The Stepmother or the Saint: How Fairy Tales Depict the Different Facets of Motherhood
In fairy tales, the only good mother is a dead one.
This isTales for Willful Readersa monthly column by Cate Fricke on the lasting power of folk and fairy tales, how they have influenced us individually and collectively, and the lessons they offer for modern life.
But babies bring joy, and we don’t want to grow old without a family—what a lonely thought! Sometimes I can’t help but bristle at the announcements of newly expectant cousins, as though each new member of the extended family casts a shade of pity on my husband and me—a shade I wouldn’t mind shrugging off. None of us wants to be lonely. Many of us want children because we don’t want to be childless.
Spinning Straw into Gold,
The Uses of Enchantment
The Uses of Enchantment
What kind of mother will I be?
At work and at home, I battle with the sudden drops in mood that accompany a day or two of forgetting to take my anxiety medication, a medication that I might have to wean myself off of in order to carry and feed a child the way my body was designed to do.
Rosemary’s BabyThe Babadook,Mommie DearestThe Orphanage,
But sad, haunted Bettelheim has more to say about families in fairy tales; despite his own disturbing end, he assures his readers that in both fairy tales and in life, “with good will and effort things can be righted again.” His assurances, again, were intended for children, but as every matron was once a child herself, I think we adults can also take his words to heart. If we are indeed agents of our own transformation, then I would like to think that even on my most wicked days, with good will and effort, I can push through and become the saint again.
More by this author
The long and fluid history of fairy tales shows us that men who want to control, dehumanize, and violate women have always existed.
What, exactly, are the building blocks that make a fairy tale a fairy tale? And who—or what—might be making them in the future?
More in this series
We’ve all had to reckon with the burden of untold stories. Every woman has one, and every woman carries around with her the stories of others.
Too many people are fed one version of a story, a false one, and do not interrogate it. But the world of fairy tales is rife with opportunities to practice critical thinking, if only we look closer.
On the thin line between fairy tales and real-life horror stories, and how we survive.