You’d be forgiven for assuming my little girl doesn’t realise she’s not biologically related to her daddy. Indeed, for a long time I believe that was the case, and it’s certainly come as a shock to me to realise that not only is she aware of it, but it’s something she’s quite sensitive and insecure about.
Miss Rose has my surname, my ex-husband’s surname, and that is written on all her school paperwork, all the labels inside her school uniform, and all her homework. It’s on any post she receives and any forms we fill in. And it starts with an R, which she knows really well, so completely understands. However, if you ask her what her name is she will say without a moment’s pause that her name is Rose Mck. The Boy is a McK, her step brother Z is a McK, and as far as she is concerned she too is a McK. But she knows I am not a McK. She also knows that she is not technically a McK.
She has a wonderful relationship with The Boy. She adores him. If Liverpool are playing football she will whole heartedly throw herself into supporting them. She has developed an infatuation with Jurgen Klopp and very early on learned to cheer with manic excitement when goals are scored (even if it’s the wrong team, which when she realises quickly changes her cheers to emphatic boos), and will leap around with the enthusiasm of, well, a toddler if Liverpoool win. She will beg The Boy to play guitar for her and then dance energetically to the music. She declares herself to have a true and devoted love of Batman, even though her heart belongs truly to Wonder Woman, because Batman is whom The Boy loves.
He is her daddy.
However, it’s not always so simple. When Z is here she automatically takes a step back from him. The Boy is Z’s biological parent, I am Miss Rose’s biological parent, and from the beginning, unless we are alone with both, we tend to take a child each to split the load, and automatically take our own. That doesn’t mean by any stretch that we refuse to do anything for the other, but if Miss Rose bumps her head it’s usually me who gives the cuddles, and if Z needs to use the potty it’s usually The Boy who takes him.
And Miss Rose is becoming more and more aware of it.
Recently I found Miss Rose crying on the stairs. Just breaking her little heart and I sat with her and gave her cuddles, begging her to tell me what was wrong. After a few minutes of snot and tears, she eventually choked out that she wanted a daddy cuddle. I told her she could get one, he’s right in the living room. But she said no, she can’t, Z’s here.
At this time Z was indeed sitting next to The Boy and having a cuddle whilst they watched TV together, but at no time as The Boy ever refused to cuddle one child because the other is there. Indeed, should Rose go for a cuddle she’d be welcomed with open arms by him.
However, I know exactly how it goes down. She climbs up for a cuddle and Z starts to kick her away, so she leans in to elbow him away, until ultimately it comes down to who has the power and not the desire for a cuddle at all. Then they both get shouted at and distributed across the room because they’re not allowed to fight and so neither gets a cuddle.
The thing is, Z’s time is split between his mother and father. He very rarely goes a day without seeing his dad, but it’s still not the constant it is for Miss Rose who goes to bed and wakes up in the same house as The Boy almost every night, unless one or the other is away for any reason. Z loves his father very much and cherishes the time he gets with him, and is aware that Rose gets more than he does, so doesn’t want her invading the time he does get. Understandably. For Miss Rose, however, she sees Z therefore as getting the priority because when Z’s there, she feels pushed out. She doesn’t see that Z goes days at a time without seeing his mother, that she gets her own mother’s full attention daily, and that just because Z’s there it doesn’t mean she doesn’t get attention from The Boy. All she sees it that when Z’s not there, she gets daddy cuddles without interruption, snakes and ladders without anyone getting in the way, and his attention without anyone stealing it. When Z’s there she becomes lower priority because I pick up the slack to give Z the time with his dad that he needs.
This awareness, this sense of being an outsider in her own family, has left her feeling insecure. When she had a falling out with a friend of hers recently, she was given the insult of “McK’s not your real name anyway, your family isn’t even your real family.”
She cries when she wants her daddy and Z’s here but refuses to go to him, often refuses to make eye contact with him when Z’s here, and ascertains most passionately at all times that she is a McK.
She has also started asking me why I am not a McK.
Now, I won’t start a ramble on how I’m actually quite opposed to marriage in so many ways, the traditions and the patriarchal set up of weddings in general. Partly because it’s boring and partly because as a divorced woman who changed her name I obviously conformed to various aspects of this thing I object to. But when she asks why I’m not a McK I explain that for me to have the same surname as daddy, I’d need to marry daddy.
Now I get daily questions about why I’ve not married daddy yet. She asks daddy when he’s going to marry mummy. She says she wants me to be a McK like she is, like Z is, and like daddy is. “When are you marrying Daddy?” she says whilst I’m sat on the toilet, or plucking my eyebrows or buttering toast. “When will you be a McK like me?”
When I tell her it’s not up to just me, that daddy needs to marry me for me to have the same name as him, and that I don’t know if or when that will happen, she gets quite concerned. She wants to be a McK. She wants me to be a McK. And I think it’s because she feels that if we’re both McK’s like daddy we’ll be officially formally family, and she won’t be a lower priority. And I think this will only get more prevalent in her brain after Baby B McK is born.
Step families are beautiful things in so many ways but I’ve now had first hand experience of a child raised entirely within one, as Miss Rose never sees her biological father, and a child raised partly in one and partly out, as Z goes to his mother’s home. And there are issues caused by both scenarios, insecurities, worries, and stresses. In so many ways, for the adults as well as the kids.
Balancing it is so complicated and it’s something The Boy and I discuss at length all the time, agonise over how to make sure both feel loved and wanted and part of the family, despite any comings or goings, or lack of biological connection.
Are we doing it well? I guess time will tell. I don’t believe there is a right way and I don’t believe any way is entirely free from upset for anybody involved. But hopefully, whether she or I ever formally become a McK as she so desires us to be, she’ll grow up knowing that mummy and daddy love her, love each other, and love the fact we’re a family together in our own special way.