by JULIE PROUDFOOT
School holidays are almost over and the children of our blended family, who have been away with their other parents, are coming home.
I know from previous end-of-school holidays that on their return I will hit bottom: my heart will sink, a dreaded malaise will take hold and an internal fight will begin.
They’ll return, my two teenage girls and my husband’s two teenage girls, all four milling in the kitchen and bedrooms, dropping bags in doorways, giggling, mimicking, sharing holiday notes, settling back into the routine like cats pawing at their beds.
Over the last couple of years our blended family has been like shifting bookshelves: coming and going. We have six children between us, three each. Our oldest two – my daughter and his son – have now left home making lives of their own, studying, working, beginning their own families, and not least of all making me a grandmother: putting a mirror scarily to my parental face.
The sight and sounds of my own children being home again will bring me a gut-felt mix of joy, relief and pleasure. In comparison, the happiness of having my step-kids home, pales. And this is what I dread. Why don’t I feel the same gut felt joy for my steps?
The guilt sends me into confusion and that heart sinking malaise. It’s a fight that goes on within my mind and body. Where are the feelings I should be having for them?
My own children will seek me out and we’ll give mutually firm hugs with not a crack of daylight between us. My steppies? If we hug at all, we‘ll hug with moats around us, both protecting and denying. Why is it like this?
I’ve attempted to write about it. But in this situation – the blended family where fairness in all things has to prevail – once the sense that I might care for my own children more than my husband’s rears its head, I’m so horrified and disgusted in myself that I delete every evidential word from the screen.
And this is how it’s been, a pattern of desire to put pen to page to find sense in the confusion followed by the horror and hasty deletion of any evidence of a ‘bad person’.
But here I am again today with the urge to put pen to paper trying to make sense. Why persist? Because I know there has to be more to the feelings than simply the ‘evil step-mother’. And why do I know this? Because I love my step children, I care about them deeply and it’s important to me that they know this.
So when placed side by side, child against child, feeling the difference, feeling a much stronger pull to mine than his, I want to know why I lack those feelings? Why am I filled with a guilt and dread that is amplified to the point of misery?
The traditional story lines that come to mind about step-mothers contain the words ‘evil’ and ‘alien’. These are the words in society’s heads; these are the words in my head. And as soon as I have a less than positive thought about my steps I recoil in horror at the thought of becoming these words. This is the part where I realise the stories we tell are who and what we become: in our media, in our fiction. We are what we read and write; we are what we say we are.
So I’m telling a story about step-parenting. After years of beating myself up I think I have my answer.