It’s hard to be a feminist and a stepmother: everything I do is wrong, is interpreted in the nastiest possible way. Ironically, frustratingly, it’s often other women — those who aren’t stepmothers themselves — who judge me most harshly. There’s not a whole lot of sisterhood in my particular village. Perhaps there are women who feel supported and appreciated by cooperative mothers, women who hear the words “please” and “thank you,” women whose offers of friendly conversation are accepted without suspicion. I am not one of those lucky ones.
Like many of my sister stepmothers, I am often silenced by fear. We’re so often told that we’re wrong, and we’re afraid of being wrong – again and again and again. We’ve been told that we’re damaging the children, and then we are silenced because we believe that telling our stories will cause more damage. We want to be good stepmothers, and yet this is an impossible task – completely impossible. There is no good stepmother; there are only degrees of screwing up. It’s never a matter of whether we’ll screw up – of course we will – but it’s a question of how badly. You would be amazed at the horrible, horrible things that are alleged about me. And for stepmother screw-ups, there is no forgiveness, ever.
So we silence ourselves because we think that our silence will protect the children, and in the process, we eat the damage ourselves. We own the damage that does not even belong to us.