While mothers will get all the glory and the badly burnt breakfast in bed this Sunday, stepmothers mostly just get a bad rap.

Blame it on the Brothers Grimm.

But while modern stepmothers are quick to reject their less-than-favourable fairy tale reputation, Wednesday Martin, author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do, says they could actually take some lessons from their wicked storybook forestepmothers.

While fairy-tale stepmothers are depicted as all powerful, real-life stepmothers are anything but, says Martin. In fact, they’re profoundly disempowered, she says and as the most disempowered person in the stepfamily system primes her for burnout, exhaustion, and even clinical depression. In one Canadian study, doctors discovered a syndrome that was so specific to stepmothers that they called it “Cinderella’s stepmother’s syndrome.”

Fearing they may be perceived as the stereotypical “stepmonster,” many women with stepchildren find it difficult to be normally and healthily assertive in their households and in their relations with his kids. Instead these women bend over backwards in order to be seen as nice and perfectly loving at every moment. This only sets the stage for feeling unappreciated.

“Look at yourself and say ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall,’” advises Martin. “Not because you are a homicidal narcissist like Snow White’s stepmother, but because women struggling with stepmothering frequently lose sight of their own needs and identities as they attempt to ‘fix’ stepfamily dynamics.”

A toned down version of a wicked stepmother’s “coldness” may help you survive the roughest patches of stepfamily life, offers Martin. Accepting a relationship of friendly civility with your stepdaughter rather than pining to be her BFF, for example — will prevent you from feeling resentful, and may set the stage for even warmer relations down the line.

Embracing your power within your relationship with the children’s father is equally important, says Martin. “You must forge an airtight alliance with your husband or partner if your partnership is to survive the well-documented difficulties of stepfamily life,” she says. “And he and you must both remember that it is reasonable for a stepmother to expect civility in her own home.”

So while mothers will be getting all the limelight this Sunday, don’t forget that next Sunday (May 17) is Stepmother’s Day.

• Check out my new blog Sexcetera at www.metronews.ca/blogs.

– Josey Vogels is a sex and relationship columnist and author of five books on the subjects. For more info, visit www.joseyvogels.com.

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