“Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a sweet and pretty girl named Cinderella. She made her home with her evil stepmother and her two stepsisters, and they made her do all the work in the house.” These initial words of the world’s favourite fairytale have stuck with me. Somewhere, the impact of the story of Cinderella, Snow White and other such stories has stayed with most of us. Real life incidences of battering, abuse and prejudice of step-parents compounded this idea that a step-parent can never be sincere. Period.
Yet, in an ever-evolving world, every decade and every year brings change. We today are living in a time where the family unit is more fragile than before. For various reasons divorce rates have escalated, even in conservative societies like Pakistan where marriage was once the most fiercely guarded institution. The realities are staring us in the face. Moreover, the idea that parents “have a life too” has caught on. Whether separated from a spouse at the hands of death or divorce, the thought that a parent can remarry and thus bring into the lives of his/her children a stepparent is a more real notion.
The recent Bollywood flick which was a remake of the Hollywood movie Stepmom reignited many a debate over dinners and luncheons — can a step-mom be a good influence over her step-kids and actually become a family member over time, as the movie proposed? Asking around to feel the pulse of people revealed mixed feelings on the subject.
Nadia Wasi, a doctor, shared, “I do know people who live with stepfathers and the situation has worked out very well for the children. I do feel the image of the step-mom is changing as well. With the number of marriages not working out and both women and men remarrying, I think women are more open to marrying men with children and are more accepting towards them.”
However, others, like 37-year-old Zara Shah, confesses that although she is married and settled, she and her siblings have, to date, not been able to accept their father’s remarriage after their mother’s death. “I have to give credit to my dad. He waited a full five years after my mother passed away, and I understand that after we all got busy with our own lives, he needed companionship. Having said that, honestly, I still cannot accept my stepmother living in my mother’s bedroom, cooking in my mother’s kitchen and taking her place in society. My relationship with my father had become numb and cold, but over the years it has thawed a bit and is better.”
Even if the Cinderella effect, as it is called, is not there, there is no doubt that the dynamics of a family undergo change once a parent remarries. The problems can be exacerbated if the family becomes a blended family, with half-siblings belonging to the step-parent in the picture as well. Younger children often adapt to such change more easily compared to adolescent or even adult children who face severe inner strife and identity issues. Often, movies and stories depict the second-time married parent choosing not to have a baby, which seems unfair on the stepmother/father who might not be a parent yet.
The problem perhaps lies in the notion that the step-parent has traditionally been expected to and tried to take the position of a biological parent, which is an impossible task. The new, reinvented and more accepted step-moms or step-fathers perhaps owe their popularity to the fact that, although they are in the position of a guardian, they do not attempt to steal away the memory of the step-children’s biological mother or father.
Also, in a world which is more aware of human emotions and psychology, in all likelihood the step mother or step father understand and can empathize to what that child is going through. They have accepted their spouse, the parent of that child, with this child as part of the package, and are more mature about it, taking the adjustments in their stride.
The step mom of today does not attempt to remove the memoirs and photographs of their mother from their bedside, or shirk at the mere mention of her name. This is a more fun and ‘chilled’ person, as she is in a supervisory position but is not wholly and solely responsible for the child, and the biological parent continues to play an important role. Such a step-parent has hopes of finding a place not only in the home but also the hearts of her newfound family.
A few more tips would be in order for the step-parent. For beginners, one has to remember that a newly found relationship with step-children in the loop will take time to grow, so patience is the key. Pushing for intimacy prematurely is a bad idea. Doing fun things together is excellent for bonding. But too much leniency can be counterproductive, as can be being overly stern. This is a balancing act. In the end, if you intend to make it work, never ever give up. Slowly, you will carve a place in the child’s heart for sure, and prove Cinderella wrong to live happily ever after.
This write-up was published in Dawn with editions: