By Bunmi Sofola
DID you dread the holidays because your step-children were coming to stay with their father, to whom you are now married? As to be expected, this is one of the times in the year when many families suddenly find themselves frustratingly extended as step-children descend for the holiday.
The fact remains that the number of remarriages are on the increase, not to talk of the number of women happily settling into the slot of second wife. This, simply put, means that more children than ever before are acquiring one or two step-parents and, in many cases, step-brothers and sisters.
Step-mothers are instantly tagged with the, ‘wicked’ adjective, even where they go out of their way to be nice. “l was briefly a step-mother,” recalled Rolly, who was married for five years, “but the marriage was doomed to fail. I was only 26 and, naturally, wanted my husband to myself, divorced entirely from the past. He was in his early 30s and his two children meant that link with his first family would always be there.
“Two girls aged four and two; they accepted a new woman in their father’s life and didn’t give any trouble. But try looking after two active toddlers and see how fine you can cope. At, that time, I was not a natural child-lover, especially when such children weren’t mine. I found their presence very irritating, especially since they looked so much like their mother! Their mother had bad-mouthed me all the time I was courting their father and I couldn’t forgive her for that.” Unfortunately, Rolly’s marriage lasted just five years with only her son to show for it.
According to a legal adviser who’s dealt a lot with divorce cases inc she qualified over two decades ago: ‘Even with all the lessons accrued from step-parenting friends and clients; and mellowed by middle aged understanding, I’m glad I’m not a step-parent. I have seen the suffering of so many people, including those equipped with the very best intention, as they encounter unforeseen disasters.
A friend of mine inherited an exceptionally dead battery of a step son. She tried hard. She cleared up the vomit on the stair without complaint after a drunken night. She suggested all manner of things to entertain him and fed his rude and greedy friends. But she could not win him over.
The poor step-son finally confessed that he found the mother-hen attitude of his step-mother quite revolting. She would never let him have a moment alone with his father, he complained. She was always hovering around, guarding her rights. ‘She even came to my grand-mother’s funeral,’ the boy said bitterly. ‘My mother’s mother had nothing to do
with her. I thought that, at least, at the graveside, I could have had dad to myself. Even my mum’s relatives were appalled when they saw her. They blamed dad for losing control over her.”
According to a psychologist, “children who live in the old marital house cause problems that are almost unavoidable. Children hate changes—and the new step-parents is, not unnaturally, keen to put her own stamp on a place that was fashioned by her predecessor, hence combustible impasses. Even a child is happy that one of their parents marries again (children suffer more than is realized from a feeling of responsibility for single parents),these feelings are clouded by hostility. To the step-mother, a step-child is a living reflection of the first wife’s failings. She can now understand why, sometimes, her beloved would willingly abandon their children too but that is against the rules.
Children must be accommodated into the whole messy business of second marriages. They become step children, whether they like it or not. And they are to be pitied. With a few exceptions, the experience of being a step child is almost always deeply unsatisfactory.
To add to this hardship,
step children know that even when their behaviour is perfect, they are still resented, for step-parents are creatures with hackles automatically raised as they enter one of the uneasiest roles cast by society. And to make such a role even more harrowing, the first wife and the step mother seldom see eye-to-eye as to how the children
should be brought up. “It would make remarriages easier,” said Joko, a divorcee, “if step mums and first wives could be friends. Children sense your handicap whenever you deal with them and use it to their advantage. What most children fail to realise is that there are moments of frustration too for the mother who has to, unwillingly, abandon her children to the fate of a wicked-step-mother due to circumstances well beyond her control.”