Fairy tales and fables tend to paint stepmothers in a negative light, portraying them as evil and hurtful. In the classic story, Cinderella’s evil stepmother and two stepsisters made her life miserable. Jealous of her grace and beauty, they allied against her, tormenting her at any chance they got.
While those classic children’s movies and stories seem to perpetuate the tale of the “evil stepmother,” the reality of a mixed family it’s very different.
A new study reveals that stepchildren do not experience more negative outcomes than their single parent housemates. It also found that stepchildren tend to experience best results than his half siblings, disproving the evil stepfathers theory. One hundred and thirteen million Americans have some tiered relationship, so this is good news.
Anthropologist Ryan Schacht from the University of East Carolina and researchers from the University of Utah led the study. They titled it “Was Cinderella just a fairy tale? Survival differences between stepchildren and half siblings.”It has been published in the May issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
The study aims to disprove the “Cinderella effect” theory by analyzing the relationships between steps in real life. Disney movies and children’s stories tend to portray stepparents as resentful or neglectful of their stepchildren. This vision of stepparents also seems to have come true.
Previous theories suggested that conflict in reconstituted families over physical, financial, or emotional issues leads to higher mortality in stepchildren. It also claims that stepparents abuse or neglect stepchildren more than a biological parent would. The theory states that stepmothers and dads accumulate resources for their biological children, which makes stepchildren feel left out.
Why The “Evil Stepmother” Idea Doesn’t Actually Represent Reality
Schacht explains that previous studies have unfairly blamed stepparents for the adverse outcomes experienced by stepchildren. They have done this primarily through an “apples-to-oranges comparison”, which skews the results. It states that they compare the long-term effects of children who have experienced trauma, such as the loss of parents, with children from stable backgrounds.
Recognizing this glaring flaw in previous studies, the team set out to collect more accurate data. They compared the results of stepchildren not with those of children from “normal” homes, but with those who have also experienced the loss of their parents. When they made this comparison, the researchers found no difference between stepchildren and those from single-parent households. This means that stepparents did not increase stepchild mortality in layman’s terms, as suggested above.
“The idea of a stepfather, especially a stepmother, as an agent of evil seems to be a story as old as time,” Schacht said. “It is easy to sell the result of the Cinderella effect because we have been told these stories about the problems that reconstituted families experience for hundreds of years.
“We do not deny that some stepchildren suffer,” he said. “However, if we really believe that the stepparent is the source of negative outcomes for a stepchild, then we must compare similar settings and experiences. A child who has not lost a parent through death or divorce has not experienced the same trauma who has a stepson; Comparing those two experiences and blaming the stepparents for the divergent results is not a fair comparison. “
The study that debunks the myth of the evil stepmother
The researchers compared the mortality of stepchildren whose parents remarried after the death of a spouse with that of children whose parents did not remarry. They discovered three critical findings:
- The loss of a father significantly affects children under the age of 18, especially babies who lose a mother;
- Children whose parents remarried after losing their spouse had a mortality rate similar to that of children whose parents did not remarry; Y
- When a half-brother was introduced to the family, it had a protective effect on the stepchildren.
“The metrics of what makes a family successful – home stability, relationship stability, and financial stability – are achieved when stepparents invest in their stepchildren to make that happen. Going in with an antagonistic approach is pointless if the stepparents want their relationship to be successful. “
For the study, the research team pored over data on more than 400,000 Utah children between 1847 and 1940. Schacht explained that this period gave them the best opportunity to study the death rates of stepchildren in families. During this time, families tended to have more children and many reconstituted families were formed after the death of one of the parents.
The study authors added that children who have lost a parent have more in common with their single-parent housemates. Children from both reconstituted families and single-parent families tend to have similar educational, health, and economic challenges. Schacht hopes the study will encourage better public policy funding for interventions for families who have lost a parent.
Of course, the study authors acknowledge the difficulties in adjusting to a mixed family. This does not mean that problems do not occur between a stepmother and stepchildren. However, these problems are often exaggerated in the media. Most of the time, families get along and children benefit from a supportive stepfather.
Other important advantages of mixed families
- In many cases, children have two sets of parents who help care for them.
- Having a two-parent family can provide more stability and support if the parent remarries.
- Children will usually have a better quality of life due to the combined income of the parents.
- Having more family members means that children can have other children to play with.
- Stepmothers or dads can provide the same love and care as a biological father.
- Having a mixed family means that the children will have more people to spend the holidays with.
Sadly, stepmothers have gotten a bad rap in the media and in children’s stories. However, in reality, most mixed families get along well after getting used to the new arrangements. This does not mean that problems or arguments will never arise, but that is the case with any family.
The bottom line is that most stepmothers and stepsons have strong relationships after building trust and spending time together. The previous study found that stepchildren do not experience more negative outcomes than children from single-parent homes. As long as they have love, care, and support, stepchildren can have a happy and healthy relationship with their stepmother.