If the evil stepmother myth is dissolved, it's at least explained in Wednesday Martin's inquisitive book Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel and Act the Way We Do.

According to research, half of all U.S. women marry men with children, and 70 percent of those marriages fail. I’m not surprised. Wednesday Martin builds a case, valid in some ways, that stepmothers often inherit a hot mess of issues, like vindictive ex-wives and confused children.

While this book—which combines the author’s personal anecdotes with interviews—doesn’t offer easy answers, it delves into the stepmother’s complex role and internal struggles. Martin focuses her research on a particular but common situation, which she herself shares: the misunderstood stepmother, victimized by surly teenagers and their doormat daddy (who’s so guilt-stricken over his divorce, he leaves her to play “bad cop” with his kids). For women who find themselves in a similar family dynamic, Martin’s book should come as a welcome relief, and proof that they are not alone. Yet, I know there are stepmoms out there whose experiences have been much more positive; I’m one myself. And by limiting her subjects to upper-middle-class white women, Martin’s study felt one-dimensional at times.

Nevertheless, as a stepmother of two girls, this book made me realize what a weighty role my husband and I play in his daughters’ lives. If anything, Martin spins a cautionary tale: blending families requires a high level of personal responsibility on all parts and should not be entered into lightly.

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