We describe a child whose parents divorced as a child from a broken home. And a home is not parents living under one roof, but parents who can have a meaningful conversation, share a laugh and show affection. Once parents have lost appreciation for one another, there is no longer love or warmth, and hence there is no longer a home- it breaks.
When parents split and one of them remarries, this child becomes part of a new family- and in many cases the home can be restored with someone other than the parent, a step-parent.
To be more specific I want to speak of the stepmother- an experience more relevant to my life. The collective imagination is fraught with the ugly examples, mainly fed by the classic Disney films that many are exposed to and that in turn were inspired by French folktales from the 15th century, a time of ravish famines and dire poverty – and all the horridness of human nature that can come with that.
The reality is not always the same. While an insensitive step-parent can steal a helpless child much of their joy and peace, a caring one can be a reason for more joy and stability – and even more love. Who ever said that there is a ceiling on a child’s ability to love and be loved?
When my parents split, I was 15 years old. My brother and l stayed behind with my father since my mother had to travel much for work. My father has been always extremely doting and loving. But there was a certain emptiness and coldness in the house after my mother left.
When my father announced he will remarry I could not bear the idea of someone replacing my mother – or that is what I thought then- and l cried my eyes out to stop him. He remarried, nevertheless.
In a couple of months, I could feel a sense of warmth seeping into my life. However, I was stubborn to show that I was liking my step-mum, or even more, liking her presence in our life. Yes she wasn’t my mother, but she was a source of love and care -and more importantly a source of ‘life’ to this living space. The affection between her and my father, the jokes, the teasing, the laughter, the care she bestowed on the house and the attention she gave to us (as much as we allowed her, as two stubborn teenagers) restored the home. It wasn’t the same home but once again we had one. And in my heart, I was happy- silently – and silently because I was conflicted between my appreciation for my step-mum and the guilt for accepting her. Have I replaced the mother whom I loved vastly?
Now in retrospect and as I grew up, I find that this idea of a parent being replaced by another a total myth – a myth devised by our egos. A mother remains a mother and a father is a father, yet we are fully capable of loving, appreciating and connecting with others along the way.
Today my own daughter has a step mum who has the most positive impact on her life. Through kind gestures, my daughter naturally grew to like her step-mum and eventually even love her. I could see her joy as she responded to the attention, to the gifts and to the loving gestures – but also felt her hesitation and subtle shame as she shared with me initially. And it hit me how can I or any other person sanction a child’s capacity for love? As humans our ability for love is boundless, and our love for one person does not mean less love for another.
I thus, gave my daughter a positive reaction every time she spoke of her step-mum and allowed her to express her natural feelings without guilt or conflict. She had warmth and love – she had a home once again. She was happy and I could not but feel happy too.
I know from my own experience that a nurturing woman has a presence. And it is this presence that makes the home. Just like a caring step father can give stability and make a home feel like a safer haven.
While a child of divorced parents is a child of a broken home, a caring step parent can bring in enough love to mend both the broken heart and home.