Sunday, 29 May 2016

Love is a Many Blended Thing

As holiday weekends and half-terms arrive, many people will be juggling families, increasing numbers of which will be 'blended'. It seems such a gentle word, conjuring up equally gentle scenes: children from family one running delightedly across the daisies towards the children from family two. There they go, grinning like little Disney bunnies at the new mummy/old daddy or old mummy/new daddy or whatever new combination of shiny parents this veritable smorgasboard of delights will present them with. And then off they skip hand-in-hand, all beautifully smoothed together.

Is it just me hearing 'blended' and having a Gremlins moment?

Do not panic. I have not morphed into a freakish Daily Mail worshipper of the traditional 'nuclear' family and, please, just take a moment to consider what that word means outside geeky science nerd world. It's surely more terrifying/honest (delete as applicable) than blended. I have no issue with divorce or re-marriage which you would know if you knew my history (a dark, dark world you will never see into) and adding rug-rats to the romantic mix as you re-entangle is what grown-ups have to do. It's not the doing that's the problem, it's the naming. If you are going to blend things, they have to be really easy to mix: no hard edges, no possibility of bad reactions, no ending up with combinations that leave a really disgusting taste in your mouth. I'm from the North. I like gravy, custard, whisky, eccles cakes, bacon and pie. That will all go in the blender but it won't make a yummy smoothie, although it might make a good trifle...

We've all grown used to the word 'blended', the problem is that it doesn't allow for differences and it doesn't offer space. Most families come with habits and traditions and, let's be honest, levels of tolerated weirdness that makes Arkham Asylum look like a holiday camp. New families for the kids, and the adults, who are forced to try to glue them together and survive the joins are a bit like cheese and chocolate: sometimes you fancy a bit of one far more than a sniff of the other. Try and pretend the differences don't exist or forget to allow some choices of movement and time and you end up with a cauldron not a melting pot.

There's lots of statistics and research about the need to tread very gently if you don't want the second family to explode. At Heroine Chic Towers, we prefer to ignore all these and turn instead to tv, film and books to back up our opinions. Just think how little popular culture we would have if re-marriage and child-raising was a doddle and there hadn't been two world wars - we might just have been left with sci-fi which has to be a cause of divorce on its own. Some of the stuff is brilliant. Who doesn't love/want to live in Modern Family and if you haven't seen The Way Way Back then treat yourself, although maybe not before a holiday road trip. Some of it, however, should be returned to the Hell from which it came. There is absolutely no excuse for the mawkish sob-fest that is Stepmom and, if you're still not convinced Blended is such a bad term, there's a film of that name starring Adam Sandler (no link, ever, under any circumstances). I rest my case.

We'll come back to the language in a moment, but let's take a slight detour to look at the families themselves and focus on the perennial villain in every tale. The Wicked Stepmother, or, as we should perhaps now call her: Magimix Mom.

The predatory, cruel second wife who favours her own children/the family cat/a nest of rats over the little sweeties who come packaged with daddy is part of our folk-lore and fairy tale heritage. The trope may have arisen from old feudal laws which made a widow and her children economically dependent on a new husband - medieval tiger-mum has to fight for one set of children's rights so the others hate her. It may be a creation that allows children to keep mother one all perfect, reserving all their anger for mother two. It may be plain old misogyny but it's certainly given rise to some wonderful characters.

So, rather than rant at the unfairness of it all, I thought I'd have a look at some characters who should, in theory, have made great step-mothers and celebrate their badness...

My first contender is Jane Eyre. How perfect should she have been: a miserable childhood, a dreadful school experience, a trained governess. There's someone who surely would understand the importance of a loving, nurturing home life. It looks good at first: Jane rushes off to the school Rochester has chosen for simpering little Adele, finds it far too harsh and brings the poor little mite home. For about a day. "I meant to become her governess once more, but I soon found this impracticable." Translation: "your 'father' doesn't need any reminders of fancy French strumpets around while I'm lying back and thinking of England/sin/the kinky missionary bloke. Get thee gone while I paint the nursery a nice deep red." Seriously, can you imagine what her and Rochester's son would grow into? I have a feeling the attic would be well-stocked with his toys.

Jane would be terrible but there's a worse contender: Mary Poppins. One more suffragette meeting and Mr Banks would be easy prey, divorced and re-married before you could say spit-spot. And would it be practically perfect for Jane and Michael? Oh no: how do you think Bert gets all the kids for his chimney-sweeping round? Mary is, in actual fact, a serial re-marrier who just hangs round long enough to drop the children into that capacious double-entendring handbag before delivering them to Bert's roof-top lair where he sits like a sooty Fagin. A spoonful of sugar indeed - clearly this is code for her second occupation as a drug dealer. Is no one actually watching these films?

And finally, let's go with one of the fiercest and unluckiest mothers in contemporary literature: Catelyn Stark from Game of Thrones. One son paralysed, one daughter married off to a medieval version of Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre who has also got hold of the other son we'd all forgotten about and her youngest daughter lost in a plot-line which stopped making sense about 4 seasons ago. All very nasty. She deserved it. This was the step-mother who was nasty to Jon Snow. Yes, him of the puppy eyes and puppy brain and increasingly unfeasible accent. She sent him off to the Wall and basically got him killed, only to rise again after he's been dead for about 3 days - I'm not going down this road and please God who ever is now writing the scripts also stops. Right there. Catelyn Stark, Snow-hater: officially Heroine Chic's worst step-mother ever.

Blended, stepped, just plain weird. However your family goes, I hope you find the right words for it - mine invented the term 'weekday dad' but this was coined by a boy who wore an American Idiot sweatshirt to greet his now American Dad so don't trust me on any of this. Unless, of course, you want some step-mom tips...


  1. I love your posts Cath. Entertaining but tackling something real.

    Thanks for linking #TalkoftheTown

  2. Thank you, I appreciate that - the Talk of the Town link does generate good traffic.

  3. Made my morning. I have had that "blended" image in my head for quite some time. Glad someone else objects to the term, and for all the best reasons. ;-)

  4. Thank you - yes, it's always felt like one of those words with failure built in!

  5. I think the gremlin giff suits this perfectly! I've stayed single but my ex husband is in a relationship and I know it's not been easy for them to 'blend'. Great post

  6. Thank you! It really does have its challenges.


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