Why Do We Praise Stepdads Like Russell Wilson And Tear Down Stepmoms Like Gabrielle Union?

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Gabrielle Union kids

Source: Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images; Rich Fury/VF20/Getty Images for Vanity / Getty

Gabrielle Union doesn’t want to be commended for the love and support she shows her 12-year-old stepdaughter, Zaya.

“To us, it’s a little odd to get any kind of recognition for doing what you’re supposed to do, which is love and accept and embrace your kids,” she said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres alongside husband Dwyane Wade recently.
“Unfortunately, there are so many people who just don’t. There are so many people who really truly feel like their kids are disposable and if they’re not perfect images of them, they’re not interested. It’s heartbreaking. So we’re just doing what is natural to us, and loving her.”

She says she’s simply doing what a parent should, whether biological or stepparent, in her case. However, there are plenty of people who give her a hard time for embracing the child’s choice to identify as female, meanwhile, they eat up everything Russell Wilson does in the life of Future Wilburn as a stepfather. I’m not here to tell you why that is definitively, but to inquire as to what the reasoning is based on some theories that have been shared.

Seriously though, ever since he was out here pushing baby Future in a stroller in 2015 before even becoming an official stepfather, people were intrigued and impressed by Russell’s relationship with Ciara’s firstborn. There were some initial critics, true, but as the years passed, and it became clear that the boy’s actual father wasn’t as present as Ciara and co. would like, any disapproval began to dissipate. Russell was stepping up not to be a replacement, but just to be as loving and accepting of the child as he could be — and was encouraged to be by his mother. Nowadays, any video of the NFL QB playing with Future, throwing the football around with him, dancing alongside him and Ciara, makes hearts swoon. He is celebrated at every turn for genuinely making time for and loving lil Future, even as he prepares to welcome his second biological child with Ciara.

But Gabrielle’s attempts come with skepticism and displeasure. I thought it might be due to the fact that LGBTQ issues are still controversial, and people not happy with the Wades’ public support of Zaya would take that out on her. But it seems that people also take issue with the fact that as vocal as Gabrielle and Dwyane are about their child these days, you don’t hear much at all from his biological mother, Siovaughn Funches. Ever since she lost custody of Zaya and Zaire in 2011, and attempts to overturn such a decision and gain public sympathy were fruitless, she’s been quiet about sharing mothering responsibilities with Gabrielle. This time last year though, she was making it clear that she’s still involved in her kids’ lives:

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Love you huge Zion Wade!

A post shared by Siohvaughn Funches-Wade (@siohvaughnfuncheswade) on


A colleague of mine also blamed the lack of love Gabrielle gets for the bond she has with Dwyane’s kids from his previous marriage on the fact that some believe that the couple began dating while he was still married. So there are plenty of questions nowadays about where Siovaughn is, and people wanting to hear what she thinks of everything, especially now that it seems that she’s become a staunch evangelist.

But I also had a fruitful conversation with a colleague who told me that the root of the side-eye Gabrielle gets, in comparison to the adoration Russell receives, could really have everything to to do with the fact that the roles of stepparents are very different. Many stepdads are stepping in and filling in for fathers who are absent, or not as present as they should be. Anything that goes beyond not being an a–hole to a partner’s child receives a standing ovation because the belief is that a man doesn’t have to go above and beyond for a child that isn’t his. When he chooses to, claiming that child as his own, it’s a very big deal.

On the contrary, when a woman tries to step in as a mother figure, it tends to feel unnecessary. In fact, it feels to some like an intrusion. The mother is usually still in the picture and caring for her child or children, which is not the case for Siovaughn, though she’s still an active presence. So while people are all for father figures, and the idea that you can’t have too many, an additional mother figure? Particularly one who is front and center for an incredibly important moment, transition or occurrence in a child’s life? People aren’t too fond of that.

Nevertheless, I do applaud Gabrielle for the relationship she has with Zaya and Zaire, as well as with Dwyane’s nephew. I don’t get the impression that she is aiming to replace their mothers, but as the mother figure in the home and most present, she is doing what any parent should and would do — nurture and love them. Unless Siovaughn comes forward and says something different, no, we don’t need to hail the star, but maybe, at the least, we can give her a break for helping to create a space where the kids, even baby Kaavia, feel free and most importantly, comfortable, to be themselves.

Hit the flip for a variety of reactions people have had pertaining to Gabrielle’s relationship with her her stepkids, particularly Zaya.


This commenter celebrated Gabrielle and Dwayne for choosing to support Zaya early on, as opposed to making her wait to live as her true self.

“This is why I applaud and champion Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union for raising and loving Zaya as they are and know they will continue to do!” they wrote. “She’s being raised with so much love and that truly makes me so happy for her and her bright future ahead!”

This Twitter user isn’t a fan of the way Gabrielle has gone about parenting Zaya and speaking publicly about it.

“i don’t like how her & her husband act like zaya doesn’t have a mother? like she doesn’t exist because she doesn’t have custody. doing interviews about zaya as her mother? ion like that sh-t,” they wrote. “she’s your step/bonus kid…not YOUR kid.”

A Twitter user offered encouragement to Gabrielle, who has spoken in the past about dealing with people acting as though, especially with her, stepparents aren’t real parents.

“You are a REAL MOM ok!” they wrote. “You are a wonderful mother your entire family is beautiful! Don’t ever believe anything else mama!”

A commenter said they were going to “shake the table” by asking what they deemed an unpopular question. That question happened to be, where is Zaya’s mother and what does she make of everything?

“What does Siovaughn Wade think about Zaya, or are we replacing her with Gabrielle Union as their mom?”

Some people, like this Twitter user, are truly, truly confused when it comes to all of the criticism Gabrielle and Dwyane receive.

“I applaud Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, as well as Zaya!” they wrote. “it’s unbelievable how people are on Twitter are mad at them for loving their child and unconditionally??”

One commenter, responding to a report TMZ did about Dwyane Wade speaking on Zaya identifying as a female, questioned where Siovaughn was, and if the family was being too hasty in their unwavering support. For the record, the couple never mentioned anything about any desire Zaya may have to go through surgery in the future, so this opinion is based on an assumption.

This commenter kept it short and simple, commending Dwyane and Gabrielle for exhibiting #goodparenting, despite whatever criticism they may deal with publicly. And we know they get plenty, including from fellow well-known figures like controversial rapper Boosie and actress/singer Serayah.

“I applaud Dwyane wade and Gabrielle union for their support for zaya wades life choice.”

This Twitter user wondered how Siovaugn is affected by the way the couple go about things publicly.

“Gabrielle Union is promoting a children’s book and speaking on the transitioning of Zaya Wade who is NOT her biological daughter days leading up to Mother’s Day,” they wrote. “that’s not traumatic for the biological mother? Smh”

No matter what people might say, as one commenter pointed out, the famous couple, Gabrielle in particular, is being the beacon of positivity Zaya needs.

“Gabrielle Union is raising Zaya Wade on high doses of positivity,” they wrote. “All kids in whatever spectrum of life deserve infinite love.”

I totally agree.

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