Step-Parent Book Review Grade: Highly Recommended

Step-parent books review: Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin, stepparent advice and guidance for all step families.

I think Stepmonster is the best step-parent book of its type. And by “of its type,” I mean it is not a book which talks about how to step-parent. There are no parenting/step-parenting advice or tips. What there is, however, is a definitive review of the essence and challenges of being a stepmom. The book is more about a step-mother understanding herself and the forces around her. I suppose that a person could convincingly argue that better understanding yourself will make you a better stepmom, so maybe indirectly, it is a book about step parenting. All I know is I loved the book.

The author, Wednesday Martin Ph.D., does a nice job of melding stepmom interviews (the “practical” side) with multiple academic studies. As she explains in the Introduction: “My goal has been to synthesize and distill some of the less readily available studies and insights from experts in a number of disparate fields. This work, generally published in academic and professional journals, might not be easily accessible to the very women who would benefit from it most.”

That sounds boring, but trust me, she does it brilliantly, speaking to the reader in an engaging and compassionate tone. Her subtitles are often very clever and almost challenge you to not read them. Who could pass up: “The Real Snow White: Narcissism and Cannabalism, Passivity and Innocence,” “Hansel and Gretel and The Juniper Tree: Schemes, Tears and Gruesome Feasts,” “The Dripolator Effect vs. the Percolator Effect,” “The Biological Force Field,” and “What the Birds, the Bees, and the White-Fronted Bee-Eaters Can Teach Us About Stepmothering,” just to name a few. So either these kind of titles grab your interest and you appreciate the author’s cleverness and humor - and it’s a book for you . . . or that isn’t your cup of tea and it’s not. I also appreciated it was one-hundred percent on topic with no long passages on religion as some of the other popular books on step parenting do.

A good example of the author’s insight into being a stepparent is when she talks about understanding the husband who spoils his child (your step-child), and how it leads to conflict. She writes, “Fear of losing their kids leads men to make other poor decisions . . .  Because their time with their children may be so short and infrequent (often just weekends or even alternate weekends), many non-custodial dads opt out of discipline . . .  As one man told me, ‘My daughter is hardly ever here. I don’t want to waste our time together nagging her to hang up her towel or do her homework. I want our time together to be fun.’ The truth is, this man is probably also afraid that, should he cease being a ‘never says no dad,’ his daugher might stay away.”

The author goes on to talk about how a dad’s fear of failing in marriage (divorcing) a second or a third time weighs on his mind too, where “taking a stand might well mean losing his kids, while failing to do so may mean losing you. Doing nothing seems like a pretty good option when he feels as if he’s in an personal land mine zone and any misstep could result in an explosion. And so begins the paralysis of the father who divorces and remarries.”

Wow, that one page gave me so much insight into my husband and one of our continuing conflicts. Comparing this book to others of its type, I felt it was slightly better than StepCoupling (a very good book) and significantly better than The Smart Stepfamily. Both of those titles are directed at couples, whereas Stepmonster focuses solely on the stepmom, but all three can be distinguished from the books which deal exclusively with advice on parenting your step-children. (I’m talking about books like 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Step Parenting: 50 One-Minute DOs & DON’Ts for Stepdads & Stepmoms, both of which I found very valuable.)

If I had to read just two step-parent books, I’d read Stepmonster for helping me with me, and one of those two books for helping my husband and myself with our kids.

Published: 2015; 350 pages; pbk $12.63 (Amazon discounting to $10.46) (6 X 9); ebook $11.99

Other Step-Parent Book Reviews:

"A sympathetic new book about the family member everyone loves to hate suggests even the best stepmoms in the world are set up to fail miserably . . .

As Martin’s book emphasizes, most people’s advice to stepmothers — Be nicer! Think of everything from the kid’s perspective! Suck it up, you chose this! — while understandable from the outside looking in, really, truly doesn’t help. The truth is that many stepmothers work so hard to “be nicer” that they lose their footing in the family and their needs become subordinated to the greater good, often until they feel like ghosts in their own homes.

. . . [B]eing a stepmother is hard, too, for plenty of reasons that most of us don’t feel comfortable expressing. While the world tells you to “suck it up and deal” and treats you like you’re a bad person if you have the smallest complaint, the truth is that even with the strongest commitment to being the most understanding, fun-loving stepmom in the universe, actually playing the role of a self-assured, kind, accepting parent to kids who aren’t yours can be beyond challenging. Accepting that (instead of being angry at yourself and your family for the ways you fall short) is perhaps the most important prerequisite for forming a (relatively) happy stepfamily."

"Stepmonster is a go-to resource for any stepmom who’s experienced anger, resentment, or jealousy when it comes to her husband’s kids or his ex-wife. Martin’s research is impeccable and eye-opening.

From the beginning, Martin tackles the stepmother script and the realities of becoming a stepmother. Martin’s writing is refreshing and honest. She’s upfront when she states, “nobody wants a stepmother and nobody wants to be a stepmother.”

Martin exposes the gory guts of the truth the rest of society would rather ignore: stepmoms and stepkids have one thing in common besides loving the same guy. Between them, there is a “mutual lack of choosing.” In fact, Martin writes “stepkids are as unessential to stepmoms as stepmoms are to them.

According Martin, the more successful stepmothers focused on nurturing and building “an intimate, fulfilling relationship with their husbands and to take better care of their own needs” rather than trying to “bond with or win the approval of their stepchildren.”