Forget the fairytales, even stepmums can live happily ever after
Actress Megan Fox and supermodel Gisele may have married men with children -- but it's not always easy, says Chrissie Russell
Published 20/10/2010 | 05:00
Stepmums have had a bad rap. For years the role has been associated with Cinderella, Snow White and the maligned children of Lir -- until now.
A host of glamorous new celebrity stepmums have burst on to the scene desperate to give the wickedly stereotyped image a much needed make-over.
In June, sultry screen siren Megan Fox (24) became stepmum to Kassius, the eight-year-old son of Desperate Housewives actor Brian Austin Green (37).
Green has already been gushing about the Transformers star's parenting skills saying: "She is absolutely my better half in parenting, she just gets it. It's instinctual for her." Kassius was even best man at the couple's wedding.
Supermodel Gisele Bundchen (30), married to American football quarterback Tom Brady (33), who has a son from a previous relationship, has been enthusing about her close bond with the young lad.
And 31-year-old model Danielle Lineker, says: "I love being a stepmum, I reckon I'm quite a fun stepmum to be around" on being a stepparent to husband Gary's four grown- up children.
But does the glossy image change really make any difference to the problems faced by women who marry a man that is not just their lover, but also a father?
Danielle Lineker, who appeared in a BBC3 show about My New Stepfamily, has confessed that life with the sports pundit's four teenage sons hasn't been plain sailing.
"You don't love them straight away -- they're strangers. You work towards that," she says. "I find it hard to discipline them. I get Gary to do it. My problem is taking a step back. I'm worried I don't make enough effort. I really don't want these kids to hate me."
It's a sentiment that 30-year-old Irish stepmum Emma* (name has been changed) can relate to.
She married husband knowing that his three teenage kids came with the territory but never imagined the strain one of them would put on their relationship.
"His daughter wouldn't have anything to do with me," she says. "At first, I thought it was just a challenge. She wouldn't speak to me. She made sure to always put her dad in the middle of arguments and the strain almost broke us up. It was hell."
She adds: "I know she saw me as taking her mum's place, even though it was her mum who had left her dad, but I tried being patient with her, reasoning with her and always looked after her in terms of running her places she needed to go, cooking her meals and so on, but nothing helped.
"If she hadn't grown up and moved out, I don't know what would have happened."
For many children, a new face in their family is, at least at first, an unwelcome addition.
The fact that dad has a new partner instantly raises comparisons with mum, questions about the power distribution in the family and fears over their importance in this new arrangement.
"Every family reacts differently, but in general younger children adapt to change easier than teenagers," says Margaret Bednarska, a clinical psychologist from Hazelton Clinic in Cork.
"Smaller children don't tend to have the same conflict of loyalties and find it easier to adjust than teenagers -- but at any age being a stepparent to someone else's children can be very challenging.
"The children will want to test the boundaries and compete for daddy or mummy's attention but usually, in time, they will adapt."
It's not only the kids that stepmums have to contend with.
In a typical relationship, a partner's former flames are firmly in the past, but when children are involved the ex is very present. Sadie Frost recently drew battle lines with Sienna Miller when the actress, who dates Frost's ex, Jude Law, took her nine-year-old daughter Iris for a haircut.
In a Twitter rant she fumed: "I think ya should get ya own child then cut their hair."
And Nicole Kidman has reportedly made sure that Katie Holmes knows who's mum when it comes to caring for her adopted children with ex- husband Tom Cruise.
"Most of the families that come to me for help are families looking for mediation with an ex-spouse," says clinical psychologist Margaret Bednarska.
"They want to form a healthy relationship regarding access to the children and making sure no one feels left out."
But regardless of the difficulties, the fact is that increasingly the traditional family of husband, wife and children is on the decline.
Divorce rates are rising and more people choosing to re-marry later in life.
Soon, more and more Irish households will contain stepparents, half siblings, and a wealth of complex family units that provoke challenges both familiar and unfamiliar to those posed by the original nuclear family.
Sadly, even if the ex-spouse and kids are onside, there's no guarantee that stepmums will get their happy ending.
Former stepmum Debbie* (name has been changed) found ultimately after all her efforts to become part of the family, it was her partner's territorial attitude that proved the biggest hurdle.
The 47-year-old explains: "My personal experience is that solo dads develop a 'poor me' attitude. They think they have to be superhuman, to their own detriment and to the detriment of their partners.
"I spent five years with my ex being mum in everything but name to his kids, only for him to turn round and say he had to focus on his children and there wasn't room for me in his life."
She adds: "I commend anyone who makes it work but after all the heartache I would never date a man with young children again."
*Names have been changed