If you are inclined to take on life lessons from movies, you’ve learned all the key traits of a governess from Mary Poppins, the innate elegance of a little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffanys, and all the moves you ever needed from Dirty Dancing.
One of the most enduring movies about stepmothers of the non-wicked genre is The Sound of Music – where we are enticed to adore a pious yet lovable curtain-trasher.
Here’s what we learned from this classic.
Your life’s purpose can be subject to random revision
One would assume that there would be a fairly deep level of soul searching involved in the decision to dedicate a life to poverty, celibacy, charity and the wearing of unattractive shoes. Whether triggered by a major life event or driven by deep-seated faith, ticking the ‘nun’ box after consultation with your high school career counselor has taken some thought.
With the childlessness that is an obvious extension of this whole celibacy gig, its fair to say that launching yourself into step-parenthood after a mere dabble in some childminding work experience outside the abbey is a variation on what fate intended.
Don’t underestimate the value of a showtune
Maria won over the Von Trapp children by recognising the areas where the brood were bereft of love, where they lacked a recognition of the joys of art and culture. Given the handy availability of a guitar, Maria chose to convey both love and life lessons in song. We won’t all feel like our life’s purpose has been fulfilled by bestowing children with the ability to string together a do-re-mi. We won’t all feel compelled to help small humans understand simple joys via a melodious exploration of brown paper packages tied up with string.
The modern day childless stepmother equivalent is karaoke. In the same way Maria made a simple yet multi lingual ‘good night’ wonderfully lyrical, you can embed within a child everything from a serious understanding of deep south sentiment via ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ through to how a simple dancefloor hedonism can co-exist with chart-topping success via ‘Dancing Queen’
These are all valuable learnings.
Re-worked soft furnishings might need a re-do
There are degrees in the spectrum of adequately clothing children.
As a child of financially circumspect parents, clothes that were handed down from close relatives or family were embraced with almost the same degree of enthusiasm as a puppy. If you had a single pair of jeans that needed to stay with you while your growth spurt converted them from full length jeans to a ¾ length pant, you’d be well pleased to inherit jeans from a slightly taller relative.
For the Von Trapp kiddies, presented as they were in his’n’hers outfits that were a special kind of sailor with a large dose of daggy, they were more than content to go next level with outfits constructed from handy and expendable curtain fabric.
Today’s redo? Its going to take way more than recycled window furnishings to win over a stepkid. Cash up your Visa sister, this is a war to be won at Westfield.
There will be a battle against an incumbent
Whether previously childless or not, the path to step-parenting is varied. Whether you have employed some Disney-stepmother-like plotting to dislodge a biological mother or you simply step into the void left by death, divorce or despair, it’s a personal journey. By definition, there is an incumbent of some flavour.
Maria had two.
Firstly – a biological mother who had the fortitude to withstand the rigours of birthing seven children but somewhat recklessly succumbed to scarlet fever. This is possibly the most insurmountable type of incumbent. No matter the state of the relationship or deep-seated character flaws of the biological mother, an untimely death means that they will assume the status of a combination of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. The only upside of marrying a widower is that you are spared a living-breathing-child-support-absorbing human who will remain a fixture in your stratosphere.
Secondly – a glamorous baroness with a current role in the widower’s life. Granted most of us will not battle a Princess Grace lookalike but there are many modern day equivalents that would be fairly daunting. You might be battling the rebound relationship he had with a gym junkie with an obsession for competing in on-stage bikini figure competitions. Perhaps a Gwyneth style earth-mother who seems born to assume parenting duties for stepchildren, with abundant spare time funded by a website hawking popular yet unproven herbal remedies. An Angelina Jolie type who has some spare positions in her rainbow family.
No matter what, there’ll be a third party of some kind.
There may be external challenges
Poor Maria. If it wasn’t enough for her to ditch her vow to a capital-S Sisterhood, convert the affections of seven children through song and stave off both a deceased and living female opponent, her desire for ongoing happiness is further threatened by the spectre of the Third Reich. Thankfully her nun-buddies play a part in sheltering the children before they all make a break across the mountains for neutral-as-ever Switzerland.
If you’ve battled with a biological mother, a deep-seated internal ambivalence to parenthood and a full on tribe of bonus kids with needs you can never anticipate, you hardly need the brute force of a new world order to make this whole gig harder.
Just bear in mind that, unlike Maria, you are not dodging militants pushing guns, gas chambers and genocide. It’s the local PTA that restricts mother’s day stall gift-giving to purely the blood-mothers that will do you in.
Thankfully though, we know that Maria makes it over domestic, metaphorical and actual mountains to safety and a happily ever after. If unsure, google the real -life story and you’ll find that the ending was even easier – the family left openly, safely and unimpeded by Gestapo, with no assistance from any member of any Nun-derground railway, via train to Italy.
This gig could be easier than you thought.