Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The (Sometimes) Myth of The Wicked Stepmother

In my post of 4/12/2012, Your Spouse's Secret Mission, I described how the spouses of people who are not getting along with their family of origin often make it look as if they were villainous meanies who are poisoning the mind of the innocent husband or wife against his or her family members. That way, the parents in said family of origin do not get angry at their own progeny, but blame any and all problems on the nasty spouse.

These family of origin members seem to ignore the fact that their darling son or daughter is going along with the spouse's supposed "program." Maybe they are just weak-minded souls who are easily led by the nose?  Not!

This is an example of how what Freud called "defense mechanisms," which he thought of as existing solely within an individual's mind may, in fact, be interpersonal strategies. In this case, the defense mechanism in question is displacement. You know, how you come home and kick the dog when you are really mad at your boss? In this case, the spouses are allowing their in-laws to displace any anger that exists in the in-laws' family of origin onto them. This way, the person who is actually angry at his or her parents gets off scott free and appears utterly blameless for any emotional cut off.

Yet another example of how one family member can volunteer to take the heat for a spouse involves some divorced parents of young children. For various reason, many of which I will not get into here, one parent abandons these children, runs off to marry someone else, has more children, and then lavishes all their money and attention on the new family. In the process, they completely ignore, in many cases, their children from their first marriage. This seems to happen more often with men than with women, although women are certainly known to abandon their children in this same manner.

Men, at least until recently, were often screwed in divorce proceedings in regards to child custody arrangements. Usually, the ex-wife would get prime custody of the kids, and the ex-husband would just get the right to pay child support. In other words, the ex-husband got the bills for the cost of raising the children, while getting little say in how they were raised. To add insult to injury, if there was any remaining tension within the couple because of their divorce, which there often was, the husband had to go through the disagreeable ex-wife to even get to see his kids. Some ex-wives went out of their way to make that as difficult and/or unpleasant as possible. 

Having more access to the kids than their dad, these ex-wives might also attempt to alienate the children from him by constantly saying terrible things about him (parental alienation syndrome). I have seen cases in which an ex-spouse does not even give the kids letters and birthday cards from Dad written to them - or even acknowledge their existence - and won't let the kids see their dads while lying and telling them that it is Dad who does not want to see them.

Now, before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, let me be quick to add that it is also a frequent occurrence that a divorced mom really does want the dad to be involved in the kids' lives, and he for whatever reason still avoids them. He may say he is coming to pick them up and then not show, making them feel very disappointed. And of course controlling Dads can also alienate their kids from their mothers.

Which takes us to the actual topic of this post. I bet you thought I was never getting around to wicked stepmothers, didn't you? I know, I have a nasty habit of writing long expositional prologues before I get to the main subject of a post.

Anyway, for many of those dads who seem to want to avoid the kids from their "first" family, their new wife volunteers to be the villainess, just as she might have done with dad's estranged parents. She makes it look like Dad's avoidance of the children is entirely her doing. This way, the abandoned kids get to feel better about their dads by blaming his absences on his mean and nasty new wife.

In a way, she is actually trying to protect the abandoned children from the pain of being seemingly rejected by their own fathers.

In these cases, the "wicked" stepmother is often accused, rather, of keeping dad away from said kids because, for example, she wants all of his money to go to her children, either from their marriage or those kids from her former marriage or marriages. The poor guy doesn't have a chance against such a monstrously powerful little witch, does he? So he is forced to go along with her wicked plot against his better judgment.  

Yeah, right.


  1. Hi David,

    Thank you for the great article!

    'In the process, they completely ignore, in many cases, their children from their first marriage'.
    ^ I had a friend who experienced this problem, and was open about it. It's very sad indeed.

  2. This reminds me of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. One of the "sisters" has a Dad who behaves like that. But he gets better by the end of the movie.