Stepmommy or Stepmonster: Part II – Broccoli & Other Evils

Posted by in Articles & Rants, Motherhood Project, Writing

If you troll the web, the various facebook groups and internet chat rooms for stepmothers you’ll find a wide range of brutal honesty, unbelievable ridicule, and a whole lot of self-righteous fluff and lies. There is a major taboo in this stepmothering business of ours. From the century-old evil stepmother persona we are labeled with to the incredulous and rather universal expectation that we must and will love and adore our darling stepchildren, may never ever speak an ill word of them, and we must be self sacrificial martyrs to ensure their constant happiness… anything less puts us back into that former category of Cinderella’s wicked slave driver of a stepmother,  the utterly mad “Mommy Dearest,” or the selfish and cruel step-wrench of Hansel and Gretel who led them into the woods to starve and die.

This is a delicate (read: impossible) rope to walk and stepmothers everywhere are falling to their demise, hanging themselves from the very rope they want so desperately to balance upon. But I digress. Let me take you back to my beginning as a stepmother and resist the urge to dive into the here and now.

Five years ago (2009) I decided to embrace this new role as a stepmom when I married my husband who happened to have four kids (aged 6-10 years old). You can read more about this is my previous post: Part I. I didn’t read up on it… stepmothering, that is. I didn’t ask other stepmoms (I had been a stepmom to a teen in my previous marriage but it was part time, I was hardly her ‘mom’ as I was very young and that didn’t work out well anyway). But how hard could it be? I already had two kids of my own and I loved being a mom. I’d always wanted a big family, this would just save my body a little time/wear, right? Plus, I was an awesome mom… who wouldn’t love me?

Well, the kids did seem to love me and they were fairly likeable, albeit needy, kids on first, second and third inspection. But when I finally uprooted my own family and moved into this tiny two bedroom apartment to become our perfect little blended family it took all of a couple hours before the $%^& really hit the fan and my future as a stepmom (read: stress and misery) would begin to rear it’s ugly head.

On the first night I was met with an unexpected conflict: one of these children was extremely picky and shockingly stubborn. His dad, of course, had given me no warning of this. I had made dinner, an exceptional dinner considering they had grown accustomed to pizza and chef boyardee, and this kid flat out refused to eat. This threw me off because up to this point he’d been a really sweet kid, and I’d never dealt with a picky eater. At best, my daughter once turned her nose up at Salmon & Corn Chowder then tasted it after very moderate coaxing and proceeded to devour the entire bowl. I am a great cook, I prepare beautifully plated cookbook style meals that my own kids really appreciate. To top it off, I grew up incredibly poor and being picky was unheard of… complaining and refusing to eat would have been sacrilegious not to mention incredibly stupid (read: you’re going to starve). But this kid just wouldn’t get with the program and seemed to have this strange expectation that he was going to have something else prepared for him (huh?) and he wouldn’t even taste what I’d worked my tail off preparing.

So I tried a thousand different things, from games to bribery to jokes and tricks, I was already exhausted over something so utterly ridiculous by my standards that I was starting to wonder what the hell I’d gotten into… not to mention this made me look (and feel) like a substandard mother who couldn’t even get a six year old to eat his vegetables. His dad encouraged me to put my foot down and move toward the punishment stage… I suppose we were both thinking: He’s testing his limits, establish authority now. So I did. And after the shock and awe of putting my foot down (not sure that was the best decision, in retrospect), he still had to finish that broccoli. And this kid actually sat there gagging and vomiting into his own plate over a couple stalks of garlicky, buttery broccoli. It was the most outlandish, melodramatic thing I had ever seen a child do… and it will delight you to know that he continued this grotesque performance for a couple years before I finally broke him of it. And it wasn’t just broccoli… it was strawberries, green peas, watermelon, fish, it was always something, at least 1-3x a week, and it was always the same crying, snot-dripping, gagging, bleary-eyed vomit show as day one.

Now I may sound cruel (read: evil stepmother makes kid eat veggies, omg!), but keep in mind, I was coming from a background where poverty made me the exact opposite of picky and entitled. I remember eating food from trash cans, scraping mold off bread regularly, eating things like $h!t on a Shingle (as my mom called it), licking the tray clean on school lunches, and taking home that extra carton of school milk to use for breakfast in the morning. A can of Vienna sausages was a treat and pork and beans with hotdogs was for special occasions. I even recall trying to make an apple pie from an old pie shell and a can of applesauce one Christmas because that’s all we had in the cupboard.

I couldn’t even understand what was happening. And remember that stubbornness I mentioned? On one occasion, this kid sat at the table for SIXTEEN HOURS because he didn’t want to eat the equivalent of 3-4 tablespoons of peas. Sixteen hours! And sitting for hours was no unusual thing. Mind you, every other kid in the house was eating everything (six kids total), it was just this one (the baby of my husband’s kids) and his having been coddled by his grandmother, given absolutely everything he wanted and never ever made to do anything his little heart didn’t desire, he was incredibly spoiled, stubborn, and increasingly frustrating everyday.

Now this was ONE occasion, and one of my very first stumbles as a stepmother. I hadn’t been well-prepared to deal with kids who had been raised (or not raised) in a fashion that was contrary to my own upbringing or even starkly different from the way I was raising my own kids. I hadn’t really expected this and didn’t know how to handle it and it has taken me years to figure it out (i.e. I am still working on it). Not every stepmom will have these particular hurdles. But every stepmom will have some hurdles, that goes without saying. In my case, it has been especially challenging because I am the fulltime mom/stepmom. I am raising these kids, I am shaping their daily lives, trying to instill in them morals, values and good character. Trying desperately to maintain a balance between discipline and love, while having to scratch and scrape at times to even maintain a feeling of love for children who are not my own.

These kinds of challenges are the hallmark of the stepmother narrative. And its how you deal with these challenges that can dictate your label as utterly evil or absolutely amazing. Just voicing such a thing publicly puts me in the evil category by society’s standards, but I don’t mind. This is going to be an honest glimpse into the looking glass, ladies and gentleman, and I have no intention on dressing it up. For the record, that stubborn picky eater is a lot less picky now. He eventually got tired of sitting at the table for hours and now eats just about anything you put in front of him… he doesn’t always like it, but we get little more than a grunt and a cleaned plate, and that’s good enough for me.

This post is a part of the Motherhood Project, where we reflect upon the pain, struggles, joys, and frustration of our roles as mothers, daughters, stepmothers and more. Please follow the link to learn more about the project and join in!