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.