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The marginalised mother

Kavita Charanji, New Delhi

The choicest epithets – wicked, mean, cruel – are often flung at hapless stepmothers. Such stereotypes are reinforced by a barrage of regressive TV serials, films and epics that portray the stepmother as the scheming other woman who has dislodged a  haloed  biological  mother from her pedestal.

Then, there are all those fairy tales about the wicked stepmother  like  Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At a very tender age children get brainwashed into believing such tales are for real.

The gentle Dr Geeta Maheshwari, marriage and remarriage therapist and a stepmother herself, is treading a difficult path. She is trying to sensitise society about how tough it is to be a stepmom and giving strength to the marginalised stepmother.

In her slim book, Lessons for Step Mothers, Maheshwari describes the complex dynamics at work in a step family and  offers calm words of advice for those daring women who become stepmothers or are contemplating becoming one. 

“Many  a stepmother has come to accept society’s perception of her. So she overstretches herself to prove that she is a  good mother,” says Maheshwari.  Meanwhile, the new family, particularly  stepchildren, are often hostile, rude and obnoxious.

The stepmother is confused and lonely since she cannot share her pain with anyone for fear of the “I told you so” syndrome. She falls into ‘stepmother depression’.

In the process, she becomes a nervous wreck and her remarriage  is jeopardised. It is  a losing battle. Somewhere the survival instinct takes over and she starts distancing herself from the family. “Every stepmother’s marriage that breaks down only reinforces the myth of the wicked stepmother,” explains  Maheshwari.

A breakdown in marriage can be avoided if women are adequately prepared for the difficult, and often thankless job, that ...

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