Another Place at the Table

This morning’s SF Chronicle’s Pink Section has an article about the movie “The Other Son,” directed by Lorraine Levy. It’s about two families – one Jewish, one Arab – in the city of Haifa.

It’s a fictional story based on historical events, in this case, the Israeli conflict in 1991. The maternity hospitals had to evacuate, and stories have emerged about infants being given to the wrong families in the aftermath.

“The Other Son” shows us two families who discover they have this problem when the Jewish son has a blood test before joining the air force. I haven’t seen the movie, but here’s what interests me about it: the mothers in both families react to the discovery by setting an extra place at the table.

That’s my take on motherhood, too. To quote Levy,

“…The women are mothers, and if there is a child to be loved – on the other side of the wall – that is still a child to be loved, and the need has to be addressed right away…”

Not every woman will react this way, but for me, a child is a child. Children are not responsible for the faults of their adults, and they should not have to suffer for them. I remember once working with a young woman who had married a divorced man with a daughter from his first marriage. The daughter was 12 years old, and this woman resented her deeply. She told me that she did not want the girl in her life, and how she wished the girl would just go live with her mother and never come over. The girl was needing her first bra and this woman was furious that she had to be the one to handle it.

I could not understand her resentment and I told her so. I told her that the daughter wasn’t responsible for the actions of her parents, that she was an innocent victim of their mistakes. She needed a stepmother who would welcome her, and be a steady, reassuring presence in her life. Resenting the girl was the worse thing this woman could do.

I don’t know if she took my words to heart. I hope so, because what good does it do to create more strife in an already difficult family dynamic? You want to have a peaceful, happy family and life? Then act like it.

My children have a stepmother who loves them, and I have always been grateful for that. My children have a half-sister and I regard her as just another of the bunch. She is as welcome in my home as any of my own. Why would I ever try to exclude her? She is the sister of my children!

This ability to “set another place at the table” is one of the best of human qualities. Whether it’s a step-child, a foster child, or a friend of your child, putting it to daily use in your life will bring a lifetime of positive results and happiness. You may discover the good results reach through many lives and generations.  And you know what? It’s just not that hard to do.


4 thoughts on “Another Place at the Table”

  1. I can appreciate your take on this. For the brief time I was married, I tried to make sure my then-husband was aware his son was welcome to come to our home. Unfortunately, as you mentioned with the example, it is often the adults that add complexities where none are warranted…especially when the kinds had nothing to do with it.

  2. That woman you talked to got good advice. There’s nothing to be gained by being jealous of and resenting a child. I mean, grow up already.

    My own family is very fragmented and my childhood was difficult, but my sister and I could not be closer. My mother raised us so that I was always responsible for her and myself. She’s techincally my half-sister, but that distinction didn’t even occur to us until someone else pointed it out. I have two other sisters and a brother on my father’s side. He married several times after my mother. I think of them all as my sisters and brother and although we are now just getting to meet each other and come together to know each other, I am so happy I have them in my life. I never had the chance to know them before.

    Today, my blood father is both my sister’s and my father. He has always regarded my sister as his own, and we are a happy nuclear family now, even though he has a steady girlfriend. Love can overcome any boundary, barrier or past. Take it from me.

    1. It sounds like you all have a positive view of family and relationships. Really, no matter what else life throws at us, we always have a choice about how we treat our family members. I know some divorces can be bitter and devastating (mine was), but children deserve to grow up around adults who act like adults. As you’ve learned, once the kids are grown up, it’s so good to discover that your siblings, step-siblings, half-siblings, whatever, are also your friends.

      1. I’m sorry to hear about your divorce. My mother’s divorce from my father was very difficult too, and my step-father’s time with my mom was a nightmare.

        Kids are stronger, smarter and more deserving of care and love than adults realise most of the time. But if you are raised by adults who are willing to do the right thing, they will flourish. And it’s really not that hard. Just love them and guide them to do the right thing. More importantly, live what you preach. Kids may not always listen, but they always do what they see.

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