And then there were five…

006For the first time in a very long time I listened to the hubster on the phone to his nine year old daughter last week, looking cheerful, sounding positive and actually arranging for her to come and spend some time with us over the weekend.

I’m not going to lie, in the past I have anticipated her visits with a mixture of reluctance and dread. The fact of the matter is that when JJ was born things really changed for all of us and her behaviour and attitude around us became a little bit stroppy, moody and miserable. As JJ got older and began hitting his milestones she would do everything in her power to put obstacles in his way or make him cry (I clearly remember her moving objects further and further from his reach as he was just learning to crawl which might sound like healthy encouragement, but actually I think you’re meant to let the baby reach their goal once in a while!).

As a toddler she knew how to push every button to tip him over the edge and every time we chastised her it would all end in her playing the wounded and wronged unwanted and unloved step-child routine and sobbing down the phone to her mother as if we had shackled her to a rusty radiator and left her with a bowl of water and a piece of stale bread for 48 hours (we hadn’t!).

At the age of three (and her at 8) she took on the role of bossy, strict, know-it-all voice of authority, ordering him around, enrolling him in ‘projects’ he wasn’t really up for and harshly berating him for anything and everything, sniggering openly at the meltdowns she induced.

After this description you might imagine that he learned to hate her but this is very far from the truth. He loves the girl and still gets excited about seeing her.

And don’t suppose that I don’t understand why she has behaved in this way – I am not unsympathetic to the fact that she is the child of a ‘broken’ home  although it took me a while to really believe that her behaviour was borne of any kind of desire to belong with us (God knows we’re not the perfect family).

Which leads me to the present day. For the most part this weekend was a good one with her. Since EJ was born we’ve seen very little of her as she seems to have constant sleepovers at a friend’s house on weekends and has shown no interest in spending time with us. So when she voluntarily agreed to come over and spend the night I was surprised. She even requested a sleepover on the floor of JJ’s room despite being warned about his (adorable!) snoring. She played nicely with him and the bickering was kept to a minimum. She helped him build an indoor den, kept him occupied with improvised games and actually seemed to be enjoying herself. Very tellingly EJ (20 months) saw her after his nap and walked straight over to her, giving her a sleepy cuddle. She remarked on how much he had changed since she last spent any time with him (last August, right before he started walking).

I had an excuse to actually unfold the dining table and cook a meal (sausage, mash and peas!) that we could all enjoy together and it was indeed like being a family of five.

I’m not sure if any of this has anything to do with the fact that her mother’s new partner moved in with them last October and she gave birth to another little girl in February. Having a newborn around must be unsettling and in effect the girl’s world has been dramatically altered – it is no longer her and her mum against the world. She has yet again been given a reason to feel like she’s falling into a gap between two worlds.

Maybe I’m a bad person because I’ve found it hard to embrace her as my own – I just feel like so many obstacles have been thrown between us and her hard faced attitude has made me want to push her away, but these recent chinks in her armour show that she is feeling the vulnerability and I hope that it might be the beginning of a less guarded and confrontational relationship between us all.

Certainly seeing the children playing together this weekend was a bit of a magic moment!


14 thoughts on “And then there were five…

  1. Such a complicated dynamic, but you understand it so well. It’s a big plus that JJ is so positive about his big sister.

    There are never any magic happy endings in real life but these are little magic moments to remember.

    I love the honesty of your post and the fact that you aren’t glossing over anything.

    • I’m really trying to give the whole picture Denise. Its hard to really explain both how awful she can be (and has been) and how sweet and vulnerable she can be at other times. She has a lot, she does a lot, she is doted on by grandparents, and certainly for the hubster’s parents she is the only female grandchild of five. We have seen a lot less of her than we see of my nieces though and subsequently JJ gets confused sometimes and refers to her as his cousin.

      • You did a really good job of explaining a complex situation. Quite often behind awfulness there is vulnerability. Sometimes it almost turns into a race as to which one of those qualities will get ahead and leave the other behind… and on top of those the stresses of dealing with a girl who is at the age of discovering her emotions. Big hug and good luck with everything.

      • Thank you. I have to say I am right on the peripheries of all this so its not really my emotions coming into play but it would be nice for her to feel like she could be a part of our dynamic without the defensiveness.

      • I’ve been a step-parent, albeit to grown up step-children… for me it was more about feeling comfortable. I wish I could have felt comfortable with them, but I never did. (We are not in touch any more.)

      • Hope you have a better ending… I think it might be easier with children as they have a more flexible outlook and can grow into things better – fingers crossed.

  2. At first I dont understand things until I finished your entry and I said oh thats why. I am glad that things are starting to get better and I hope they will continue to be better for you. This is such an honest entry and thanks for sharing.

  3. its such a hard thing to be part of being from an extended family, i know my husband struggled with daughter for a long time and i fear in fairness she pushed his buttons on purpose in order to see how far she could push.

    I am so pleased you got some quality time recently though x

    thanks for linking up with #MagicMoments x

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