Have I ever mentioned the fact that I am a step-parent? We are what the textbooks refer to as a ‘blended family’: me and my son, The Husband and his daughter. We look like a perfectly normal family. The children very easily pass for siblings except that that they don’t invest their energy in trying to secretly maim, shame or kill each other. They get on like a house on fire. They are, in fact, great friends and will hug warmly when they come back to our house after a period with ‘the other parents’ (as we quaintly call them.) I have read a lot about step-parenting. Partly for my work with young mothers where step-parenting is becoming the norm, and partly to reassure myself that it really is as difficult as it feels sometimes.
So we look like a perfectly normal family. Except that slightly hidden from view are a variety of relationships that play out in different ways and at different times.
I love my son with an animal instinct. I am convinced that I would lay down my life for him. I would step in front of the bus. Sometimes my husband is jealous.
I love my step-daughter because she is bright, funny, engaging and loveable. And she is my husband’s daughter and I love my husband. Sometimes she challenges me for her father’s love. She always wins. I would hesitate before stepping in front of the bus. I may not step out. I have my child to think of.
I love my husband just because. (I do not intend to get sentimental or shower him with praise. But I really do love him a lot.) However much I love him, I wouldn’t step in front of the bus. I have my child to think of. Sometimes he wants to be number one.
My husband loves his daughter with an animal instinct. He is a fantastic dad, and hasn’t designated his parenting duties to me, as many fathers will do when they meet a new partner. He is mother and father to her when she is with us. He would step in front of the bus. Sometimes I am jealous.
My husband loves me, and I trust that his love is sound. He would not step in front of the bus. He has his child to think of. Sometimes I want to be number one.
My husband loves my son because he is bright, funny, engaging and loveable. And because he loves me. Sometimes son challenges husband for my love. Son always wins. Husband would hesitate before stepping in front of the bus. He has his own child to think of.
Half of the time we are four. But when we are four, we are sometimes two and two. Occasionally we are two and one. Sometimes we are just two. And each has its own dynamic quietly playing out.
It is only right and proper that my son knows he is first in my life. It is only right and proper that my step-daughter knows she is first in her father’s life. That is how it should be for children. It breaks my heart when I work with young mothers who meet a new partner and consistently prioritise him over their children, so desperate are they for another to love them. Parenting books tell us that we should not allow children to ‘come between’ two parents as it gives the child too much power and an illusion of grandeur. Step-parenting books skirt delicately around the issue. We are afraid of naming it. We are afraid of the primal feelings of jealousy, envy, rage and triumphalism.
Sometimes you have to step into someone else's shoes. Sometimes I back my husband into a corner and compel him to talk about it. That is the deal when you marry a therapist. Things get talked about.
We are a happy family. I’m glad we can think the unthinkable.