A step-parent is so much more than just a parent, they made a conscious decision to love when they didn’t have to.Unknown
When I was 22, I met and fell in love with a wonderful man. Six months into our relationship, I got pregnant. It wasn’t planned but I was excited because I’d heard children were blessings. When I told him, he went apeshit, “no no no no! I am married with six kids and I don’t want anymore!” For a moment, I was breathless. This was a man who’d introduced me to his friends and a sister. As it turned out, his friends knew I was nothing but a side chick, as for his sister – she wasn’t but a good friend. I felt like a fool, however, I wanted my son. He gave me an ultimatum, “the child or me!” It was an easy choice.
I faced a bleak future as a single mother in a culture where single mothers were frowned upon and ostracised by married women whose constant thought was the safety of their husbands around me.
When my son, Joseph, was six I met Mark, a wonderful brain surgeon. He was great with my son. I fell in love with him, he fell in love with me and my son. After six months, he proposed and when I asked him what he thought of becoming a step-dad, he said, “Joseph is not my step-child, he is my child who was born before I met him!” How could I say no to that? Within a year, we got married. We were a happy little family despite what everyone thought.
One year after our wedding, we had a child – his first my second – a beautiful boy we named Conor. I thought Mark loved Joseph until Conor was born – he was absolutely besotted with him. It was hard for me to see the contrast in the affection for the boys. There was no doubt he loved Joseph, but it was a love he worked hard at unlike Conor’s which was instant and spontaneous. And the worst part was that I knew Joseph felt it, I could see it in his eyes.
Before Conor’s second birthday I gave birth to a girl, Ella. Daddy’s little girl arrived, and Joseph was pushed further away. He wasn’t allowed to play with his sister, “be careful!” Mark screamed every time Joseph went near Ella. The whole thing felt like a fatal car accident that you see coming but are powerless to stop. Don’t get me wrong, Mark was never aggressive towards Joseph, but he wasn’t affectionate either. He provided, gave the occasional hug, but there was distance. I suppose the paternal bond fathers form when their children are born was not there with Joseph. I had this awful feeling he wanted to protect his children from my child. He overlooked the fact that they were all my children.
One day Mark returned from a weeklong conference abroad. The children were excited to see him, and they clambered all over him telling him how much they missed and loved him.
“Awww, I love you too little munchkins. I missed you!” he beamed.
However, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before when he smiled at Joseph, it was like he looked through him. I asked him about it later. “I am very fond of Joseph,” he paused far too long, “and I love him, but probably with less intensity because I have to fend for him while his biological father is out there gallivanting while I raise his child!”
To say this statement rocked my world is an understatement, it completely destroyed it. I had to shake my head for several minutes before any words could leave my mouth. I was still shaking my head in disbelief when he added, “I think he is now old enough to meet his real father so he can appreciate how good he has here!”
I didn’t understand where this outburst had come from, it caught me off guard. Parenting is hard, I know that, and I imagine step-parenting is even harder; but was it possible he fell out of love with my child when his were born? I realised I took it for granted that he fell in love with me therefore he’d automatically fall in love with his stepson. He, on the other hand, overlooked the fact that the children are brothers and sister, and he can’t separate that by loving one of them less. I always assumed the absence of Joseph’s father would make life easier for Mark because he wouldn’t have to deal with the challenges that came with that, maybe I was wrong. He had done everything the books recommended, like getting to know Joseph as an individual. When did it all go so wrong?
Joseph, my once happy energetic and exuberant little boy who loved his family, was turning into a grumpy teenager. The only person he adored was his sister, he wanted nothing to do with anyone else. Asking him to join the family at dinner time was like asking him to join the search for Osama Bin Laden. “Don’t push him, love, it’s a phase it will pass,” Mark reassured me though it was better for him if Joseph kept away. I too rationalised that it was the teenage hormones taking his brain hostage and his sullen appearance, awkward behaviour and bad moods would disappear at some point. I did not want to entertain the thought that his behaviour had anything to do with Mark’s behaviour.
I had to entertain this rationale because as parents sometimes we forget we were once teenagers. We like our teenage children to think that we never argued with parents or adults, we never went home late, we never skipped school or wanted to, we never drank alcohol or smoked, we were compassionate, kind, caring towards younger children and older adults, we were perfect, and the teenage hormone explosion did nothing to alter our behaviour or attitude. I suppose this amnesia is part of the being-human-grand-design like giving birth. If parents remembered their teenage years, no one would want to raise a teenager.
However, I had to face facts when one conversation led to a hole in the wall and a visit to A&E.
“Joe honey, your dad is giving a lecture on brain dev….”
“Step-dad!” he interjected with enough venom to vaporise further conversations.
“Joseph!” I started, with every intent to ground his rude ass.
“Fuck you…” he punched the wall and stomped off with a bleeding fist.
Grounding and taking gadgets away was not going to cut this one, I had to make some very difficult decisions.
To be continued …..
Photo credit: Keira Burton – pexels.com