On Mother’s Day, Praise stepmothers, scapegoats of fairy tales

When it first became clear to me that my relationship with my spouse was now serious, everyone I met asked me the same question: “Do you think you will have children of your own? are not?”

“Oh,” I said, completely stuck, “I don’t think his ex is going to take our kids out every week.” My partner’s ex-wife is amazing, but it’s still quite fun to imagine her shouldering the responsibility for his child half the time. It’s one of my favorite cocktail party jokes. And it keeps me from having more intense conversations about health issues or mixed family relationships with people who think this is small talk.

In other words, I am the stepmother: one of the villains in history. Etymologically, the word comes from the Old English word “astepan”, which means “to leave or be deprived of”. Originally the parents were those who were married to the bereaved parents; their existence does not indicate addition or complementation, but rather loss. In Polish and Italian, to treat someone “stepmother” means to treat them roughly. This is one reason some people use the phrase “bonus mom” instead (a phrase my eldest hates because it sounds like you’re not quite the parent). Personally, I like French belle-mère (“Pretty mother”, also used for mother-in-law) or Spanish madrasta (mother star), but it doesn’t catch at home. It’s remarkable that in a world filled with non-traditional families — public adoptions, non-twin parents, single parents, grandparents carers, multifamily, parents homosexuality, etc. — we continue to use a term that evokes deprivation and abuse.

We started the bedtime propaganda campaign: repeating three classic Grimm fairy tales (and many unloved ones) –Hansel and Gretel, Cinderellaand Snow White– revolves around the hateful actions of a stepmother. Such stories are a cross-cultural phenomenon: in 1953, sociologist William Carlson Smith identified 345 variants of Cinderella story alone. Sure, this is fantasy, but it works. As Visher and Visher put it, “Fairies don’t exist, witches don’t, but stepmothers do, and therefore certain fairy tales are harmful rather than helpful to a large part of the population.” population.”

Brothers Grimm and Disney adaptations aside, there is plenty of historical and literary evidence to support the idea that stepmothers do bad things. Sarah, the biblical matriarch, was so jealous of Hagar and Ishmael’s enslavement that she sent Abraham to death. In the days of the emperor Augustus, stepmothers were visualized so negatively in Roman society, that even the presence of a powerful stepmother – Empress Livia, Augustus’ second wife – could not prevent writers from using gimmicks. Virgil describes stepmothers as barbaric; Horace envisions them as emotionless; and people hinted that they concealed their murderous intent. Historian Tacitus writes that the stepmother’s enmity is explainable. The stepmothers of Roman literature were obnoxious and as a result malicious rumors swirled around their real-world counterparts.

Several ancient hypothetical stepmothers allegedly agreed to kill their own children before getting married. In a third century BC story about the Egyptian Prince Setna, Setna’s future wife Tabubu asserts that he killed her existing children before she married him. . According to Sallust, Aurelia Orestilla only agreed to marry the Roman senator and Catiline revolutionary after he agreed to send her adult son to the afterlife. As Gray-Fow has argued, these are rumors and myths that cannot be verified, but they are effective and “too tempting to give up.” A stock exercise in the education of Roman children was to ask students to read speeches in the voices of figures such as “stepmothers”. Missions like these, like Disney movies, only reinforce the notion that stepmothers have bad intentions.

“Love, like good manners, doesn’t necessarily operate on a scarcity model.”

Inheritance, power, and resource allocation are clearly at the heart of many of these stories. Ambitious royal stepmothers Livia and Octavia are suspected of committing murder in an attempt to advance the careers of their biological children. (With the exception of one possible case – Fausta, Constantine the Great’s second wife – the royal stepmothers weren’t filled with murderous rage.) Culturally, the legal issues. fundamental and questions of inheritance and favor are far from trivial. The main character of the ancient Egyptian story about Prince resigned Let’s put the situation straight: “My mother passed away, and my father took another wife, who came and gave birth to a child, and she started to hate me, and I ran away from her.”

In other stories, especially those involving stepdaughters, jealousy seems to be the primary motive. The Queen in Snow White really struggles with aging and a younger “rival”. Even in mythology, goddesses like Juno and Phaedra were hostile towards the illegitimate children of their immortal mates. Some people theorize that stepmothers see their own children as rivals for the father’s attention. Pentamerone, a 17th-century version of Giambattista Basile’s story Sleeping Beauty, is a case in point. In this version Beauty was attacked by a king while she was sleeping and gave birth to twins nine months later. The king’s wife got jealous and ordered the babies to be killed and made into a stew. As in other stories of stepmother and cannibalistic mother-in-law, her plans are thwarted by the cook, but jealousy smolders throughout the plot.

In folk history, stepmothers were often cunning murderers. They use poison, the most feminine weapon, to target their husbands and stepchildren. It’s worth noting that poison is not just the domain of stepmothers, but from Medea on, poison is segregated by gender consistently. From Tacitus, to Snow White, to Malory’s evil stepmother in Arthurian legend, wicked stepmothers are likened to witches and snakes. Case in point: when our youngest child ate so much that he then vomited — which happens sometimes — a former nanny accused me of deliberately make him sick. The nanny, who didn’t trust the “stepmother,” had a pre-made cultural script to match her internal story.

That’s not to say history isn’t without good stepmothers. Octavia, sister of emperor Augustus and fourth wife of Mark Anthony, raised her own children even after Anthony had abandoned her to marry Cleopatra. 16th-century Polish princess Zofia Jagiellonka was able to cultivate positive relationships with her stepchildren and even mentor them. As Almut Bues wrote, it helps herself “she has no children”. Robert Coover attempted to defy fairy tale conventions in his 2004 postmodern parody. Stepmother. More recent TV shows like Phinneas and Ferb, Drake & Josh, and even Bridgeton focused on more positive depictions of stepmothers as loving parents. Yet somehow, the power of these revaluations continues to be overwhelmed by the fairy tale caricatures.

All this negativity hides that, in fact, mixed families have a number of demonstrable advantages. As a society, we are being increasingly honest about the fact that parenting can be difficult, exhausting, and (sometimes) cripplingly boring. If you’ve ever sat through three hours of extra entertainment at a holiday concert to watch your kid take the stage for five minutes, you know what I mean. Having free time off and babysitting available is an unbelievable gift. You never have to find a way to make your romantic relationship work alongside your co-parenting relationship, because you often have alone time with your partner. Yes, you want to see your kids more, but you can’t feel guilty about not spending time with them, because you don’t have that option. I frequently advise people to see divorce as a parenting model: have children with someone you care for and respect and then marry the love of your life. I joke, of course, but neither am I. They say it takes a village; so if your nuclear family explodes, why not create one? Part-time parenting doesn’t mean part-time love.

I should admit that when it comes to parenting, I have a very clear edge. I met my truly remarkable mother at the same age as the boys who met me — 4 and 6 — and I can’t remember life without them. As a child, madrastra, Marcia, is the kindest, wisest, and most emotionally careful adult in my world. To this day, she is the first person I turn to for advice and is one of my closest friends. I will never forget that she spent the night sleeping in an uncomfortable chair in my dorm room the day I found out my beloved biological mother had passed away. I am grateful for the many small gestures and tips that have helped me become who I am. I never doubted that I was loved twice and that made the world possible for me.

This is not to say that parenting is not difficult. It’s a tight walk without the security net of legal rights. Every situation is different and I hear many different stories, but in general, parenting often means second best and, in some contexts, frankly irrelevant. There is no clearly defined “date” or role for you. But respecting other people’s boundaries and having no social status are certainly not reasons to love less. Love, like good manners, doesn’t necessarily operate on a scarcity model.

“Octavia, sister of emperor Augustus and fourth wife of Mark Anthony, raised her own children even after Anthony had abandoned her to marry Cleopatra.”

People try to tell me there’s something different about a biological child (I find this a bit annoying. I can’t imagine how adopters and legal parents aren’t. other flesh and blood). Respected friends say it’s unintentionally different. Science is on their side: a study from the 1980s found that stepmothers who procreate with stepfathers are not as close to their own children as they are to their own. Those with biological children reported feeling less satisfied with being a stepmother.

I like to think that “difference” is nothing short of medieval narcissism and frenzy like bloodline, but rather the intimacy and trust built by presence. It shows for the trivial everyday moments that separate parenthood from a family friend. (Or, for that matter, being a good parent doesn’t have to be a fad or sloppy.) It’s the thrill of being stuck in an elevator, the routine of having dinner and breakfast together, the bedtime story-telling ritual, the tedium of the third doctor’s appointment in a week, and the excitement. when walking home after school makes people family.

I don’t think anyone could love a child more than I love boys. But if I accept the idea that there’s something transcendent about being a biological parent, it’s like heroin to me. Hear me out here because I don’t mean ill. I firmly believe that the first dose of heroin is the best feeling you can have. (Nothing compares, which is exactly why it’s so dangerous.) As a non-heroin user, however, I live in blissful ignorance. Heroin might be better, but I’ll never know, and I might get my kicks from cocaine and ecstasy, or, as I like to call them, Max and Luke.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/on-mothers-day-lets-praise-stepmothers-the-scapegoats-of-fairy-tales?source=articles&via=rss On Mother’s Day, Praise stepmothers, scapegoats of fairy tales


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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