Redeeming Cinderella's Stepmother

Today’s faith and parenting guest post comes to us from Sarah Bost-Askins. Sarah is a poet writer, feminist thinker, Jesus lover, and Springer Spaniel wrangler. She grew up in Lynchburg, VA, the epicenter for conservative evangelicalism. She attended Tennessee Temple University, and after college, she moved to North Carolina to teach English at a Christian school. During her second year teaching, she met her Redneck Romeo through a blind date arranged by one of her students. In 2006, she married her husband and gained an immediate family with her two stepchildren. Her husband encouraged her to pursue her graduate degree in English, and in 2010, she was graduated from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro  with a Master of Arts degree in English. She works as a freelance writer by day, poet and fiction writer by whenever life gives her a few free moments. When she is not writing, she enjoys cooking, tending her herb garden, and drinking too much coffee.

Currently, she is working on a collection of short stories set in rural North Carolina and a collection of poetry. You can find her poetry and some fiction pieces on her blog From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell. She also is one of the co-founders of The Dark Jane Austen Book Club. You can follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

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Transient

No little girl ever wants to be Cinderella's stepmother. We dream of princes and balls and weddings and babies, but all of those things would belong to us first. We would mother our own biological children, not someone else's. No one wants to be a stepmother.

The Bible doesn't offer us a shining example of a stepmother. We could posit that Sarah was the  stepmother of Hagar's son Ishmael; however, she forced both Hagar and Ishmael to leave after the birth of her son, Isaac. Not the best pattern to follow. Literature isn't kind to us either. We give away poison apples, prey upon feeble-minded men, and force servitude upon the stepchildren. Even the Greek playwright, Euripides said that “it is better to be a serpent than a stepmother.” 

I am stepmother, not a stereotype.

I grew up in  an evangelical Baptist home. On Sundays, we drove to church with hundreds of families just like us. One set of parents. No extra parents, no step-families, no half siblings. We talked about divorce in hushed whispers, always judging. All I knew about divorce came from graceless conversations about brokenness and sinfulness. It's easy to point the holier than thou finger at those not included in our fellowship. Stay away from divorced people at all cost! For awhile, I believed it. Then I met Mark. And grace changed me.

Perhaps, rightness doesn't always come in the perfect Prince Charming wrapper. No exaggerated good looks, no white horse (unless you count his white F-150 with its 300 horses under the hood, and for a redneck, it does.).  But Mark didn't come alone; he also brought two children from his previous marriage. I never thought about being a stepmother or its implications. Maybe I should have been more cautious, more aware of the ways people view stepparents. But in retrospect, it wouldn't have changed anything.

I remember meeting my stepchildren for the first time. A curly haired, blue eyed girl and a too tall for his age boy. The next moment, I met stuffed bears and baby dolls. We cooked pasta in plastic pans and ate invisible noodles with red sauce. Both kids climbed in our laps and watched the Superbowl till bedtime, and I breathed in my first taste of motherhood. I loved it. Somehow, it felt natural and good and beautiful to have extra hugs and plates full of pretend. In a moment, I fell in love with whole family, Mark and his kids.

Then the stepmother stereotype rears its ugly head.

Soon after  Mark and I married, things got complicated and  emotionally wrecking. Perhaps, I was young and stupid, but I thought that this step-mothering thing wouldn't be so hard. How easy it would be to reconcile differences, and we could parent these children together. But learning to parent with one person in the picture is hard; learning to parent with a whole other set of parents and family is harder. Even when both sets are Christians. Even when we know to love others, to speak only truth, to forgive hurts. 

But being a stepmother is like being in-between—not fully mother(I have no biological children of my own), not fully childless either. For years, I wore stepmother like an albatross around my neck, allowing its weight to pull me under the dark waters of depression. No one ever tells a new stepmother that there isn't a societal norm explaining how I'm supposed to mother my stepchildren. There is no What to Expect When You're Expecting to be a StepmotherWe get thrown into the mothering pool head first and pray that we can doggy paddle to keep afloat.  It was all I could do to keep from drowning in the laundry, the daily routine, the back and forth between houses, the unkind words, closed door hiding my tears.  Many nights, I sent up angry prayers to God, to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit. Whoever was listening, begging to be free.  I needed to be redeemed from Cinderella's Stepmother.

I can't redeem myself from Cinderella's Stepmother by bombarding others with anger, my supposed rightness. Grace needs humility to begin its healing work, and it reveals itself through selfless acts of mothering. It's the small moments  that change people's hearts toward stepmothers, to step-parenting in general. As a stepmother, I don't need to argue for my right to parent; I simply need to do the work. The humble work I chose when I married my husband, when I chose to become a stepmother. 

When I wash the bed linens from a night terror induced wetting, I redeem the stereotype. 

When I comfort my child who has been hurt by the careless words of others, I redeem the stereotype. 

When I speak graciously of the other family, I redeem the stereotype.

When I choose forgiveness rather than self-righteous anger, I redeem the stereotype.

When I respond in grace rather than bitterness, I redeem the stereotype.

But I can't fully redeem it alone. 

This stereotype is too big for one person to overcome, and I need the Church to open up a safe haven to discuss divorce and remarriage and step-parenting without judgment. No side taking, no devaluing one parent's contributions over another. Just a space where we allow grace to meld together the shards of brokenness into a new whole.

Only then can we redeem Cinderella's Stepmother.

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