On Mother’s Day, let us praise stepmothers, scapegoats for fairy tales

When it first became clear that my relationship with my wife was serious, everyone I met would ask me the same question: “Do you think you will have children?”

“Oh,” I would simply say, “I don’t think his ex would take our baby every two weeks.” My partner’s ex-wife is great, but it’s still fun to imagine her taking charge of his baby half the time. It’s one of my favorite cocktail party jokes. And it keeps me from having more difficult conversations about health issues or the emotional charging of families blending in with those who think this is small talk.

In other words, I’m my stepmother: one of history’s local villains. Linguistically, the word comes from the Old English “astepan”, which means “to deny or to forbid.” Originally stepmothers were those who married bereaved parents; Their presence does not mean an addition or supplement, but rather Loss. In Polish and Italian, treating someone the “stepmother” way means treating them harshly. This is one reason why some use the phrase “bonus mom” instead (a phrase that older adults hate because it sounds like you’re not entirely a parent). Personally, I like the French belle (“beautiful mother”, also used for mothers) or Spanish the school (star mom), but she doesn’t pick it up at home. What is remarkable is that in a world full of non-traditional families — open adoptions, non-dual parents, single parents, grandparents, multiple families, same-sex parents, etc. — we continue to use the term disadvantageous and abusive.

We start the publicity campaign at bedtime: iterations of three classic Grimm fairy tales (and many more unfavorable ones) –Hansel and GretelAnd CinderellaAnd snow white– It revolves around the hateful actions of the stepmother. Such stories are a multicultural phenomenon: in 1953 sociologist William Carlson Smith identified 345 different types of Cinderella The story alone. Sure, this is a fantasy, but it has implications. As Fisher and Fisher said, “Fairies do not exist, witches do not, but stepmothers do, and therefore some fairy tales are harmful and not beneficial to large segments of the population.”

Aside from the Brothers Grimm and Disney adaptations, there is more than a little literary and historical evidence to support the idea that stepmothers do bad things. Mother Sarah, who is mentioned in the Bible, was so jealous of the enslaved Hagar and Ishmael slaves that she prompted Abraham to expel them to death. By the reign of Emperor Augustus, the stepmother was so passively visible in Roman society that the presence of a powerful stepmother – Empress Livia, Augustus’ second wife – did not discourage writers from using the metaphor. Virgil describes stepmothers as savages; Horace portrays them as unfeeling; And everyone hints that they hide their murderous intentions. Historian Tacitus wrote that the stepmother’s hostility is self-explanatory. The stepmothers of Roman literature are hateful, and as a result, malicious rumors circulate about their real-world counterparts.

It is alleged that many stepmothers of old fathers made pacts to kill their stepchildren before marriage. In a 3rd century BC story of the Egyptian prince Sitna, Sitna’s future wife, Tabobo, insists that he kill his current children before she can marry him. According to Sallust, Aurelia Orestella only agreed to marry a Roman senator and Catelyn who would become a revolutionary after he agreed to send his adult son to the afterlife. As Gray-Fow argued, these are unverifiable rumors and myths, but they were effective and “too attractive to let go.” One of the basic exercises in teaching Roman children was to have the students give a speech in the voice of characters such as “the stepmother”. Missions like this, like the Disney movies, only reinforced the idea that stepmothers have bad intentions.

Love, like good morals, does not have to operate on the model of scarcity.

It is clear that inheritance, power, and resource allocation are at the heart of many of these stories. Ambitious imperial stepmothers Livia and Octavia are suspected of murder in their attempts to advance the lives of their biological children. (With one possible exception—Fausta, second wife of Constantine the Great—the imperial stepmother was not filled with murderous rage.) From a cultural perspective, the basic legal issues and matters of inheritance and patronage are not trivial. The hero of the ancient Egyptian novel is a story The afflicted prince He puts the situation frankly: “My mother died, and my father married another wife, she came and gave birth, and she began to hate me, and I ran away from her.”

In other stories, especially those involving stepdaughters, jealousy appears to have been the main motive. The Queen in Snow White really struggles with age and a younger “rival”. Even in mythology, deities such as Juno and Phaedra harbor animosity toward the illegitimate children of their immortal partners. Some have assumed that stepmothers see their stepson’s children as competitors for the father’s attention. pentagram, a seventeenth-century copy of the story Sleeping Beauty by Giambattista Basile, is a case in point. In this version, the beauty is assaulted by a king while she is asleep and gives birth to twins nine months later. The king’s wife is jealous in jealousy and orders the children to be killed and turned into a stew. As in other stories of cannibal wives and husbands’ mothers, the cook thwarts her plans, but jealousy boils throughout the plot.

In the history of folklore, stepmothers are usually cunning killers. They use poison, the most feminine weapon, to target their husbands and children. It is noteworthy that the poison is not only the prerogative of the stepmothers, but from the tides onwards, the poison is constantly classified between the sexes. From Tacitus, to Snow White, to the venomous stepmother of Malory’s Arthurian legend, the wicked stepmother is likened to witches and snakes. Case in point: when our youngest overeat to the point that he later vomited – which he sometimes did – a former nanny accused me of it Deliberately makes him sick. The nanny, who distrusted the “stepmother,” had a cultural script ready to fit her inner narrative.

This does not mean that history does not have good stepmothers. Octavia, sister of Emperor Augustus and fourth wife to Mark Antony, raised her stepchildren as her own sons even after Antony and Cleopatra abandoned her. Polish princess Zofia Jagiellonka of the 16th century managed to foster positive relations with her stepchildren and even acted as their advisor. It helped that, as Almut Boyce wrote, she “has no children” herself. Robert Cover attempted to defy the conventions of fairy tales in a 2004 parody of postmodernism step mother. The latest TV shows like Phineas and FerbAnd drake and josh, even Bridgeton Focus on the more positive images of stepmothers as loving fathers. However, the power of these reappraisals, in a way, is still drowned out in the caricatures of fairy tales.

All this negativity hides that, in practice, mixed families have some demonstrable advantages. As a society, we are dealing with the fact that parenting can be challenging and stressful (at times) increasingly boring for the mind. If you’ve ever sat down for three hours of substandard entertainment at a concert while on vacation watching your child on stage for five minutes, you know what I mean. Having built in breaks and free childcare is an incredible gift. You never have to figure out how to make your romantic relationship work alongside co-parenting, because you have regular time with your partner. Yes, you want to see your kids more, but you can’t feel guilty for not spending time with them, because you don’t have that choice. I regularly advise people to consider divorce a model of parenting: to have children with someone you care about and respect and then marry the love of your life. I’m kidding, of course, but I’m not. They say it takes a village; So, if your nuclear family explodes, why not create one? Part-time parenthood does not mean part-time love.

I must admit that when it comes to stepmother, I have one very distinct advantage. I met my really special stepfathers around the same age as the boys – 4 and 6 – and I can’t remember life without them. As a child, my MadrastraMarcia, she was the kindest, wisest, most emotional adult in my world. She is to this day the first person I go to for advice and one of my closest friends. I will never forget that she spent the whole night sleeping in an uncomfortable chair in my bedroom the day I found out that my beloved biological mother was dying. I am grateful for the many small gestures and tips that have helped make me who I am now. I never doubted that I was loved twice and that created a world of possibilities for me.

This does not mean that parenting is not difficult. It’s a tightrope walk without the legal rights security net. Every situation is different, and I hear a variety of stories, but in general, dad or dad often means second best and, in some contexts, frankly irrelevant. There is no “day” role or role clearly defined for you. But respect for other people’s limits and a lack of social standing are certainly not reasons to diminish love. Love, like good morals, does not have to operate on the model of scarcity.

Octavia, sister of Emperor Augustus and fourth wife to Mark Antony, raised her stepchildren as her own sons even after Antony abandoned her for Cleopatra.

People try to tell me that there is something different about a biological child (I find this a bit annoying. I can’t imagine how adoptive and other non-biological legal parents feel). Dear friends, involuntarily it is different. The science is on their side: One study from the 1980s shows that stepmothers who interbreed with their children’s father are not as close to their children as they are to their biological children. Those with biological children reported feeling less satisfaction with being a stepmother.

I like to think that “difference” is not something so narcissistic and scandalous in the Middle Ages as bloodlines, but rather the intimacy and trust that attendees build. It shows in the ordinary everyday moments that separate being a parent and a friend of the family. (Or, for that matter, being a good father than being a trans or neglectful father.) It’s the excitement of being stuck in the elevator, the familiarity of having dinner and breakfast together, the ritual of bedtime stories, the boredom of a third medical appointment in a week, and the joy that accompanies the after-school walk home that makes people a family.

I don’t think anyone can love any child more than I love boys. But if I’m going to admit to the point that there’s something transcendental about becoming a biological parent, then to me it sounds a lot like heroin. Hear me out here because I don’t mean to be fickle. I have good authority that the first dose of heroin is the best feeling you can ever feel. (Nothing can be compared, which is exactly why it’s dangerous.) But as a non-heroin user, I live in blissful ignorance. Heroin might be better, but I would never know, and I could get my kicks of cocaine and ecstasy, or, as I like to call them, Max and Luke.

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