LONGMONT — Maybe Cinderella had it all wrong.
Maybe her Wicked Stepmother had good intentions flawed by unrealistic expectations.
Maybe she dreamed of being the best of friends with good ol’ Cindi, picking out gowns for the ball, turning pumpkins into a carriage ride, finding a prince and then gossiping about it afterward.
Maybe the Wicked Stepmother got an unkind reality check: stepsiblings. Favoritism. The omnipresence of Cindi’s biological mother.
After all, a blended family doesn’t magically “live happily ever after.”
Stepmothering is a delicate kind of parenting, with ex-marital issues and new familial boundaries surrounding a family like land mines.
And on Mother’s Day, when rows of pink and flowery cards gush forth maternal well-wishing, stepmothers can feel left out in the aisle.
“It’s Mother’s Day, and it’s like a reminder that ‘Oh, who are you? You’re not my mother,’” said Wendy Conquest, a licensed professional counselor with the state. “There’s such a feeling of disappointment that can lead to despair.”
Stepmothers can live happily ever after, but it takes effort from all parties involved: parents, stepparents and children.
Conquest, who works in Longmont, provides a seven-week support group for stepparents to talk about the issues, problems and triumphs.
Being a stepmother has its nuances.
“Our society largely still looks at women more in the nurturing roles and the more responsible for raising children,” Conquest said. “So when a stepparent comes in, they want to include their values and ideas ... but that ultimately won’t happen unless the biological parents agree.”
Another pitfall is ignoring the ex-spouse or the problems that existed in their first marriage, Conquest said.
“Don’t fool yourself that these problems go away when the children grow up,” Conquest advised. “They take different forms: weddings, grandchildren, etc.”
Conquest said the most successful stepmothers have a good support system, be it a friend, church or counselor, to talk about issues they are experiencing.
“Most stepmoms try really hard,” she said.
Conquest said a stepmom can see situations, like lack of attention or overprotectiveness, between the biological parent and child because she doesn’t have that history together.
“The benefit is (stepmoms) are semi-detached from the situation,” she said, “but the downfall is not being heard, especially if (the stepmother) doesn’t have a child herself.”
Also, successful stepmothers work together with the biological parents as a unified front on areas such as discipline, holiday celebrations and values, she said.
Conquest said good stepmothers also use books and Web sites for advice and camaraderie, and they take time to nurture themselves as well as the family.
Deb Romero of Longmont has seen all sides to stepmothering. As a child, she and her stepmother had a healthy relationship.
“My stepmom had two sons from her first marriage, so we did girl things like make jam and sew, things my mom didn’t do,” she said. “I never felt unwelcomed. It was a very good situation, and I’m very thankful for that because that’s not always the case.”
As an adult, Romero was a stepmother before she had her own biological children. The problems, she said, began during her first pregnancy.
Romero said those problems, like favoritism and authority issues, continued in the beginning of her second marriage, now with five children — “yours, mine and ours,” as she put it.
“Raising five kids under the same one roof ... the dynamics of that was quite challenging,” she said. “I would see it with (my husband) treating my two kids differently, but then I was seeing it how I would act with my attitude to (my stepson), and it wasn’t right.”
Romero said she turned to her faith as a Christian, which she credits with bettering the relationship with her stepson, Nate, who is now an adult.
She remembered one Mother’s Day when Nate gave her a cookbook — a gift that showed Romero a lot of thought, she said.
She still uses the book and recently placed a recipe, one of the family’s favorites, in her church’s cookbook.
“When (stepchildren) show you love, it’s special in a way that’s different from when your own kids do it,” Romero said.
For advice, contact Stepfamily Association of America Inc., 650 J St., Suite 205, Lincoln, NE 68508, or call 800-735-0329.
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.