The evil stepmother is a staple villain of fairy tales. A wicked witch who cackles into a mirror, she starves her husband's children while she wallows in riches.
Today's stepmoms might not be accused of casting spells, but talk to any first wife about her husband's new wife and you'll likely discover a bubbling cauldron of resentment. And the word they often use to describe the new Mrs. isn't witch, but it sure rhymes with it.
About 1,300 new stepfamilies are forming every day, and many include a mom and a stepmother who often secretly wish the other one would choke on a poison apple.
I've had friends on both sides of this issue.
First wives who watched their ex-husbands marry childless, often younger, women and then found themselves resenting the heck out of the fact that while they struggled along as a single mom, hubby and the new wife enjoyed the benefits of two incomes. While they're going to Bora Bora and fine restaurants, the first wife is stuck paying bills and playing the heavy, having to explain to the kids, "Yes, I know Dad and Suzie took you to Disney World, but we're spending our vacation cleaning out the gutters."
Or worse, women who watched their husband marry someone with kids and saw him give the time and attention to someone else's children, time they wished he were giving to his own.
But I've also had friends who married men with kids, and who tried their very best to be good stepmothers, only to discover that the ex-wife hated them on sight and the kids resented every single thing they did.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a mother and stepmother who not only liked and supported each other, but who actually wrote a book about how mothers and stepmothers can get along.
Jennifer Newcomb Marine (the ex-wife) and Carol Marine (the stepmom) authored No One's the Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan for the Mother and Stepmother Relationship.
Yes, they used the "B" word in their title, because let's face it, that's what moms and stepmoms often call each other, if not out loud, in their own minds.
It's a setup that's doomed to fail. Both women instinctively want the best for their own family, but there never seems to be enough resources to go around. Combine fights over money with disagreements about discipline and a heavy dose of post-divorce guilt, and it's no surprise that stepfamilies with children have a 69 percent divorce rate.
Experts say the adults should get along "for the sake of the kids." (Insert eye roll and heavy sigh here if you're trying to co-parent with a woman you despise.)
Carol and Jennifer say they disliked each other on site. It was only years of stress and angst that finally prompted them to create peace.
Jennifer (the ex-wife) says, "There is such heartbreak after a divorce; you took this family unit that was like a little glass bowl, and shattered it."
Yet Marine says it is possible to create a new mosaic. The post-divorce, Newcomb/Marine version of extended family now includes, not only mom, stepmom, dad, and the original two children, but also dad and stepmom's new baby boy, whom Jennifer (the ex-wife) says feels like her nephew.
Is it the happily ever after we read about in fairy tales? Not exactly. But it sure beats having to share your kids with a witch.
Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, business consultant, syndicated columnist and keynote speaker. She is an expert in how our emotions can sabotage our happiness and productivity. www.Lisa-McLeod.com