Step Monsters

Step- mothers are often referred to derogatory names like step monsters, wicked step mothers. This conceals what is the reality that many-step mothers are very important if not life saving and central figures in the life of a child.  Step-parent and in-law relationships are generally conditional. If you behave the way the family expects then you are considered as part of the family. If you go against the expectations of the family, notwithstanding that you have devoted time, material and emotional resources to the family, you are re-cast as an outsider or intruder. Step-parents are often tireless workers in the background who, like second marriages for spouse give children a second chance to have constructive parental relationships. After death of a spouse the surviving parent is often incapacitated and the new spouse steps in to the breach, holding the family together, being the often unwelcome substitute for the often idealised dead parent, resented for being alive and  taking their deceased parents place. In divorce new partners fill the vacant positions of parents who are too engrossed in battle to be present to their children. The sad irony is that the children are supposedly the subjects of the battle, become the objects of the battle, taken as emotional hostages or used as spoils of war. Step-parents can the be the stable safe parent figure in whom the child confides, who takes care of the child’s material needs while the parents spend R1600 on legal fees to fight over who will pay for the R65 school book. Because the emotional landscape of the child’s world is so treacherous, the life saving relationship with the step-parent has to be kept secret. Children do this so well, out of a need to protect themselves from the retaliation of the real parent who feels usurped by the step parent that they will even pretend to hate the step parent.  They are also forced to collude in excluding the step parent from contexts where parents are acknowledged and affirmed like weddings and graduations. These dynamics make step-parenting one of the purest forms of kindness that a person can do.

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