I know a good mom when I see one. How? I have four: a mom, step-mom, mother-in-law, and a step-mother-in-law. Collectively, they taught me that good mothering is not zero-sum, where whatever is gained by one is lost by another.
In other words, a good step-mom does not a bad mother make. Or a bad mother-in-law; or a bad step-mother-in-law.
Conversely, wickedness in step-moms IS zero-sum. They have all the fun. Here’s how:
Wicked step-moms gossip. The plain truth is that gossip is thrilling. It’s fun. And on a hot gossip scale, divorce and break ups are number one. But my step-mom has never said one ill word of my mom, or any of my other mothers. She never said anything about the divorce. And other than playful teasing, she has never criticized my dad or talked about any conflicts in their relationship. If they had a conflict, they worked it out behind closed doors and not in front of us kids. Gossip is and will always be beneath my step-mom. She will not roll around in the mud, no matter how fun it is.
Wicked step-moms scheme. In Cinderella, Lady Tremaine was desperate for social stature. She was jealous of Cinderella’s fair beauty and thusly sentences her to be a servant. When Prince Charming comes door-to-door with the glass slipper, Lady Tremaine schemes to lock Cinderella in the attic and encourages her own daughters to force their feet into the petite slipper. Conversely, my step-mom is as warm as the hot breakfast she would have waiting for us when we woke up every-other Saturday morning. In fact, she is all things that are warm; just as my mom is all things that are unconditional; my mother-in-law is all things generous; and my step-mother-in-law is all things encouraging. My step-mom never schemed or engaged in parental power struggles with my biological mom and dad, or my other moms. She took care of us; but she never disciplined us – she left that to my biological parents. Instead, she played the role of a nurturing and compassionate role model.
Wicked step-moms play favorites. Wicked step-moms are preferential towards their biological kids or they buddy up with their step-kids, choosing to play the popular role and not a parental one. My step-mom filled the role of nurturing caretaker, not Starbucks-shopping-concert-goer. As an adult now, I can see how it might be tempting for a new step-mom to play the friend in order to build a bond with new step-children, but my step-mom was never my girlfriend and never tried to be. I love her for that.
Wicked step-moms throw serious side-eye. A wicked step-mom can express all of her disapproval in a glance. But so can any mom. All of my four moms bleed kindness, but wake any one of them in the middle of the night cranking loud music, and she is going to give you, “The Look,” which sternly encapsulates an entire world of scorn.
So, maybe wicked step-moms don’t get to have all the fun. There is some fun to be had for the rest of them. Like my step-mom, who is one of the rest of them. Love and hugs.