The Stepmother Families

Stepmother Families

Many of you grew up watching or reading about Cinderella and her trials with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters.  Did you ever wonder how or why the narratives were created?  Was there any truth to them, etc.?

As you read chapter 6, Stepmother Families, think about the important roles of mothers in general and stepmothers specifically.  According to the text, stepfamilies were formed when men remarry because they have children at home whose biological mother died; they remarry to replace the “mother” role in the family.  It can easily be seen as a job or task to replace the mother and fodder for stereotypes to be born.

With the amount of stress related to blending families, the stepmother walks a fine line in creating the home environment.  In fact with stepmother families, the rules, boundaries, and expectations of first-marriage parents do not apply.

Our lectures this week will cover stepmother families, explore stepmother experiences, review dominant social myths and issues of cultural diversity.  You will read chapter 6 of the text that covers these topics, as well as the Hoffman article on why stepmothering is more difficult than stepfathering.  In addition, you will participate in two discussion boards that focus on both assigned readings.  Finally, you will review the video Parenting with the Experts: Stepfamilies, found on the Week 5 Activities page.


By the end of this week, students will:

· Discuss the unique challenges faced by stepmothers

· Dialogue about the dominant social myths about stepmothers

· Explain underrepresented groups that are stepmothers

Week 5: Lecture

Experiences of Stepmothers

In this section of chapter 6, the take away would be that to understand a stepmother’s experience, you need to understand that she is dealing with “build-in structural ambiguities” that are unspoken and unwritten, but nonetheless expected regarding her role in the stepfamily.

Specifically, this section shares ambiguity among four roles of the stepmother.  They are:

· Membership (who are the “real” members of the family?)

· Space (where do I belong, what space is mine?)

· Authority (who is in charge of discipline, money, decisions?)

· Time (who gets how much of my time, and how much do I get of theirs?) (Gold, 2016, p. 65)

Moreover, the stepmother role is dynamic and abstract in that she is expected to take on the role of biological mother in the home and tend to the needs of the household but at the same time she has no say in running the home or its outcomes.  She is relegated to the margins.


Week 5: Lecture

Dominant Social Myths of Stepmothers

Reauthoring the dominant social myths of stepmothers is key moving forward in understanding her unique journey.  This section allows the reader to reflect on each social myth and why it is communicated.  At the same time, these myths are broken down and dismantled for the reader to receive a positive voice over the issues.  The reader is able to see the struggle and respect it.


Week 5: Lecture

Issues of Cultural Diversity and Stepmothers

Little is known about the effect of culture on stepmothering. A literature search using scholarly engines and popular search engines did not yield a single article pertaining to Hispanic stepmothers and very little information regarding African American and lesbian stepmothers. This dearth of information may be an indication that stepmothers are so minuscule a group that their presence is overlooked. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau does not consider stepfamily households as a “family unit” if the children reside less than 50% of the time in the stepfamily home and the stepmother is the noncustodial parent. Cohabiting couples do not qualify as a family (or stepfamily) unit. All these factors may contribute to the challenge of recognizing stepmother families and, other than perhaps volunteer sampling or web-based blogs, complicate their accessibility and scholarly study.

Relevant studies about stepmothers contain too few responses from African American stepmothers to analyze (Stewart, 2007). Most African American women see the role as difficult and undesirable, and single African American women under 35 seem less willing to marry men with children. Some comments suggest that disciplining stepchildren is less of a concern to African American stepmothers, perhaps because African American children are more accustomed to being disciplined by “other mothers,” such as adult relatives, neighbors, and fictive kin. African American stepmothers tend to make fewer distinctions between biological and stepchildren, assuming care of all of them as a group; they also rely on religious and church affiliations for support with handling family stress.

Lesbian stepmothers hold the same romantic ideals and commit the same mistakes as heterosexual stepmothers (Stewart, 2007). There is a unique challenge around shared parenting in that traditional hierarchical ideals (roles of mothers as distinct yet complementary to roles of fathers) hamper co-parenting. Because gender cannot determine role enactments, how are such distinctions made? It becomes expedient for all roles to be recognized and then assumed based on parenting strength and preference, with openness to learning and assuming new roles as needed. A second challenge exists if the sexual nature of the couple relationship is kept hidden from the children. Akin to the issues within gay-stepfather families, there may be a tension between wishing to be open with the children about the lesbian relationship yet fearing the children’s rejection if they do. The single consistent finding is that stepmothers can discipline only in the absence of the biological mother and then only along pre-established parameters.

Insufficient information on the dynamics of stepmother families is available for the cultural groups addressed in this book. One hopes that researchers and social scientists rise to the challenge of contacting these stepmothers and learning more about their experiences, crucial groundwork for advancing appropriate conceptualizations and interventions to promote stepfamily success. (Gold, 73-74)


Week 5: Activities

Readings and Media

Please read the following for this week as well as All Week 5 Online Course Materials:


· Gold, J. M. (2015). Stepping In, Stepping Out: Creating Stepfamily Rhythm. Wiley.

· Chapter 6

· Hoffman, R. M. (1995). Why is stepmothering more difficult than stepfathering? National Stepfamily Resource Center. Retrieved from



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