'In praise of the wicked step-parents'

Monday 13 January 2014

"By a strange coincidence a friend gave me five books by Elizabeth Jane Howard this Christmas. I'd been searching for them in book shops but the first four volumes of the Cazalet Chronicles were written in the 1980s and early 1990s, making them hard to find so I was delighted with my gift." writes Judy as she discusses the often untold success stories of step-parenting in the Daily Express.

The strange coincidence is that on the very day I began re-reading The Light Years, the first book about the Cazalet family, Elizabeth Jane Howard died. She was 90, and had published the fifth, final volume All Change in the weeks before her death.

Howard's death resulted in various newspaper articles about her extraordinary life, including her unhappy marriage to novelist Kingsley Amis, which thanks to his infidelity and heavy drinking ended in a bitter divorce.

By marrying Kingsley she became step-mother to his three children, including the now hugely successful writer Martin Amis.

Martin wrote a touching article about Jane (as he called Howard) last weekend. He recalled how she transformed him from a sullen, "semi-literate wastrel" of a teenager to a scholarship-winning Oxford undergraduate.

It's good to hear a positive story about step-parenting. Taking on the task of bringing up someone else's children is one of the bravest things any adult can do.

Step-mothers get a worse press than step-fathers (think Snow White) but there are plenty of horror stories about step-dads too. Many cases of the worst kind of child cruelty are attributed to them.

Nevertheless I owe my own domestic harmony to a step-dad: Richard. When he and I got together back in 1984 I already had two little boys from my first marriage.I told Richard from the start that I came in a three-pack and he willingly took us all on.

Read the full column at express.co.uk and keep up to date with all of their latest articles here.
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  • How refreshing to read about step-parenting in a positive light. battling (and I use that word deliberately) with step-parenting from numerous angles, including having 50% custody as a step-parent myself, is a challenge. How about raising the profile of step-parent adoption? This is increasingly common, yet there is a dearth of information about it - so much so, that when my own grandson was to be adopted by his step-father and the judge said the three-year old had to be informed of all the circumstances, I could find nothing written as guidance for adults telling children - even the social workers didn't have anything - so I wrote a book about it for children: Aaron's Adoption. I'm pleased to say that the step-parent/adoption world of which my grandson found himself at the centre, has resulted in an extremely positive and joyful life for him.

    Julie O'Donnell