bad touch, and spend time with her. We are very close.
I learned how to be a good step-parent from the best, my own father. I talked to my dad about the challenges I was facing many times and he encouraged me to just keep loving Charlotte and her father. Simple as that.
I did “just keep loving them” and I have another daughter because of my perseverance.
Amy Cottreau is a freelance writer who hails from a small city in Atlantic Canada. She enjoys interacting with fellow writers, dreaming of ideas for her next article, and researching a myriad of topics.