Life Style

Blended families: “The place of the mother-in-law is always complicated”

The cross : You created the association Le Club des marâtres. Why did you choose a term with a negative connotation?

Marie-Luce Iovane: Because there is no other. When we speak of mother-in-law, there is an ambiguity about the person we designate since it can be the mother of the spouse or his companion, when she is not the mother of his children. Moreover, this term illustrates well the difficulties that these women face.

There is also a bit of a second degree. The word has such a negative connotation that it had to be shown that mothers-in-law were not those monsters, and that on the contrary it could be used in a positive way.

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Is the image of the mother-in-law always negative in the collective imagination?

M.-LI: Yes, the stepmother always has bad press. She is associated, more or less consciously, with the image of the woman who once replaced the mother who died in childbirth and who was not loving. She is also seen as a thief of husbands, whose money she covets, a thief of children, a jealous woman, in rivalry with her stepchildren and who favors her own. These representations paved the way for the difficulties they still face today.

What are these difficulties, concretely?

M.-LI: The first difficulty for a mother-in-law is to find her place and to be credible. At the association, we receive a majority of women with a CSP + level, graduates and economically independent, who feel disqualified in what they do and in their decisions.

These women find themselves managing their spouse’s children on a daily basis and very often they have no say because it is the parents who decide. They are hollow mothers, in a way, and that makes their role more complicated than that of stepfathers.

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The place of the stepfather would therefore be more enviable?

M.-LI: Yes, without a doubt! I’m not saying it’s easier for the stepfather on an emotional level, but he comes into the blended family with a much more positive image than the stepmother. He is the prince who comes to save the widow and the orphan, the one who puts a family back on its feet with a single wife and children.

His status is all the more enviable in that he generally invests less in the education of children, both his own, whom he generally sees on weekends, and those of his companion. Less expected of him to take care of it, pick up dirty socks or do laundry.

Does the image of the mother-in-law change when she gives birth to a baby in the blended family?

M.-LI: A birth reinforces her role as a mother but does not necessarily change her image as a mother-in-law. The areas of conflict and difficulties on issues of education and respect for each other remain the same. On the other hand, the arrival of a baby modifies the relationship between the children of the two families, who become attached to him, and generally consider him rather quickly as a brother or a sister.


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