Stepmother – Or Enough with the Fairy Tales Already!

For much of my thirties, I was a stepmother to a beautiful kid. We met when he was two. During our first evening together, we played a wild, improvised game involving magnetic letters, a monster in the freezer and much running around squealing. At the end of the evening, he came toddling out to the living room in his yellow footie PJ’s to say good night and kissed me on the knee.

That was that.
I was utterly smitten.

As I was embarking on this new adventure with the boy and his dad, we read lots of storybooks. One night as we were settled on the pink couch, the boy handed me a well-worn soft cover book. It was some fairy tale that involved yet another wicked stepmother. And it struck me. Why are we reading this junk? Is it not hard enough to navigate a new and complex family constellation without having the stepmother caricature mocking us from the page?

As we were first finding our way together, the boy used to pretend he was my baby. I’d follow his lead as he would cover his head with my shirt and then pop out “born.” This game was so tender between us. I was touched that he was claiming me as another mother.

The boy is a man now. Last time I saw him, I noticed a few silver hairs at his temples. Whenever our paths cross, it is warm between us.

I learned so many things from being a stepmother – about love, patience, listening, and play. Most of all I learned about stepping up. Here’s to all the stepmothers….


(With a cackle and a leer and a wicked-witch voice):
I am a stepmother
An evil wicked vain stepmother
So the Disney-witches leer from the pages I read to my son:
Hansel & Gretel banished to the forest!
Snow White mistreated and poisoned!
And poor Cinderella on her ash heap
all my doing!

What are these books doing in our house?

I am a stepmother
A step by step–mother
No poisoned apples or magic mirrors here
Only another pair of loving eyes to rest on this boy.
I will carry this child only in this heart
and in these arms–
never in this belly.

I am a stepmother
So when people ask, “Is this your son?”
I say, “Yes, not really”
and feel like a liar either way.
What I want to say is:
“I love this boy terrifying fierce
and worry about him – needlessly
|            and wash his socks
and tell him the best stories I can think of.”
I want to tell them he is family to me.

I am a stepmother–a step right up mother.
Before I knew it, we were making a mother of me, he and I.
He climbs under my big shirt
Comes out squalling:  “mama, mama, goo goo”
I name him and pet him
and he generously shows me some of what I missed
in those years when he was a son
and I was not yet a mother.

© 1991 Barbara McAfee


About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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3 Responses to Stepmother – Or Enough with the Fairy Tales Already!

  1. Michelle Farinella says:

    What a wonderful entry! I can totally relate. I was the stepmother of a little boy of 2 years until he was a bigger little boy of 10. He is now a near-man of 16 and recently greeted me from behind the wheel of a car! Thank you for reminding me that my constellation is not as rare as I think and this boat is not as empty as it feels.

  2. Julie Davis Carran says:

    Lovely! Again!

    Julie Davis Carran cell: 914-522-3793


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