By Ayesha Ahmad
July 15, 2015
The most ironic yet painful situation occurs when a divorced couple, especially two divorced individuals with children, move on and get married and how they tend to face the challenges set by our society in Pakistan.
A lot had been said and discussed about the stigma attached to divorce in our society, even on Express Tribune Blogs; hence I do not need to delve much into it.
I have been divorced, but lucky for me, I got married again and have been for the past five years. He has a son and I have a daughter from our previous marriages. Both of us are educated, independent, and mature adults, thus we decided to move in together. I’ll admit that the first five years were tough and it’s still a long road ahead for all of us. It’s not an easy task to merge families, especially when you have kids from the previous marriage; it was not easy helping our two children comfortably adapt to a new environment. We had to opt for co-parenting with our son’s biological mother. Furthermore, our cases regarding legal custody of our respective children were still pending in court.
But lucky for us, we had unconditional support from our close family members. Moreover, we decided to read some self-help books on how we could help our children adjust in new surroundings in the best way possible to help us nurture our own children.
Even though all the books we read about blended families were written by western authors, they addressed the challenges that our children were currently facing. The authors also discussed the problems stepparents can encounter in blended families, thus helping us understand each other and our situations better. These books also helped us resolve the issue of sibling rivalry amongst our children and enabled us to deal with the differences more efficiently.
But our family structure is not the problem here.
What these books failed to teach is how to deal with the perception and the attitude of our society, especially their curiosities. When one gets divorced, people in our society consider it their God given right to interrogate, judge and inquire the ‘real’ reason behind the divorce. They are never satisfied with reasons provided such as the couple weren’t compatible or one was emotionally/physically abused by their former spouse. Even if the divorce happened years ago, people still try to suggest measures that could’ve been taken to prevent the divorce in the first place.
Hence, how were we to function like a ‘normal’ family, after being labelled as an ‘unusual’ family by the people around us?
According to my personal experience, I thought managing the house was a challenging task, specifically blending two different families to make one cohesive unit. Nevertheless, the toughest part was and still is dealing and socialising with people, and by people I mean my old friends, new neighbours and even certain relatives. Making new friends is almost impossible now, as most of the women I come across do not accept us as a ‘normal’ family unit. The moment our domestic structure is revealed to them, their attitude completely changes towards us.
They inquire about the reasons behind our previous divorces, if we reminisce the past and miss our former spouses, even to the extent of inquiring about our former spouse’s life, whether they remarried or not. One of the most common statements we come across is,
“Oh, your poor kids must be suffering.”
No matter how firmly we assure them that our kids are perfectly fine and have a loving and stable atmosphere than they would’ve been in our previous marriages, they are still not convinced. Some even claim that my husband is a Na Mahram to my daughter and to satisfy their doubts, I end up quoting from the Holy Quran (Surah Nisa: 23) to ease their objections. Even when it is proved that he is not an ‘evil stepfather’, they retort by saying,
“A real father is the biological father, no one can replace him.”
In such instances, I am forced to recall my past, how my former husband and in-laws were unhappy with the birth of my baby girl and the way they neglected her.
Furthermore, the common notion is that every stepmother is evil. Hence, I assure them on how I’m aware that I’m not my stepson’s real mother, but I am a part of his life, a part that helps him become a better person and a part that treats him like a biological son. I can delve deeper on the fact that a stepmother can be loving and affectionate too, but that is not the notion being discussed here today.
People even tell us that we will not be rewarded for raising kids that aren’t ours respectively. To which we respond,
“No one gets awards for raising kids.”
Furthermore, it’s perceived that if we had failed marriages, we are proven to be fools incapable of marriage and the society has every right to teach us what we should do.
Our society needs to realise that a blended family can be as ‘normal’ as any other family and in some cases, even better than their own ‘normal’ families. They should understand that a step-parent in some cases can be more loving than a biological parent because he/she has made a choice to love the child like their own when they’re not bound to. Love, respect and care matters much more than sharing the same blood.
Most importantly, they should not apply their preconceived notions to every situation. One should learn to be non-judgmental, respectful, and open towards aspects which are not common to their knowledge.