The Bonus Child (navigating being a step-child)

Boy being held up by his father and looking at his mother. Father and son smiling

The Bonus Child (navigating being a step-child)

Never did I think that at 27 I would have been a single mother.

I mean, I didn’t really have a 5 year plan I proudly referred to from time to time.  But being up the duff without a partner was a nice shiny spanner thrown in to any kind of life goals I may have ruminated over in my twenties.  Lucky my parents are such extraordinary humans and did not even consider disowning me for pro-creating out of wedlock (ethnic children represent).

But there we were – 2010; Jensen and I tackling the world together albeit with a ton of naivety and a shitload of “it will all work out” vibes (hopefully). The story of Jensen’s bio dad is not novel or exceptional in any way.  He was a one night stand, we were never together and once parenthood was suddenly on the table, he decided to opt out completely from both our lives.  I guess some people just aren’t ready to be parents or ready to put the needs of someone ese first; better to know that upfront than be horrendously disappointed down the track.  My anger has long since subsided about the decisions he made.  At the end of the day, they are his decisions and he had his reasons.  I only ever wanted what was best for Jensen.  I never wanted to feel like I let him down because I didn’t have a team mate raising him (hence why I moved across the country from QLD to give him a foundation with my family).

I like to think that I nailed being a single mother, 70% of the time anyway.  But there did come a point when that ache for companionship tugged at the corners of my heart and I knew that the world of dating with a tiny human sidekick would not be a smooth mission.  How could I be sure that someone I let into my life was going to love Jensen?  Would they ever full comprehend that Jensen would come top of the totem pole?

Fast forward to 2014 and I had fallen deep for a man with his own tiny sidekick.

A man who understood my juggle completely but was willing and ready to be a role model and be someone Jensen could count on. He didn’t hesitate.  And neither did I.  We both knew each other’s worlds and being bonus children ourselves (thank you to my friend Mardee for coining this term for me) – gaining a bonus child was not even a blip on the radar.

We all know the stories and hear the excerpts from friends, functioning as a step-parent/bonus parent can be fraught with challenges, frustrations and a chasm of uncertainty.  But honestly, that pales in comparison to how it feels to be a step kid/bonus child.  I remember growing up and never really understanding my place in the world; never really knowing truly where I fit in and desperate for that reassurance and that wasn’t necessarily through anyone’s actions or inactions.

My husband is also a bonus child so we are both extremely familiar with how the narrative goes.

The blending of families is not always seamless.  There is a world of emotion lying in wait beneath the surface and that can unknowingly spill over and affect the family dynamic.  Some people nail the blended life and some people never really master the balance. But at the core of it, I have come to recognise completely that bonus children never asked for any of this; they never asked to be the pieces in a puzzle that had not quite fit together.  They hadn’t asked to be the subject of decisions that they had no control of.

So with that script always echoing through my head, I worried that this longing I felt growing up was something that I had recklessly bestowed upon Jensen.  More so, my Father (Poppy), who was low key obsessed with his first grandbaby, was always concerned that Jensen would never feel complete and wouldn’t be looked upon as part of any family that I created.  Dad was a worrier– it often seemed to be one of his favourite pastimes.

In 2017, around the time I was 4 months up the duff with our little glue baby, Doug shocked the heck out of me by asking to adopt Jensen.

For the record, there was NEVER any request nor expectation from me for this to happen.  This was all Doug’s idea and when I asked him why, he answered, quite simply, that it was because he wanted Jensen to always know where he belonged.  It took 4 years of paperwork, applications, assessments, home visits, consents, etc etc.  4 long years but for one spectacular goal.  And in April this year, this tiny bit of paperwork with a Family Court seal, completely inconspicuous, landed in our mailbox.  It stated that Jensen was now legally my husband’s son; cue new Birth Certificate and all.

Sure it’s not a step available to a lot of families given the parenting dynamics and I know that it may seem trivial to a lot of people.  What does one tiny bit of paperwork even mean?  But for our family, it meant a shifting that was almost imperceptible but which gave this overwhelming sense of togetherness, of unity.  For Jensen – it meant acceptance and surety and he proudly decided to (and has) double-barrelled his surname (crazy child – there will never be enough boxes on any form) to pay tribute to not only his current family but also to the family that he was born into.  In his words – he could never give up the name that was his Poppy’s (insert hideous cry face right here).

I never told my Dad about any of this.

My obsession with surprises resulted in a situation where Dad passed away (May 2020) before the Order could be made final; before I could tell him about our plans.  I will regret that for all my days I think.  But I will put this out into the universe in the hopes that the message is somehow received.  Dad, wherever you may be, I hope you can rest easy knowing that Jensen is ok.  He will never ever have any of the familial doubt that plagues so many bonus kids; he will never wonder about where his place in the world lies.  He will always know exactly where he belongs – and it’s right here with us and two extended families who love him endlessly.

So to OUR amazing, empathetic, strong willed and resilient son – Happy 11th birthday Jensen (shit I feel old).  We could not be more proud of the young man you are becoming or more grateful for the lessons that you have taught us along the way.  We love you xx

**NOTE -All the love to West Creative for the featured image and Shoshana Kruger Photography for the images below** 

Mom and son holding each other and laughing

My sidekick and me

Father and son next to each other

A boy and his Dad

boy in white shirt and blue jeans with glasses smiling

Our Son

Dilhari Mahiepala

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