How Does It REALLY Feel to Be a Child Caught in the Midst of Divorce and Remarriage? in a Bittersweet Memoir, One Writer Recalls It Only Too Well; Femailreal Life
Byline: CLAIRE CALMAN
THERE are now millions of stepfamilies in the UK which bring with them a whole new set of relationships and rules for parents and children to come to terms with. So what is it really like to grow up in one? Here, novelist CLAIRE CALMAN, 40, who is married to Larry, a 44-year-old publisher, tells of her childhood experiences. Claire has an eight-month-old baby, Leo, and lives in North London. She says:
ONCE upon a time, there was a man and a woman and they met and fell in love, got married and had children. And then it all went horribly pear-shaped.
Every day in Britain 650 children witness their parents divorce or separate, and in the battle that ensues it's often their voices that are lost.
While coming from a 'broken home' - as I do - no longer bears a stigma nor is even seen as unusual, the fact that it's commonplace doesn't make it any easier.
As a child belonging to two families - my mother, a designer and illustrator, and my father, a cartoonist, separated when I was two and divorced when I was five - I learned how easy it is to feel like a ping-pong ball, batted backwards and forwards between households.
You spend your life packing and unpacking, mentally readjusting to fit into two different sets of rules and routines and two sets of expectations and demands.
My sister and I stayed in the family home in Bloomsbury, central London, with my mother but spent most weekends at my father's rented flat in Primrose Hill, in the north of the capital.
For the first few years of their separation there were also occasional 'truce weekends' which I remember fondly. We'd travel down to our tiny Kent cottage on Friday night, stop for fish and chips on the way and then spend the weekend as a family, drawing pictures or playing in the garden.
BUT these interludes of togetherness never felt strange to us - that was just the way it was, at least until my parents met new partners. To-and-fro children soon become minidiplomats, learning how to smooth ruffled feathers and ease adult jealousies, nimbly avoiding no-go areas and taboo subjects.
I was a naturally shy child but after my parents divorced my shyness intensified. I found it hard not to blame myself in part for their break-up - lots of children mistakenly do - and soon became withdrawn. I tended to hang back, observing the adults carefully, looking for shifts in mood, listening for changes in tone of voice, trying to analyse what was going on beneath the words.
Those skills and my vivid memories from that time have now become part of my work as a writer.
In my new book, Cross My Heart And Hope To Die, I found myself drawn even deeper into the question of family loyalties and dynamics and wondering what makes a family a real family: blood or being there?
I've learnt the answer from my own experiences - after all, I was never in a 'normal' nuclear family again after the divorce.
When I was six, my father met his second wife, but she came as a package deal: Buy One, Get Two Free - her two children from her first marriage.
Becoming part of a stepfamily is a fraught business, especially for children; after all, you haven't picked your own stepmother (unlike in films such as Sleepless In Seattle) and I found it difficult to get on with mine initially.
At first, our new stepbrother and stepsister seemed like alien beings.
They were both extremely tall, blonde, athletic, adventurous and physically strong. In my family, we are typically short, dark, bookish and decidedly unsporty. They went skiing every year to Verbier. We went to Glasgow each summer to stay with our grandparents. They went to posh boarding schools. We went to the local state schools.
My stepsister, the same age as me, was a horse fanatic and had a picture of her pony by her bed at school. At nine, my passions were reading comics, avoiding piano practice and the gorgeous boy in the year above me at junior school. …