The relationship between a mother and her child, they say, begins in the womb. The foetus grows up listening to the mother’s words, even being influenced by her moods and thoughts. The mother, in turn, feels every movement of the foetus, and ensures that she nourishes and nurtures the little one to the best of her ability. This intimacy forges a strong bond between the two long after the birth and well into the child’s life.
Indeed, the role of a mother in a child’s life is an important one. Some say that it is unparalleled. Some even argue that no one can take the place of the mother in the life of her children. But the truth is, it happens more than we think. Bitter divorces, illnesses and accidents could snatch mothers away from their children, creating a deep void.
Many a time, this void is filled by another person in due course. The father may choose to remarry and bring home a partner who becomes the stepmother to his children. While the new person strives to fit into the family, they might find that cultural barriers, traumas and misunderstandings get in their way. In this feature, Soulveda delves into this complicated relationship and finds out how people have made it work for them.
What makes the role of a stepmother complicated is–first and foremost–a harmful cultural notion. The fairytale of Cinderella was probably among the first to imprint in our minds that a stepmother can be a bad person. Several movies, books and TV shows may have told us over the course of our lives that a stepmother cannot connect with her child the way a mother could. This notion may also be furthered by the negative experiences of a few people. “Such prejudice might put a lot of pressure on the new person who is simply trying to fit into the family,” says Amita Mani, a counsellor. “Combined with the grief of losing or being estranged from the mother, such notions become barriers to the success of the relationship,” she explains.
These barriers make the initial years a challenge for everyone involved. Such was the case for Chaithali Pisupati, communications professional and stepmother to an 18-year-old daughter. “My stepdaughter Khushi was 10 when my husband and I got married. Her mother lived close by and was still actively involved in her life. At first, I felt like the third wheel in the relationship,” she shares. “I felt quite lost. I had to deal with the responsibility of a child without really having the right to make any decisions about her.”
Stepmothers become mothers overnight, and try as they might, their role may not be as important as that of the mother in the child’s life. And sometimes, the child may have trouble even accepting the presence of the stepmother in their life.