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Table of Contents

Motherhood

When she knows she is about to pass away Jackie tells her children, “Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.” Change is hard for everyone no matter the age or what the situation is. Whether it is a change in where you live, whom you live with, who you surround yourself with, or even a change in family dynamics change is difficult for everyone. In the movie, Step Mom, the film begins with an ideal family of four: the parents, daughter, and son. However, this all rapidly changes when the parents divorce, and proceed to live in two separate houses, leaving the children to adjust to the idea of seeing their father with another women. This change not only of the divorce, but the idea of a stepmom joining the family was difficult for both the children and their biological mother as well. Luke and Jackie, the biological parents of Anna and Ben, face the challenges of trying to make their children happy with this new lifestyle and being accepting of Isabel, the woman their father is now with. There is a constant battle between Jackie and Isabel throughout the movie because Jackie can’t accept the idea of her children seeing another women as their mother as well, especially when she is diagnosed with lymphoma. Jackie is very much like the nineteenth century mother who does whatever is necessary to please her children and fulfills her children’s needs before her own. While Isabel has no experience being a mother she tries her best to make the children and Jackie happy and accepting of her. In the 1998 film, Step Mom, the connection and differences between Jackie, and Isabel is the disappearing of the traditional mother, and the reproducing of the ideal nineteenth century mother.

The traditional mother’s main purpose for living is for marriage and reproduction of children, it wasn’t a matter of choice if they decided to chose another path in life they were considered not normal. Women are dependent and rely on their husband’s success, so she will do whatever it is to support him. However, this definition of the “traditional mother” is diminishing quickly, and this is proved through the film Step Mom. “You know, I never wanted to be a mom. Sharing it with you… that's one thing. It's another to be looking over my shoulder for the next twenty years, knowing someone else would have done it better…” Isabel said this to Jackie in the film. This demonstrates that the traditional mother who devotes her life to her family is diminishing because Isabel there soon to be stepmother never had any intent to be a mother. She has a very successful career as a fashion photographer and never had to worry about anyone else’s needs or wants besides her own, until she made this commitment with Luke. Unlike the traditional mother she has no experience with children and isn’t used to having to take care of herself in addition to children.

In the opening scene of the film, the audience witnesses Isabel’s inexperience with parenting skills. She doesn’t wake up in time to get the children out of bed, get Ben ready and she forgets to wash Anna’s purple shirt that she desperately needs. She is used to getting up, getting herself ready and leaving for work, not having to worry about doing anything for anyone else. In Shari L Thurer’s novel, The Myths of Motherhood, “Mothering was arduous, earnest, time-consuming, intellectually challenging, and prolonged; this was not a passive process, like laying an egg” (Thurer, pg.5). This quote conveys the characteristics of the traditional mother and the essentials to be a “good” mother. However, Isabel, who has no knowledge of how to be a mother, wouldn’t be classified as a “good” mother because this is all new to her and she has no understanding of motherhood. After some time, practice and sacrifices she has the potential of being classified as a “good” mother and the children will eventually adapt to her and enjoy being around her. However, having a successful job like Isabel does makes it hard to do such a vast transition of lifestyles. According to an academic article called Mothers in The Work Force, “Currently, 71.3 percent of women with 
children are in the labor force,” and “More women are going back to work sooner after having a child. In 2010, the labor force participation rate for mothers of children younger than a year old was 56.5 percent” (NACCRRA, 2012). These quotes portray that it is becoming less common for women to be stay-at-home mothers since women are rapidly entering the work force. When Anna and Ben are with Isabel for the day they rarely do something fun since she is usually always busy with her job, so she has to bring them with her and they just sit in a corner, bored all day. This is a major factor of the vanishing traditional mother whose main purpose is to reproduce and be at home with her children.

Aside from their soon to be step mom, Anna and Ben’s biological mother, Jackie. exhibits characteristics that connect her with the nineteenth century mother. This is the complete opposite from Isabel who knows nothing about how to be a nineteenth century mother. The ideal traits of a nineteenth century mother are a woman who is intensely moral, intensely pure and intensely selfless. It is a mother whose needs, and desires are second to those of her children; she has a childlike nature, influences education, and has a strong connection and bond with her children. Jackie, a former publisher, is now a stay-at-home-mom who will do whatever it is to make her children happy. Early in the film she is diagnosed with lymphoma, and does not want her kids to find out and let them down. Throughout the majority of the movie she acts as if nothing is wrong and makes up excuses when she has doctor appointments, she always puts her sickness to the side and does everything for her children whether it is going to every soccer game, play or simply making them have an enjoyable time out of nothing. She sacrifices resting, and doing things to treat her disease so the children wouldn’t find out. This portrays that she is intensely selfless and will do anything to fulfill her children’s desires. Finally she tells them about her illness once she discovers that the disease is incurable, and she has to make the best of the time that she has left with them. This is when her fear of being replaced begins in the film.

Jackie is a contemporary mother that is revealing the ideal nineteenth century mother. She is not accepting of the idea of her kids having a stepmother and having someone else they will see as a motherly figure. Her biggest fear is that one day when she passes away they won’t remember her and solely see Isabel as their mother. For example, there is a scene where Isabel asks Jackie if she can take Anna to a concert to see one of her favorite bands, so they can spend some time together. Jackie doesn’t allow her to take her to the concert because it was on a school night. On the day the concert when Isabel drops Anna and Ben off at their mom’s house, Jackie is very hypocritical and surprises Anna with tickets to the concert that night even though she told Isabel that she couldn’t take her. This displays the nineteenth century mother because Jackie wants no one else to have a strong bond or connection with her children like she does. She will do anything to prevent that from happening including not allowing Anna to go to the concert with Isabel and instead stealing her idea. Jackie has anxiety thinking about her children getting close to Isabel, seeing her as a mother, and possibly one day forgetting who their true mother is.

A loving, selfless, moral, and pure mother like Jackie is a perfect symbol of the “Angel in The House.” Every nineteenth century women wanted to fit the expectations of a mother that society sets as well as illustrating the “Angel in The House.” Jackie represents this ideal mother that is like an angel and has the home as a sanctuary for everything that her children need. As Anna and Ben’s biological mother who has done everything for children since they were little, she has a very special and strong bond with them that nobody else does. Jackie wants to make sure that no one else takes this connection with her children away from her or replaces her with something better. Thurer’s novel stated, “Within the walls of her garden, mother taught virtue to children who would grow up and say, ‘All that I am, I owe to my angel mother,’” (Thurer, pg.186). This is something that Jackie would want her children to say when they grow up, this is the reason why she does everything she can to satisfy the needs and desires of her children. She wants her children to see her as a mother that will sacrifice anything for them, be at every event, and always be there for them no matter what the situation is.

A scene from the film that exemplifies Jackie’s need to be the “Angel of The House” and her fear of someone else taking her place is when Isabel and her finally bond. This took place when Isabel finally disclosed her admiration of Jackie’s parenting skills and worried that in the years to follow when she is the primary motherly figure of Anna and Ben she will be looking back knowing that someone else could do it better. Jackie claimed that she didn’t have anything that Isabel didn’t have and that Isabel was way more “hip and fresh” than she was. The following quote from the film, Step Mom, is a conversation between Isabel and Jackie, “’Their whole life's happiness is wrapped up in you… every single second. Don't you get it? Look down the road to her wedding. I'm in a room alone with her, fixing her veil, fluffing her dress, telling her no woman has ever looked so beautiful. And my fear is she'll be thinking, ‘I wish my mom were here,’” Isabel said this and then Jackie replied, “‘And mine is…she won’t.’” This scene between the children’s mother and soon to be stepmother is a crucial scene in the film and confirms that Jackie is like the “Angel in the House” because she wants her children to always remember her and feel as if she is always there in spirit. In this scene the two women finally come together and talk about their differences and fears, this bringing them together and finally being civil with one another.

In the poem, “A Mother’s Kiss,” by Frances E.W. Harper, he writes, “The music of her voice is stilled, her lips are paled in death. As precious pearls, I’ll clasp her words until my latest breath.” This quote conveys a characteristic of a mother in the nineteenth century and how they always want their children to see them as sacred and someone who had a huge impact on their lives. This is how Jackie wishes her children to remember her, this is the reason she will give up anything for them and do whatever to please them no matter what her needs or desires are. She reproduces not only the ideal nineteenth century mother and the “Angel in The House,” but also what every mother wants their children to look back at and remember them by when they get older. One of Jackie’s biggest fears is the memory her kids will have of her after she passes away. However, once Isabel confronts Jackie about her amazing mothering skills, Jackie feels like Isabel will learn to be a great mother to her children. Jackie says, “’The thing is, they don’t have to choose. They can have us both. I have their past, you can have their future.’” She is finally accepting of Isabel being the mother of her children after she passes away. She knows that she has been a great mother to her children so they will never forget her, and she now trusts Isabel and believes they are in good hands. She lets Isabel bond more with her kids, but also spends as much time as she can with them because she aware that she has limited time left with them. She still continues to be the ideal nineteenth century mother, but is much more spontaneous with her children. Jackie has fulfilled the task of being the “Angel in The House” and she will always be looking over Anna and Ben even once she passes away.

Jackie a reproduced ideal of the nineteenth century mother was so happy doing her job as a self-sacrificial mother and doing everything for her children. However, some women during this time thought differently and found it to be unfair that they couldn’t do anything they wanted; they always had to be pleasing their children or husband, and they didn’t have time to have a career or even explore the outside world. According to Thurer, “Many women found the situation less than ideal; it defined all women by a single standard, one developed by a sexist society,” (Thurer pg. 187). Even though Jackie had no problem being at home with her children and loved being around them, the film still portrays a sexist society. It portrays this because while Jackie is at home always accomplishing the needs of their children whether it is making them lunches, driving them to and from school, going to their games or simply just reading to them Luke, their father, is always at work, on business trips and rarely spends time with his kids. Even with Isabel who has no parenting experience, if Luke had work Isabel had to watch the kids and if she had work they had to go with her. Eventually towards the end of the film even Isabel begins to put Anna and Ben’s needs, time schedules and desires before her own and even before her very successful career. However, Luke never takes them with him to work or sacrifices his desires and time for them. This expresses that society is sexist when it comes to whether the male or female need to make sacrifices for their children, even though it should be equally distributed since they are both the parents of their children.

The film ends on Christmas when Isabel is taking their family picture and Jackie says it should be one of the whole family, and telling Isabel to join them in the picture. Finally, everyone in the movie gets along with one another and there is peace at last within the entire family, including Isabel who is soon to be their official stepmother. Even though the film demonstrates two complete different ideas of womanhood, in the end, they finally came together. From the diminishing of the traditional mother to the exhibition of the nineteenth century mother, in the end they were one family. The change throughout the film was hard for all the characters: Isabel never being a mother before and obligated to find a way to learn how, Jackie seeing her children be with another women and enjoy her company, Luke figuring out a way to bring peace with in the two women in his life, and especially the children having to deal with this dramatic change of their life dynamics and daily schedules. The film, Step Mom, is a great movie that expresses the disappearing of the traditional mother, the characteristics of an ideal nineteenth century mother, the “Angel of the House,” and the sexist expectations of society during this time.

Works Cited

Harper, Frances E.W. A Mother's Kiss: Course Reader. Print.

Mothers In The Workforce. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, 2012. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. <http://www.naccrra.org/sites/default/files/default_site_pages/2012/ccgb_mothers_workforce_jan2012.pdf>.

Thurer, Shari L. The Myths of Motherhood. New York: Penguin, 1995. Print.

Kaminer, Jenny. “Motherhood In Western Culture.” UC Davis, Davis. 2013. Lecture.


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