I know that I definitely haven’t said thank you enough to my parents over the years – the habits of childhood creep unwittingly into adulthood and before you know it you’ve accepted another £15,000 loan and they are having to reduce their holiday plans. At times like these ‘thank you’ hardly seems sufficient and without getting into a 16-page letter listing all the nuances that are implied in a gesture such as this and which are compounded by the smaller unmentioned acts that have stemmed from pure unconditional love for their child, it’s difficult to explain how very much I appreciate the love and support of my parents. I just know that I am very very very lucky.
If I ever have children of my own, I can only try to offer them the same complete reassurance that at all times they are loved and supported.
However, it’s a bit more complex when you’re not the biological parent but accept a parental role by proxy of a partner: No matter what state their relationship is with their ex, they are the two people who have ultimate responsibility for the child. When in your care, hopefully you can develop bonds of trust with the child, ideally they’ll listen to you as someone who they believe has their best interests at heart and is acting as an extension of their parent. It is possible to love them, want the best for them, hope, dream, share in their successes and sorrows, but does it ever get to that same unconditional love that a parent has for their child?
I realise not everybody has that from their parents in actuality, because we’re complex beasts, but surely that love between a parent and child stems essentially from a biological place rather than any cutesy kittening about; a need to perpetuate our genes and therefore do anything to protect them from harm and to give them a set of circumstances during which they will thrive.
So without that biological bond, what is the best one can hope for? I suspect it’s taking the rough with the smooth, trying to be consistent, supporting your partner in their decisions publicly (and, if you disagree, conversing diplomatically later in private), not alienating the other parent and above all trying to have as much fun with the child as possible. One of the benefits of being in this situation is that you do always have that great opt out clause, if things are getting sticky and you’re feeling like the under-appreciated slave kept around only to wipe snotty noses (or some age-appropriate alternative) you can always retreat and, depending on how much of a row you want to instigate later, your choices are somewhere on the spectrum of ‘They’re not my bloody kids anyway’ to ‘I think it’s really important you spend time alone with them darling’.
Nuff respect to step-parents (and those that haven’t even got the stability of a stephood) all over – it’s a tough job but hopefully the additional dimension you provide enriches those children’s lives in ways that one day they’ll be silently grateful for – and that’s the most that any parent can expect isn’t it?