Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Is stepparenting harder for mothers than fathers?

Parenting has no blueprint and comes with constant worries and requires an endless supply of patience.  Being a stepmother can come with additional baggage, too. After all, we live in a society where the easiest scapegoat has often been the stepmother.

Many stepmothers try hard to create an instant bond with their partner’s children. Some, with the encouragement of their partner, are quick to form closeness and family unity which can be easy, hard or impossible depending on the age of the children and the nature of relationship between the spouse and their ex-partner. However, what most stepmothers fail to get is that feelings of love and warmth for their stepchildren do not suddenly materialize just because they want them to, or because they love their spouse or because society expects it. The reality is that within blended families, love can be very complex. Especially when it comes to stepmothers and stepchildren. This in part, is because of a distinctive trait of the stepparent-stepchild relationship. People become stepparents because they fall in love with a man/woman who just happens to have children from a prior relationship. In this way stepparents and stepchildren are “forced” into some sort of relationship whether they want it or not. Many stepmothers feel thrown under the bus when it comes to their partner’s children and that the kids are prioritized over them. Their stepchildren treat them with disrespect and their partner’s continual refusal to correct their children or teach basic good manners does not bode well for the marriage/ relationship. Many men naturally feel protective of their children and have strong desires that their new partner love their children “as their own.” 

Explaining why step parenting tends to be harder for mothers than fathers, Dr Sethunya Mosime, a Sociology senior lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “I have always thought it is possibly because women are involved in the micromanagement of children, everything from how they dress to what they eat and that doesn’t really apply much to fathers. Mothering and fathering are not socially constructed to be the same they never have been and it clearly shows in stepparenting roles. Blended families are difficult and the reality of it is there is too much baggage. The ex has her own set of rules, and then you as the stepmother come in with your own. The issue of boundaries is also a hard one if you are a stepmother as you don’t know which boundaries to push. It is necessary to provide support systems that help blended families.” 

Women put a lot of pressure on themselves to create a perfect blended family. Society adds to this as well. Male partners sometimes increase expectations that she somehow has to create happiness and harmony. Internally and externally, a woman feels pressured to bring everyone together. There are external forces beyond a stepmother’s control, that may undermine her good intentions and best efforts with his children. These factors include loyalty binds, a child’s jealousy and resentment and the ex-factor. A stepmother may encounter particularly fierce resistance from a teen girl, both because she is close to her father and because teen girls tend to model the feelings and attitudes of their mothers. Sometimes, an ex-wife generally poses more challenges for the stepmom-stepchild relationship than an ex-husband. Post-divorce, generally, women tend to harbor feelings of anger and hostility much longer than men. Men tend to be more optimistic and usually believe that relationships will work out. That contrast ends up setting the stage negatively for the former wife and the new stepmother. 

Dr Poloko Ntswarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “I think generally, mothers are primary caregivers. The act of trying to connect with a child who isn’t their own means the stepmother is likely to be rejected, time and time again –to the child, acceptance represents not only a betrayal of their biological mother, but also the denial of the stepmother’s attempt to be a substitute for that mother. Sometimes, kids don’t necessarily appreciate that stepmothers can love and take care of them, this is in part due to the fact that there are external sources that are constantly in a child’s ear telling them how that woman is not their mother and won’t care for him/her like their real mother would. A lot of kids don’t give their stepmothers a chance to mother them or prove that they can be a parent them which makes it hard and demotivating for stepmother. Stepmothers also have their own issues that they bring, they have difficulties raising children that aren’t theirs, this is especially the case with raising adult children.”


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