Yesterday, I saw something that had never happened before, something incredibly moving, and it melted my heart. In the blue dusk, my partner stood ankle-deep in the ocean with one of my children on either side, holding their hands. Why is this so unusual? Because my partner isn’t my kids’ dad. No, they have a perfectly good dad who lives a few streets away and has them one week in every two.
My marriage broke down just over a year ago, and I am only now climbing to my feet. It is just in the last few months that I have been able to use words like “ex-husband”, “divorce”, and “step-parent”. They seemed words invented for other people, not for me. As a child of a broken home myself, I was determined to keep my family together. The ideal proved too much for me to maintain, however. The separation was amicable, but crushingly sad.
And the guilt has been devastating. I can still cry thinking about the day my son said to me, “But you promised you and daddy would never split up.” His eyebrows were pink, like they used to get when he cried as a baby. I can’t remember making that promise: I must have made it in the past when a marriage breakdown seemed inconceivable. But the guilt about falling in love with somebody else, somebody who isn’t their father, has been particularly acute. And not just from their perspective: my partner is significantly younger than me, and not at the stage in his life when children are on his mind. I come as a package deal and he understands that, but it has been difficult for me to relax when we’re all together. What if my kids annoy him? What if he annoys my kids? I’ve maintained a catlike state of readiness, pouncing on interactions or topics of conversation that might get out of hand, lead to doubts or tantrums. I wanted desperately for them to like each other, as a prelude to something deeper down the track.
In the end, time and closeness did the trick. Talking, laughing, watching cartoons, building sandcastles. They started by tickling and giggling, hugging goodbye and hello, moved to sitting in his lap unprompted, kissing his cheek for no reason. Now they’ll turn to him when they need something, they even have massive screaming rages in front of him: I guess that means they feel comfortable.
Once I saw my marriage breakdown as an awful thing that closed down my children’s lives. Now I see it so differently. There are more people to love: not only my partner and his family and friends, but also my ex-husband’s partner, her family and friends, maybe even half-siblings that might come in the future. Their horizons are opening up and up, and it may be chaotic, and it may sometimes be sad or difficult, but it isn’t less of a life this way. It’s more.
Kids are so artless. If they feel something they say it. My five-year-old told me yesterday that my partner is the “handsomest man in the kingdom, and I do decree that you shall marry”. The gears are changing in this new relationship, and even the children can feel it. We are all sinking deeper; and that’s okay, because we are all sinking together.
Kim Wilkins has published over 20 novels. She is a former bogan who now has a PhD and teaches writing and literature at University of Queensland. She has two young children and lives in Brisbane. You can read more about her here.
Introducing a new partner into your life, is it ever easy?