Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stepmothers can be MORE loving than a real mum (that's why my stepson chose to live with me)

As a stepfather to three great kids, I can relate to this story. Luckily, I had no stresses like the ones reported below. All the people involved were kind and unaggressive people. And one result is that my stepson (now a man in his 30s) has always got on far better with me than with his own father -- even though his father is a perfectly nice man in my experience of him -- JR

Every woman knows, deep down, that the much-vaunted maternal instinct isn't nearly as 'natural' as society makes it out to be.

In fact in my experience - and I know I will be roundly condemned for this view - this means that some women can even be better at taking care of and understanding a child than his or her own mother.

I am a stepmother - one of a band of much-maligned women who have suffered a bad rap right through history, from the wicked stepmothers of countless fairy tales to TV presenter Christine Bleakley, who is currently wrestling with damned-if-she-does, damned-if-she-doesn’t attempts to integrate herself into the lives of her fiancĂ© Frank Lampard’s daughters.

The latest anti-stepmother brickbat came in last week's Femail, when Kelly Rose Bradford explained that she will never let her son meet his father’s new girlfriend. Kelly wrote acidly about how the thought of another woman ever being a 'parent' to her eight-year-old son left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Her controversial views sparked a phenomenal online response from hundreds of readers condemning her as 'selfish' and 'manipulative' and, in at least one post, suggesting Kelly's child should be removed from her care.

Now, I'm sure Kelly would like me if we met. Beyond the vitriol she directs at her ex's new girlfriend, Kelly seems loyal, smart and kind - attributes many of my friends would also ascribe to me.

And yet, I am Kelly’s worst nightmare, because for seven days a week I am 'mummy' to a child I did not give birth to.

For the last two years, my 15-year-old stepson John has lived full-time with his father Stephen and me. Stephen is a carpenter with his own business, typically working ten hours a day, six days a week.

I run our household and I am raising Stephen's child. John’s mother is allowed access to her son for two weekends each month. There was no fraught custody battle between John's parents - it was all very simple: John just decided he wanted to live with his father and me.

He was seven when his parents separated: it was more than 18 months later that Stephen and I met.

Our early days were full of challenges. For a start, my relationship with John wasn’t always easy. I met him for the first time when he was nine, and remember him playing with his Game Boy throughout my attempts to bond with him over a Coke.

His father, who had made the initial awkward introductions, peered anxiously at us as I tried to make small talk. It was excruciating, so I was lucky that my sister - who is a mother - was there to help make conversation.

If my relationship with Stephen was to go the distance, I had to find a way to get on with John, particularly since Stephen had joint custody then, which meant his son lived with us for one week in two.

Faced with the frightening reality of my new role, I bought virtually every manual published on how to be the ideal stepmum. Do so-called 'natural' mums buy manuals on how to be a good mother, I wonder? I made plenty of mistakes at first. As a TV producer earning a good salary, for example, I showered John with expensive gifts - most of which John told me his mum threw in the bin. Extravagant on my part? Maybe. Unfair to John? Without a doubt.

It was around this time that John developed stress-related problems. During his many days off school - by this time I had gone freelance and spent more time at home - John and I grew closer.

'At times I wasn't sure if his biological mother's behaviour was rooted in genuine concern for her child’s welfare, or was merely an act of jealous spite'

Then Stephen and I got married when John was 11. We were in love - and still are - and beyond happy. The only blight on our relationship was John’s mother.

From the moment I moved in with Stephen and we became a family, I felt she wanted me out of her son's life.

At times I wasn't sure if her behaviour was rooted in genuine concern for her child’s welfare, or was merely an act of jealous spite. Sadly, John witnessed harsh telephone conversations between his parents, hot-headed reactions to emotionally fuelled text messages, and angry scenes at the door during hand-over each week.

As my stepson observed the dubious actions of his mother, he was also developing his own opinions about the situation.

He always turned to me for solace. I mopped his tears, cuddled him until he fell asleep and made his favourite hot chocolate.

The stress of the situation also had a devastating impact on my husband, who visibly aged as he was bombarded with insulting name-calling on change-over day.

My attempts to make peace proved futile. My husband's ex wouldn’t accept me, and refused even to refer to me by my name. Instead she called me 'the tart' - and still does.

We live in France, where the courts deem that, at 13, a child whose parents are separated or divorced is old enough to decide which parent they want to live with. A month before his 13th birthday, John said he wanted to live with us. We helped him engage a lawyer - my husband, his ex and I were not allowed to be party to their discussions - then he had his day in court.

He'd had enough of his mother bad-mouthing his father and interfering in our lives. Perhaps most poignantly of all, John said in his witness statement to the judge that he’d had enough of his mum’s spiteful remarks about me.

The court judgement ruled that John should live with his father and me.

It seems unjust that society regards stepmothers like me with fear and suspicion - especially since we’re on the increase, with nearly one in three households in the UK now a stepfamily.

Biological mothers complain about sacrosanct boundaries being crossed by stepmothers who, they argue, overstep the mark when caring for their children.

But I think they’re just picking a fight out of jealousy. It is ridiculous for biological mothers to claim they're the only ones with the know-how to love and mother their offspring.

In my own family, we've always lived by the belief that it takes a community to raise a child.

I had a happy upbringing: both my parents worked full-time, so I regularly stayed with aunts, neighbours, my uncle and grandmother. Things didn’t change when my parents divorced.

'It is ridiculous for biological mothers to claim they're the only ones with the know-how to love and mother their offspring'

My stepmother and stepfather are, and always have been, two of my biggest allies in life, and my parents wouldn’t have dreamt of imposing draconian restrictions on my relationships with them.

Step-parenting expert Dr Lisa Doodson has some simple advice. She says: 'Stepmums can be hugely beneficial to children, but biological mums can sometimes feel threatened by having someone so close to their children.

'My advice is to stop worrying. Stepmums can be an extra source of support to the children.

'We all have different skills, and children can benefit from having additional adults to guide and support them. Sometimes it can be an advantage for children to have an adult who isn't Mum or Dad, but who they can talk to.'

Don't think I’m gloating or sitting pretty with my ready-made family. I am 40, but for the last five years I’ve had to delay my desire for a family of my own because the situation with John’s mother has been so volatile.

I take my maternal role in John’s daily life seriously and, for me, his welfare and happiness comes first.

Now we have become a solid family. John finally feels secure, and is doing well at school.

It's only now that Stephen and I can think about adding to our family and, fingers crossed, bringing another life into the world.

Meanwhile, I am busy with John. Last year I counselled him through his first romance. If John's mum could find it in her heart to forge a relationship with me, I could share these precious memories with her.

What I probably wouldn't share with her is that it's me who ensures he buys his mother presents at Christmas, and who reminds him to call her on her birthday.

Now and again John has called me Mum, but I don't make a big deal of it. I don't correct him, or tell him not to.

I know he's not my child, but that doesn’t stop me loving and caring for him. A child has one set of biological parents, but I’d argue that I, and many stepmothers like me, bring something very special indeed to the lives of the children we 'inherit'.

And many of us make better mothers than the women who actually go by that name.


The Leftist gospel constantly preached in the schools and elsewhere ("There is no such thing as right and wrong") bears fruit

The other morning I woke to find a voicemail message on my mobile phone, beginning with the words: ‘This is the police station at Charing Cross. As it turned out, the message was to inform me that some honest soul had handed in my sister’s wallet, which she had dropped at Embankment Underground station on her way to her early shift at the BBC World Service that morning.

The police had looked diligently through her business cards, finding mine among them, and since my surname matched the one on Catherine’s credit cards, they guessed rightly that I would know how to get in touch with her.

My faith in human nature was instantly restored, and I felt a stab of guilt at having suspected our blameless boys of having got into trouble.

All the parties concerned had come out of the incident well — from the kind stranger, probably on his way to work, who had gone to the trouble of handing the wallet in, to the police who took such care to see it returned to its rightful owner.

As the cynics (or realists) among you may guess, there’s a depressing sequel to this story. But I’ll keep that until the end.

For now, I’ll just say that after my initial amazement that someone in central London had been honest enough to hand in a bulging wallet, I began to wonder why I should really have been surprised at all. After all, I know that if I found somebody’s wallet, I would certainly take it to the nearest police station.

I would have done so even before my own was stolen by a sharp-suited pickpocket in Rome this summer — when it came home to me what a devastating loss a wallet can be in this high-tech age, when our whole lives are encoded in electronic strips on plastic cards.

What’s more, I’d be 100 per cent happy to bet the entire contents of my new one — restocked with cash and plastic after days spent cancelling and reapplying for everything — that the enormous majority of people reading this article would do the same good turn for their fellow man, without so much as a passing thought to pocketing his property. (Well, perhaps just a nanosecond’s thought before our innate honesty kicked in.)

But it seems that we’re in a shrinking minority, you and I. For a disturbing report from the newly established Centre for the Study of Integrity at Essex University finds that honesty is going out of fashion in modern Britain, as increasing numbers of our fellow subjects think it acceptable to lie and cheat.

In my book, the two most striking findings of the survey are that the under-25s are twice as likely to condone dishonesty as the over-65s — and that while women are slightly more honest than men, integrity in both sexes bears no relation to social class, education or income.

I hope I’m not being too hard on my sons’ middle-class friends when I say that neither discovery surprises me in the least (while the second one should explode once and for all the patronising libel that the poor are more likely to be dishonest than the better off).

To illustrate what I mean, I remember one occasion when several of one of my son’s teenage friends came round to take him off to town for a party. I asked my boy if he had enough money for his train fare and one of his friends told me: ‘It’s OK. They leave the station gates open at this time of night and there’s never anyone around to check.’ He said this in a matter-of-fact way, to a stuffy middle-aged man he hardly knew, as if he was just passing on a helpful tip.

It didn’t seem to occur to him that he was proposing that my son should join him and the others in committing the crime of defrauding the Southern Railway Company of about £25. Or if it did, it simply didn’t occur to him that this was wrong. As far as he was concerned, it was a morally neutral matter — and if there was no chance of getting caught, it would be downright silly to pay.

It’s the same with internet piracy. God knows how many people are at it, each carrying around stolen albums worth hundreds or even thousands of pounds on their iPhones.

To them, it’s a victimless crime — and no doubt countless teenagers will tell you, with a look of insufferable piety, that they support Wikipedia’s protest against U.S. plans to crack down on ‘free information’.

But to those of us, musicians and others, who rely on our intellectual property to feed our families, it doesn’t feel victimless at all. Heaven knows, however, it’s not only the young who seem increasingly unable to spot the difference between right and wrong, between behaving with integrity and not-getting-caught.

Think of the legions of Incapacity Benefit claimants who are miraculously cured as soon as the summons to a medical check drops on to the doormat. Or the swelling numbers of motorists, encouraged by shyster lawyers, who claim for undetectable whiplash injuries after minor car crashes — so pushing up premiums for the rest of us.

As for why the nation seems to be losing its moral compass, I imagine the decline of religion — and with it, the fear of eternal damnation — must have something to do with it. So, too, must the increasing leniency of earthly punishments for dishonesty.

But shouldn’t we also lay much of the blame for its spread on the collapse of integrity in public life? I’m thinking, of course, of the orgy of larceny that was the MPs’ expenses scandal.

I’m thinking, too, of the vast rewards reaped by unpunished bankers for parcelling up bad debts and selling them on to the unsuspecting.

And I’m thinking of the endless lies — from the monstrous whoppers told by Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell when they took us to war against Iraq, to the knee-jerk fibs told by so many MPs, whose first instinct when they find themselves in a hole is to try to lie their way out of it.

But I’m in danger of sounding hideously priggish. Like most of us, I’ve told many a lie in my time, ranging from the white (‘I absolutely love the jumper you gave me’), to the off-white nod to the boss suggesting that, yes, I paid close attention to the Foreign Secretary’s interview on the Today programme this morning.

To be honest, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even bother to hand in a sum of less than £20 if I saw it lying the street. I’d probably just leave it there — and let someone else wrestle with his conscience. But a wallet .... now, that’s different.

Which brings me at last to the sequel to my sister’s tale. When she lost her wallet at Embankment station, it contained just over £40 cash. When she collected it from the police station — you guessed it — the money had gone. I told you it was depressing.


Why I let my son dress like a girl for five years...and why for his sake I put a stop to it

By Lorraine Candy (Editor-in-chief of British Elle magazine)

As a toddler, my son Henry used to sleep in a nightie, after I gave up on trying to wrestle him into pyjamas. Later, he took to calling himself Stephanie, Jean, Olive or, most frequently, Miss Argentina.

His favourite game was wearing his elder sisters’ sequin party dresses while running his imaginary boutique ‘Slinx’ or greeting customers in his hairdressing salon ‘Slapchicks’ (God knows where he got that name from).

Once, aged three, his penchant for dressing as a girl even landed us in A&E, where a patient doctor had to remove Barbie’s earring from inside Henry’s ear canal. ‘Which one is it?’ asked the doctor, meaning which ear. ‘The pink one with gold round the outside,’ he replied.

Visitors to our house assumed I had three girls because he rarely wore boys’ clothing at home. He said he preferred to wear something ‘more comfortable’: dresses, skirts, tights or princess costumes.

At first I let him get on with it, because it seemed to make him happy. My husband rolled his eyes at the sight of his chubby, short-haired boy squeezed into a tutu. ‘He’s just in touch with his feminine side,’ I told him.

But essentially we were in agreement —‘banning’ anything in the early years is the route to rebellion later. So we let him dress as he pleased, and indulge his ‘feminine’ side.

And his love of all things girly started to colour other aspects of Henry’s life too. He refused to go to football club because he didn’t like the uniforms, despite my explanation that even the girls wore the club’s outfit. ‘Shorts are for boys,’ he would protest.

You may assume, from all this, that I’d be in favour of what has been termed ‘gender neutral parenting’ — raising a child as neither boy nor girl, but giving it free rein to express itself in whatever way he or she chooses.

That was the approach taken by Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper. They’re the couple who made headlines last week for raising their five-year-old son, Sasha, as ‘gender neutral’. Like me, they allowed their little boy to dress in girls’ clothes and play with girls’ toys.

But unlike me, it seems Sasha’s parents’ ‘experiment’ formed part of their wider ideology, using it to examine whether ‘boy/girl’ stereotyping could be bypassed altogether.

I know, from my own experience, that some children do not conform to the conventional behaviour expected of their gender anyway. But I know also that there came a time when I had to put a stop to my boy’s ‘girlish’ instincts. I knew it was my duty as a parent to make it stop — for reasons I will come to later.
Little angel? Unlike Lorraine's son, five-year-old Sasha is being raised as 'gender neutral'

Little angel? Unlike Lorraine's son, five-year-old Sasha is being raised as 'gender neutral'

So where had my Henry’s love of girls’ clothes come from? To start with, my husband and I found it hard to understand. I turned to parenting books, they indicated that it was probably because Henry worshipped his two older sisters (now aged eight and nine) and wanted to be ‘in their club’.

Apparently, all children need to ‘belong’; they crave positive recognition as they develop between the ages of three and seven. They seek the approval of their peer group to make them feel secure so they can develop with confidence.

Before he started school, Henry’s sisters were his peer group. Dressing like them was his way into their world, where he felt safe. They wore nighties, so he wanted one too.

When he was a toddler, this was fine. Other toddlers pay no heed to what fellow miniatures wear. But older children do. When Henry was four, I noticed that the older children of some of my friends would laugh at his feminine attire.

I couldn’t bear to watch him run off red-faced to change. Of course, he didn’t fully understand why people laughed at him. But I did. And I began realise how, as he grew older, his cross-dressing would become a habit which enabled others to hurt him. I had to stop that happening.

My husband and I decided to wait until Henry’s fifth birthday in November to break the news to him that there would be no more sequins, no more Slapchicks or Miss Argentina. We tried building up to it gently, mentioning it every now and then so he would know what was coming.

Then one night last November, we packed away his nightie and the dresses for good. ‘From now on, you need to wear boys’ clothes and sleep in boys’ pyjamas,’ I told him.

He was mildly upset but not unduly worried. He didn’t fully understand why he could no longer dress in the clothes he loved, but since starting school in September, he had become more aware of the difference between boys and girls anyway.

‘Can I still do it on special occasions?’ he asked. We said he could — but he hasn’t asked since.

The fact he had a new baby sister helped. ‘These are Mabel’s things now,’ we told him.

Actually, it was me who grieved most. I was sad to say goodbye to the alter ego he’d created (and accessorised so stylishly) with such joy. I think my husband was relieved — and Henry’s two older sisters were pleased that he’d stop ferreting through their jewellery boxes.

Some may see my decision as pandering to convention. But I didn’t make this decision because I was scared of what the future holds for a boy happy in his feminine skin or because I believe cross-dressing is wrong. Remember, I work in fashion.

No, I made this decision because although I truly wish fashion’s liberal and inclusive attitude extended to all other industries, it just doesn’t. Allowing my son to continue down his feminine path would only incur ridicule and hurt.
A video of Sasha Laxton talking about how 'silly' it is to have girls' and boys' colours was put on You Tube by his mother

A video of Sasha Laxton talking about how 'silly' it is to have girls' and boys' colours was put on You Tube by his mother

This is what confuses me about parents like Sasha’s. He has been hailed as an experiment in breaking stereotypes, but who would want to expose their child to possible derision for the sake of their political beliefs?

Yet, they are by no means alone. Last year, the US parents of a five-year-old boy called Dyson wrote a book called My Princess Boy and appeared on live TV with him in a ballet outfit.

He was to be the poster boy for a radical change in gender thinking, they said — as he sat there supremely uninterested in the discussion. Meanwhile in Canada, another five-year-old called Storm is being raised gender neutral. In Sweden they have two-year-old Pop, while one Swedish nursery has instigated a ‘gender neutral’ policy referring to the children as ‘friends’ rather than him or her.

Of course, a more open-minded attitude to gender can be a positive thing — whether in childhood, to counteract Disney’s ridiculous glorification of Cinderella (a world where blondes are good, brunettes are bad and falling in love makes everything better), or in adulthood, to help challenge the ‘gender gap’ between male and female rates of pay in the workplace.

I would happily ban all those wretched pink-frilled dolls that fill the shelves of supermarkets across the land, mini ironing boards and kitchen utensils (who wants to be a indoctrinated into domestic drudgery that early, boy or girl?).

Perhaps if there were gender- neutral schools in every borough then Sasha, Dyson, Storm and Pop would be welcome trailblazers for a new way of thinking. But in the real world, schools separate boys and girls for many sensible reasons.

It’s a huge responsibility for children as young as five to be expected to change this thinking. And a little arrogant of parents, who don’t work in the field of child care or child psychology to assume they can do this through a lone child.

But perhaps the most important point is that many of these attempts to unburden children from the constraints of gender are misguided. Dressing up is what pre-schoolers do. You may think your toddler is striking a blow for feminism or his future right to wear women’s clothing in public but he’s not — he’s just playing a game.

You may think you are giving him the rare freedom of ignoring society’s expectations of his gender but actually he’s just thinking: ‘Whoa, sequins! They look cool’.

No child expert has advocated this as a resolution to gender stereotyping and its consequent inequalities. While they say it’s unlikely to be damaging (as long as the child is not forced to dress a certain way), it probably won’t have the effect these parents desire either.

But we should also remember that in today’s world of rapid, global information, these images of Sasha and all those YouTube videos of Dyson will live for some time. They’ll be there for all to see whether these boys like it or not. They have had no choice in the matter — is that really fair?

Wouldn’t it be better for parents to encourage schools and nurseries to talk more about gender and how it affects their charges as they grow rather than to put such a burden on very young children.

And perhaps more importantly, parents like Sasha’s should remember these precious early years belong to their children, not to them.


Israel's shameless Arabs

Arab parliamentarians endorse tyrants, terrorists while slamming 'undemocratic' Israel

“The shahid is honored throughout the history of nations. He is the one who blazed the trail for us. No value is more noble than martyrdom," Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi waxed poetic a few days ago on the occasion of “Palestinian Martyr Day.” Of course, he did not forget to present the obvious flip-side, whereby in Israel “the real terrorist murderer is considered a hero or a minister.”

Immediately after that, Tibi made sure to make it clear to all his fans that "Israelis are ignorant with regards to the term 'shahid' and misunderstand it. It refers to anyone who was killed by the occupation for the homeland or died for a national cause." That is, there is the active, bogus type of martyr, who seeks to slaughter as many Jews as he can. Then there is the real martyr, the passive, noble type, the most amazing and glorious of all human beings, which only incurable Israeli ignorance fails to appreciate.

Former Palestinian leader Arafat apparently only referred to them, the passive martyrs, when he spoke of Shahids, just like his former advisor Tibi, who did the same while serving in Israel’s Knesset.

The Talmud says that when a person keeps repeating an offence, it’s as though he receives permission to keep doing it. And so, Mr. Tibi can praise the qualities of the martyr while at most prompting weak journalistic protest, and then go back to that same Israeli media in the role of Dr. Tibi and express his amazement about the very question regarding his right to endorse Shahids.

Tibi can also slam others as if he was the lowliest chauvinist, while hurling crude sexual hints at MK Anastasia Michaeli, and at the best prompt a minor reprimand from the media and from various women’s rights groups, which on normal days would harshly slam any harm done to women, by certain men that is.

Gaddafi's friends

Similarly, Hanin Zoabi and other Arab parliamentarians can put their trust in the guardians of Israeli democracy in the media, High Court, academia and the cultural world every time they write a forward to venomous anti-Semitic books, as Zoabi just did in her forward to anti-Semitic British writer Ben White’s book. These Arab MKs also board various Gaza-bound ships or visit Hamas leaders or enlightened Arab rulers such as Gaddafi, may he rest in peace.

Indeed, Arab MKs use these opportunities to talk about Israeli injustice, the apartheid regime adopted there, and the racism that has spread everywhere. Mostly, they explain in their visits to such models of democracy like Hamas or Libya how un-democratic Israel is.

Yet nonetheless, even if only a handful of Israel’s Arabs crossed the lines (for example, “only” some 200 Arab Israelis were involved in terror attacks in the years 2001-2004 that claimed the lives of 136 Israelis,) the vast majority of the Arab sector regularly votes for the same representatives, who view the eradication of the Zionist enterprise and Jewish State as their utmost mission, while serving as members in the Jewish State’s parliament.

Still, we’ll always find the good Jews among us who will keep explaining to us that the involvement of Arab Israelis in terror, their hugely disproportionate share of crimes (in 2011, Arabs were involved in 67% of murders in Israel,) illegal construction or road accidents is all our doing. We are the ones who sinned and mistreated the Arabs. We are the ones at fault, rather than Tibi, Zoabi, or any other Arab victim.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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