You probably saw it on Father’s Day – it’s a 3-and-a-half minute, 3-hanky commercial about 3 stepdads and how much they are loved by their now adult step kids.
Heck, I cried myself! It’s beautiful and emotional, and a completely wonderful thing for a beer company to do. There’s nothing bad to say about it all.
But it just got me thinking.
Why is a stepdad such a different creature from a stepmom? Why do people respond so well to this short film in a way they might not if it were about stepmoms adopting their husband’s kids?
I boiled it down to 4 easily recognized archetypes at work in our unconscious minds that influence our ideas about people in common modern family roles:
Single Mom. She is the underdog. She works hard (without complaining) to support her kids on her own. Whatever child support she receives is a drop in the bucket of what it takes to raise kids these days. Anyone would find it easy to root for her.
Single Dad. He’s a deadbeat dad unless he is raising the kids on his own in which case either his mom or a nanny are helping out. More likely he really is a deadbeat dad and at very least, he’s a cad for leaving Single Mom!
Stepmom. She’s the evil temptress who is responsible for breaking up the marriage of Single Mom and Deadbeat Dad, or a self-interested schemer who is secretly diverting the life insurance to herself instead of the kids. P.S., in some circles, she is also known as the potential seducer of teenage boys.
Stepdad. He is the hero who steps in to selflessly raise another man’s kids. His moral values are impeccable and the kids are definitely better people for having him in their lives.
These unconscious archetypes show up in all kinds of places, like family courts, schools, daycares and doctor’s offices where dads and stepmoms have to walk across hot coals to prove they are bona-fide members of a child’s family and deserve to be respected and included.
The home-wrecker archetype is partly to blame each time a stepmom finds herself shunned by the moms at soccer practice or dance class who aren’t quite sure if it’s OK to be friendly with a woman who possibly stole someone’s husband.
The unfortunate additional “sexy stepmom” archetype brings women into unwanted contact with the world of internet porn as unsavory images and videos dominate online search results for support groups and websites to help with common stepfamily problems.
As much as the title “stepdad” could be associated with perpetrators of child abuse, it doesn’t seem to affect their overall standing in society as basically good guys doing their best in a tough situation.
If this commercial had been about stepmoms adopting their grown up step kids, the viewer would be silently thinking: “What about the real mom? Where is she? Isn’t it just a little heartless to adopt a child who has a mother somewhere?”
A birth mom would have to be deceased for this kind of story line to be acceptable. It’s somehow expected that dads regularly just run off, leaving space for the hero stepdad to make his appearance. I don’t mean it’s not wonderful when it happens, it’s just that the expectations are so dramatically different for how a stepmom or a stepdad comes into the picture.
What will it take to get a fair shake for stepmothers?
For starters, it’s our responsibility as stepmoms to model the respectful way we’d like to be treated ourselves.
That means we should start being nicer to each other as stepmoms; less judgemental and more accepting of the different ways we manage our lives.
When we share our struggles, we should insist on a spirit of supportive listening and troubleshooting. We should help each other to celebrate the little wins that other friends can’t easily appreciate.
We should embrace and lift up the title of stepmom rather than complain about carrying those old archetypes, and proudly highlight what a real stepmom brings to modern family life.
We should study new ideas in step parenting so we can help end the crisis of failed second and third marriages, both for our own happiness and for the sake of future generations.
We should also foster a better understanding of bio mom who might be laboring under an archetype herself: “toxic schemer out to destroy your family and steal your happiness“. She might just be a woman who, like yourself, is struggling with something nature didn’t prepare her for – in this case, having to share her offspring with another woman.
The divorce genie is probably not going back into the bottle; broken and re-partnered families are a permanent fixture of western society. It will take a lot of work to break the old archetypes and learn see each other for who we really are.
So, thanks, Budweiser, for all you do. You’re definitely on the right track and we’re right behind you on your next blended family commercial.
Let me suggest a scenario: three stepmoms gets to hear someone say “Thanks, for all you do to help my dad be the best dad ever. Thanks for all you do that we don’t notice and won’t ever know about. Thanks for taking a chance on dad and sticking with us even when we make you want to run for the hills.”
Bring on the hankies, I’m ready!