Does the stereotyped stepmother exist? 3 Indian moms tell us why they aren’t clichés and talk about parenting when being a stepmom.
By Melanie Lobo
We’ve grown up hearing about evil and cruel stepmothers – who can forget the ones so vividly portrayed in Cinderella and Snow White? However, what actually happens in real life to those Indian women who go on to become stepmoms? Here are the stories of three Indian moms who did just that.
“It’s more than just biology,” states Vinita Gupta*, a homemaker in Chennai. Vinita married Anand* in July 2001 when his son, Dhruv* was about 7 years old. She had known Dhruv for a few years before that as Vinita and Anand worked together. She was aware of what she was getting into from the very beginning.
Vinita feels that her challenge was not that Dhruv was not her biological child but the fact that Dhruv was an older child; his ways were already set. She says, “If you bring up a child from day one, you bring him/her up the way you want. With Dhruv, my challenges were that he already had problems of his own that I had to deal with.” Her husband already had custody of the child and so had employed a nanny. When Vinita came into the picture, she had to work hard on putting some routine in his life.
Vinita says, “I changed his school, sent him for cricket coaching and basically worked on making him a happier child.” She admits that it was not easy. Her husband’s support and the fact that he gave her a free hand helped this relationship grow. Dhruv is now 21 years old; he listens to Vinita and also confides in her which she is happy about. They have a unique relationship, one that was not marred by the advent of her two sons, a couple of years down the line.
“No child is the same. There’s a difference between the way my older son behaves when compared to my younger one, “ she explains. Vinita sums it up by reiterating, “Biology is not important, the personality of the child counts more than anything else”.
Sandra Fernandes*, HR consultant in Mumbai, also met her husband Keith*, at work. She was curious as to why Keith would keep talking about his 2 year old son but never mentioned his wife. As time went by, she learnt that divorce proceedings were on.
Sandra and Keith soon realized that they had much in common and got married a few years later. Till recently, Keith and his ex-wife shared joint custody of their son, Kevin*. From the beginning however, Sandra made it clear to Kevin that she would not take the place of his mother. Kevin, till date, calls her “Sandra”. Sandra feels that by doing this, her relationship with the child was clearly defined. The primary responsibility was her husband’s, but she would still be there, doing whatever she could.
I have learnt a lot about parenting, I grew up as well.
Sandra admits that she has not had any major role to play in taking any decisions in Kevin’s life. This was what Keith wanted and she respected it. Her challenges have been more on a practical level than on an emotional one. Looking back now, she thinks that these rules are what helped shape her relationship with Kevin. “I was never involved in the disciplining. I was around to make sure that everything went smoothly – the regular practicalities of bringing up a child, the shopping, the holiday planning, etc. The actual parenting was not there,” she adds.
The major turning point in their lives came about when Sandra had a child of her own, Michael*. Sandra shares, “Our family got formed when Michael was born. We were finally a family unit, not just Keith and Kevin or me and Keith, which was what it felt like most of the time”. Kevin began connecting more strongly with Sandra after the birth of Michael. She says, “He’s very much the big brother, always concerned about his sibling and looking out for him. “
She admits that the road she has travelled is a long one and the journey ongoing. “I have learnt a lot about parenting, I grew up as well. While Kevin and I do not really connect as mother and son, we do connect on other levels. There is a comfort level between us. He’s turned out to be a sensitive child and I’m proud of him,” she concludes.
Roshan Mistry*, a teacher in Delhi married Rohinton* when she was 25 years old. Her stepdaughter, Simone* was 13 years old at the time. She had been introduced to Simone as Rohinton felt that it was important for the two of them to meet. Simone gave her stamp of approval immediately and told her father, ”I like her – go ahead and marry her.”
However, life was not a bed of roses once Roshan got married. Simone stayed with her mother initially and only moved to Delhi to live with the Mistrys after she completed school. There was also a barrier because Simone was always apprehensive that Roshan would take the place of her mother. Roshan says that till today (Simone is now 28), there is an, “element of formality in our relationship”.
I didn’t want to come across as this evil stepmom. Yet, I was the one who had to teach her life skills…
Like Vinita, Roshan too faced challenges because Simone was an older child. “I didn’t want to come across as this evil stepmom. Yet, I was the one who had to teach her life skills, make her stand on her own two feet.“ What worked in Roshan’s favour was that she had a cordial relationship with Simone’s mother. “I always included her in my decision making. That helped a lot. I think it also helped in building my relationship with Simone because she was aware of this as well,“ she states.
Roshan soon had a son, Nauzer*. She is proud to admit that both children are very close and attached to each other. “They developed their own chemistry and I’m okay with that,” she adds.
Did society and its expectations play a role in the way these Indian moms brought up their stepchildren? Vinita says, “Society did not play a role – I did what I had to. Maybe my in-laws had expectations, but no one told me.”
Sandra feels that what society thought did not really matter. She states, “There were expectations from my husband, the child and even my own. I had enough to deal with!” Roshan says that family never really expected her to achieve what she did with Simone. She admits, “I was too young and the age difference between us too small. There were no expectations because of this very reason.”
Being a stepmom is no cakewalk, but as these mothers demonstrate, it varies greatly from one family to another, and the cliché of the evil stepmother can safely be put to rest!
*Names changed on request.
*Photo credit: Abhisek Sarda (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Melanie Lobo is a freelance writer. She grew up in cities across India but now
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