Ever since I become a stepmother I have not been able to stop this nagging feeling that there just may be more to the story of Cinderella. The well-known fairy tale of the forlorn, young, beautiful girl stuck in an oppressive home as the maidservant to her stepmother and stepsisters after her father’s death somehow left me yearning for more details. There must be missing chapters somewhere or perhaps the story has only been told from the perspective of Cinderella and her perceptions during a grief stricken time in her life. As we know Cinderella lost her mother at a young age and her doting father was now gone. Could there be another angle here? Maybe a view from the stepmother’s position could help us understand the situation in a different light.
One scenario that comes to mind: Cinderella, so grief stricken feels very alone. In fact when her stepmother extends her warmth and kindness, she rejects those overtures because she feels conflicted. If she allows herself the love and happiness offered, she’s afraid she will forget the love and kindness that her parents showered on her. If she allows herself to be happy and settled in a home with “another mother,” she feels that in some way she is being disloyal to the memory of her dear departed mother. (Often children of divorce struggle with these same feelings of grief over the “death” of their family.) Cinderella decides to make the dusty old attic her special place, her room, rather than enjoying the comfort the rest of the home has to offer as a way of separating herself in what she believes to be her private grief.
Another possibility that comes to mind is that Cinderella is so wrapped up in her own loss that she does not notice that when her beloved father died he left his new wife and family destitute, penniless. She does not see the ever mounting bills and the eviction notices that arrive daily. You see her kindhearted stepmother hides them from her so as not to tarnish the young girl’s memory of her late father. She does not realize that her stepmother sneaks out in the early dawn hours and does not return until late at night in search of parnasah, livelihood to support her family. She does not see the efforts her overworked and underpaid stepmother is making just to keep a roof over her family’s head and to keep food on the table. She does not understand that her stepmother is so concerned about keeping the family up to their community’s standard of living so that the three girls of marriageable age she is now raising will be able to find proper matches. Instead Cinderella prefers to believe her stepmother is sleeping late and spending her days shopping or relaxing at the spa, squandering the wealth her father left behind, Cinderella’s own yerushah, her inheritance.
Certainly, all working mothers would agree that being away from home all day trying to make ends meet, we often find that there are chores that simply get overlooked. We do our best to prioritize and Cinderella’s stepmother just did not have the strength after a full day at work to even think about cleaning out the cinders from the fireplace. When Cinderella saw that her stepmother seemed to be neglecting the beautiful home her dear father so cherished, she became obsessive-compulsive, cleaning and scrubbing day and night as a tribute to him – with a growing sense of resentment towards her stepmother.
Yet another scenario comes to mind: since her stepmother and stepsisters moved into the home that had always been Cinderella’s she felt a sense of entitlement. When her father was alive certainly she gave respect to his wife but, now that he was gone, Cinderella being a full-fledged teenager became chutzpadik and would often sneak out at night to meet friends. For her own protection, and the protection of the family’s reputation, her stepmother began to enforce a strict curfew and a modest dress code befitting a nice girl.
These new restrictions caused Cinderella to cry out to anyone who would listen, (even the mice she befriended) telling them of how awful her life was and how she yearned for a better life where she was loved and cared for, far far away from these evil people who she was sure did not love her. What she did not recognize is that her family loved her so very much. They wanted to include her in their lives, but she rejected and turned away from them, preferring to live in a fantasy world where everything always turned out perfect; where she had a fairy godmother who would grant her every wish. She had been an only child doted on and spoiled. Now that circumstances had changed she did not know how to cope. She did not have the skills to deal with the challenges she was presented with. She showed difficulty in sharing and working as a team with her stepsisters. They in turn were made to feel like they were trespassing in Cinderella’s home, her birthright. She liked to do things her way and took over rather than allowing them to contribute and help out. Eventually the stepsisters simply gave up trying and teamed up together for support, and although they were sad about the situation, at least they had each other.
Her stepmother, knowing and understanding that Cinderella was in essence a good girl, tried to get her help with her issues. Cinderella’s stepmother felt that she could benefit from some psychological counseling. She felt the girl was acting out due to her grief, something she needed to face and deal with. She believed that if Cinderella was to go on to have successful relationships in the future she should first learn the skills that would help her cope. Cinderella protested and refused to get the help she needed; being over eighteen it was legally her choice. Instead of working on her problems Cinderella turned her frustration and anger against her stepfamily.
In this version of our fairytale, Cinderella was not a victim, but a bit of a manipulator. Late one night, with the help of some friends, she sneaked out and dressed up for a “shidduch” ball. She felt destined for greatness and if her family would not back her she would do it on her own. The charming young prince (who happened to be a “top top bachor”) noticed her immediately. She was determined to win him over. Certainly she did not mention the difficulties that deep down inside she knew she had. She was stunning, glamorous and willing to marry him. He fell for her (of course after the lost shoe incident everyone agreed that it must be b’shert) and asked her to marry him on their second date. When he questioned her about her family she told him that she had no “real” family. He, being young and inexperienced, felt that was just great; no other side to consider when planning a wedding and his family had plenty of money so they would support them. Little did he know of her unresolved issues that would soon surface.
Being a mom/stepmom of a blended family for more than fourteen years I have learnt that often the events of our lives take on vastly different interpretations by each member of the family. My fifteen-year-old son may find my asking about his day endearing while my stepson will find it intrusive. One daughter may find my stepdaughter’s behavior “funny” while the other will find it annoying. We see variables like that in any family unit, blended or not, but I believe the differences are seen and felt more acutely in the blended family where two separate families have joined as one. Bringing together groups of people, each with their own expectations or interpretation of family norms, is never an easy task.
I hope that someday all the Cinderellas out there will find the peace and happiness that they deserve and that they will understand and appreciate all that their stepmothers have sacrificed and done for them, to help them achieve that state of being.
Yehudit welcomes and encourages input and feedback on issues relating to the Blended Family and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org