Think Fifty Shades of Grey's Anastasia Steele is an innocent? "Laters baby," as Christian Grey would say. Since her character is a child of divorce, her innocence would have been stripped long before meeting the bondage loving billionaire. Yet the pain of her mother's divorces taught her skills that helped secure and hold modern literature's most coveted guy. Yes, pleasure can come from pain.
One of the rarely discussed benefits from divorce is how kids may become more elastic in accepting and defining love. Since 1974, 1 million children a year start shuffling between parents. They learn to adapt to different household chores, food choices, curfews, and yes of course that buzzword with Christian Grey: rules. This experience, so often painted in negative tones, can have positive outcomes, giving kids the tools to navigate unfamiliar territory and not be as handcuffed -- pardon the pun -- by convention.
This is why my inner goddess is clapping in delight that author E.L. James activated our sleeping libidos, sparked the desire for email flirting and created compelling characters whose family loyalties are not linked by blood.
In the blockbuster trilogy, Anastasia's mother Carla has been married four times and lives in Georgia with her new husband, Bob. Yet Anastasia chose to live with Ray Steele, her stepfather from her mother's second marriage, This "defies" many stereotypes of divorce. How many stepchildren actually live or even maintain a relationship with their stepparent when the biological parent divorces?
John Mayoue, an Atlanta based family law attorney who has represented Chris Rock and Jane Fonda among others, says this literary depiction is becoming more reality than fantasy since "between 30 and 40 percent of all stepchildren will go through a divorce of a custodial parent."
As a result, many stepparents are asking for custody and visitation rights for the kids they helped parent. "Courts are starting to look beyond the biological relationships and consider the psychological ones," he says. "The state statues are broadening to give stepparents more standing." ("Stepping in to Parent: The Legal Rights of Stepparents," Family Advocate, Vol. 25)
Call that progress since the stepparent's influence on a child can be far reaching.
In describing her stepfather, Anastasia says, "Ray has been my constant through all Mom's romantic ups and downs. We have a special bond that I treasure. Even though he's my stepdad, he's always treated me as his own." In fact, it was Ray who attended her college graduation, not her mother who had to tend to her new husband's sore foot.
Furthermore, it is Ray who armed Anastasia with essential skills to move the plot line. As an ex-Army guy, he taught her to drive, be calm under pressure, shoot guns and love a range of music. When Christian sweeps her into his arms for an impromptu dance it is Ray's favorite song, "Witchcraft" that is playing.
As a reward, Anastasia takes care of Ray when he is in an accident which researchers say parallels a current trend.
"From a stepparent's standpoint, you can earn family status by being good to the child in contrast to the parent who isn't present and loses status," says Lawrence Ganong, Professor and Co-Chair, Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri. "Loyalties are not based on old rules that blood is thicker than water. Care is going to be based on who loved me best, who treated me as a family member."
Adam Davey, Associate Professor of Public Health at Temple University and Director of the Doctoral Program in Health Ecology, conducted a study which found that stepkids "were half as likely to provide assistance to stepparents than biological kids towards their parents." However, like Anasastia's situation, if a stepparent lived with a child before the teenage years, the outcomes were more positive because the relationship became as close as a biological parent. According to Davey, thirty percent of all children living in the U.S have spent some time before they are adults living with a stepparent and 60 percent of adults will have lived in a stepfamily household during their lives either as an adult or child.
In the same way Fifty Shades of Grey has caused a consumer stampede for books, classical music -- CD coming out next month -- erotic toys and a Hollywood guessing game in who will play the leads in the upcoming movie, perhaps the trilogy will also spark the imagination of other writers.
The role of a stepparent is not often depicted with such love and affection. I would wager that a stepfather's steady support opened Anastasia up to someone like Christian who wasn't a predictable lover. Lucky her. As one Huffington Post blogger noted, someone brilliant, gorgeous, and devoted who wants to protect and take care of you -- sign me up.
In one memorable line, Christian Grey says, "There's a very fine line between pleasure and pain. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other."
Oh yes. There is truth to this. Many kids of divorce understand intimately how emotional scars can damage but don't have to disfigure. Anastasia trusted the chemistry she had with Christian to eventually unlock sealed doors and peel away the covers of his wounded psyche. More importantly, when those naked emotions are exposed, she didn't run away. Baring his soul, he could deal with his wounds because she both loved and understood him. Isn't true love less about compatibility and more about being accepted for exactly who you are? For those of us who have experienced divorce, we know a secret. We don't' expect perfection. Imperfection can be dazzling and provide unexpected rewards.