Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Stepmother’s Support Group - not your usual Saturday snack

It’s weird to read something with such an intense and uncommon theme like The Stepmother’s Support Group (SSG) novel… but authoress Samantha Baker (current editor of Red magazine in UK) has made it so fresh and alight (despite having serious sub-themes inside) that I can’t help but writing a short review about it. About how I enjoyed and admired it.

SSG was not exactly what I needed for a lite ‘chick-lit’ reading after a day(s) of struggling with your thesis. But it’s actually not a wonder why I chose it. I’ve lived with step-somethings almost a third of my life. My parents were divorced and now I have a set of step parents, one is much more dysfunctional than the other. My sister will be a stepmother herself in a year’s time. My cousin remarried as well, so her daughters have a stepfather now. My other cousin is a rebel, for his father remarried again, and he has to cope with the stepmother (actually, it’s the other way around. The stepmother is the one who has to cope with him!). I even once considered myself as a potential stepmother for the children of a man I used to love so much (still love so much), but…it never went that far…

Still. With all the step-somethings around me, I was naturally attracted to reading SSG. And it was a comforting and enlightening journey, if beautiful is still too strange a word to describe it. Knowing that what I felt was something a normal stepdaughter would feel, but actually unnecessary, had my parents been wise enough to be grown ups in their relationships, instead of being teenagers again, at the expense of their children.

So SSG tells a story about five London women: Eve, Clare, Lily, Melanie and Mandy. All of them were either a real stepmother (Mandy), stepdaughters (Clare and Lily), or stepmother-to-be (Eve and Melanie). All of them struggled to either gluing two families, trying to accommodate their spouse’s children, coping with the memory of their spouse’s ex…you name it. And all of them want to make it work. Eve really wants to fix the problems with his partner’s teenager (Ian, the partner, I picture him a combo of Liam Neeson and Richard Armitage; a yummy deadly combination!). Clare has to let go of her ego and let her daughter mingle with her new step-family, including new stepmother. Mandy tries to glue together two families with two sets of (step) children. All of them try hard to defeat the image of ‘stepmonster’, or wicked stepmother. All because of love.

And they made it. Eve and Lily stick with their partners and extended family. Clare and Melanie move on with new men. Mandy splits up with her partner, for she realized he was not what she needed (and vice versa). But all of them do it after consulting with their friends, and most of all, their hearts.

Something I wish my parents would do.

Now, I’ve told you that my parents were divorced…when I was 20. Although at that time I could not understand why it should happen, I now see why they were not matched for each other… and a divorce was bound to happen anyway, one way or the other. But the story wasn’t a smooth divorce (and yes, smooth divorce IS possible!). My mother did not let me and my sister see my father as we wish. We had to sneak out to see him, and I always felt guilty afterwards. In retrospective, it was not fair for us the children. At all. Wrong as he was, he was, is, still our father, and we should not even feel obliged to find excuses to see him. We Indonesians have a saying, “Bekas suami ada, bekas istri ada. Tapi bekas anak tidak ada”. Yes, there are ex-husbands. There are ex-wives. But never there are ex-children.

It’s a complicated thing that created a subconscious pattern in me; that ‘I would never find my dream prince. If I do, I would have to do it the hard way’. I cannot tell you how deep and bad the scar is for my own personality; but suffice to say that it took me years and years to overcome my self-imposed blockages and arrive at the current state of believing in love between man and woman again. Believing that I deserve the best possible mature and healed man for me, as well as the happiest, healthiest, and most prosperous relationship.

Anyway, moving back to my parents and the stepparents. I love my parents, of course. It’s a given. But… I wish they were wiser in dealing with the divorce. Alas, they were not. Forgiveness was something I cannot find in my mother’s book, even after all these years. Letting go is still an alien concept for my father.

My step parents were none the wiser. My stepmother is a… I hate to say it, but a disgrace for the concept of feminity, and deserves (or not?) a post on its own (then again, better not). She and my father are match made in hell, such that I think, for the sanity and health of my father (which has his own faults too), they should just finish it off. Call it a day, get the divorce and move on with their respective lives.

My stepfather should never have encouraged my mother to take side; choosing between me or him. He should have never tried to replace my (faulty) father for me. That thing never worked, will never work, and had created gaps so deep between us (and between me and my mother as well). He is much wiser now, and I can relate to him much better compared to our very rocky and prickly first years… If anything, he certainly understands what Sam Baker said in p. 397 (though I doubt he will ever read the novel):

‘Caro was not gone, she never would be. She was the children’s mother after all. And that was something Eve would never be. But her ghost had moved over, all the same, to make room in the family for Eve.’

Final call: SSG is a very good novel, particularly for those who are familiar with the situation (i.e. having step-somethings in her/his life). They should make a movie out of it. And I want either Liam Neeson or Richard Armitage for Ian Newsome (RA is preferable, due to Ian’s age of 38). Eve… I was thinking of Rachel Weisz…although she might be half a decade older than Eve Owen. We can always call Daniella Denby-Ashe (Margaret Hale in ‘North & South 2005’). Make her a brunette again, and we can have the 21st century, family version of Margaret-Thornton all over again!

And please make the setting in UK. PLEASE make it in London. If you can’t make it all in London, by all means move it to Surrey for some shots, but NEVER, ever change the setting to United States (except for the Boston and New York bits for Melanie). No offense. I do not want the second ‘Shopaholic train wreck’ for my favourite English book. What would you feel if – say – Huckleberry Finn or Little Women has English settings anyway?!

Pic: Cover to SSG, paperback version, from


Linda Fern said...

My darling Icha,

I am so moved by your post that I am left speechless, but I shall try to say a few words in support.

I am sorry you had to go through all that, but let me assure you that there is nobody perfect in this world. There are only those who have more - or less - problems, but they all do have problems. I also have much to regret in my life, but I travel onward. I wish things had been better, but we managed to live through it all. And I do know that there were others worse off than myself.

Your devoted friend,
Linda the Librarian

Icha said...

Oh my dearest Linda, thanks a lot for the encouraging words...

But really. The way I think it now... crisis is akin to metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. Crisis shows our best sides we can fly with... and encourages us to leave behind the things we no longer need (tho it might have served us a purpose before, like the caterpillar's cocoon). The fact that I'm here, smiling and happy from within is a proof that 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'... and more beautiful!

Linda Fern said...

Wow! What a lovely way to say it! You are exactly correct. May I borrow that example? Well done. You have brightened my day.

Yrs aff'ly,

Icha said...

Be my guest to use the example, Linda; it's an honour. I didn't quote it from a particular book, but surely I've received it from someone else once in the past...

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