The (Step)Parents of Downton Abbey (or, There’s Always More than Enough Love to Go Around)

In Advice & Inspiration, Kids & Family by Erica

Full disclosure right up front, (step)moms. I love Downton Abbey. I love period films and TV series, well, period. But I LOVE Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey has been there for me – through separation and divorce, through my transition back into single womanhood, through dating, through relocation and remarriage, and through my journey into (step)mommyhood. The Crawley Family has seen me through my best and worst moments [worst moment: eating an entire extra-large box of white pizza and drinking a whole [also extra-large] bottle of Chardonnay while sobbing uncontrollably into the fur of my less-than-pleased tabby cat about my recent separation]. So, as the final season of Downton has come to a close (WHY, JULIAN FELLOWES, WHY?!), it seems only right that I dedicate a blog post to the Crawleys. Because, as Samantha Jones once said [in an equally addicting though not quite period piece], “Attention must be paid.”

I’m not certain why this never crossed my mind before, but as I was watching the finale episode of Downton, it dawned on me – Mr. Carson is Lady Mary’s (step)father. I’m gonna pause here for the uninitiated. Mr. Carson is the Butler at Downton Abbey, which means he is at the top of the pecking order of the “downstairs” set at Downton. Lady Mary is Lord and Lady Grantham [or , Mr. and Mrs. Crawley, if you’re nasty]’s oldest daughter – and, as it happens, heir to the estate. [Also, (step)moms, I realize I’m about to talk about a (step)father-daughter relationship in this post, but stay with me!]

At the turn of the last century, it was commonplace for children of the British aristocracy to be raised, in part, [or, as we might define “raising a child” today, perhaps entirely] by nannies, governesses, butlers, etc… It was simply “what was done.” So, it isn’t difficult to imagine that as these children grew older, they would develop feelings of love and parental attachment towards their nannies, governesses, butlers, etc… AND that they maintained and nurtured these feelings of real love and parental attachment while – wait for it -STILL loving their (biological) mothers and fathers.

This certainly holds true in the case of Lady Mary and Mr. Carson. Mary loves Carson as she does her (biological) father. She looks to him for advice, she cares deeply about his opinion of her [which, for Lady Mary, is saying something], and she makes his welfare a priority. Mr. Carson, in turn, cares for Lady Mary as he would for his own (biological) child. His love for her is apparent from the very beginning of the series. He is a constant advocate, source of support, and yes, father (figure) to Lady Mary, and it is clear the connection between them began in Mary’s childhood. However, Mary’s connection to and love for Carson certainly doesn’t diminish the love she feels toward her (biological) father, Lord Grantham. And this is just one such relationship in Downton Abbey. To name a few more: Mr. Barrow and Mary’s son, Master George [dear LORD, all of these titles are tedious!], Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, and the fact that both (spoiler alert!) Mary and Edith’s future husbands have decided [by the close of the series] to wholeheartedly undertake an official (step)parent role. And, given Julian Fellowes obsessive attention to detail [which I greatly admire], we can only assume that many real-life butler-child, nanny-child, governess-child relationships were similar to the one portrayed through the characters of Lady Mary and Mr. Carson.

So, where am I going with all of this? As it turns out, children – all of us – have an infinite capacity for love. We do not, as human beings, have a finite amount of love in our love tanks. We don’t only possess enough love for one mother (figure) or father (figure). We can, in fact, love – fully – as many mothers and fathers as we are lucky enough to be gifted with in this life. (Step)mothers, (step)fathers, aunties, uncles, mother and father (figures) of all kinds – we all know this to be true! My question is – why is this more easily understood through the lens of a period drama than it is through the real-life (step)mother-child / (step)parent-child relationships that blossom all around us every day? Why is it that some (biological)mothers – and some (step)mothers too! – feel the need to be greedy about a child’s love?

This is a public service announcement: your child will not run out of love. They will withhold love ONLY IF they are taught to withhold it. Only if this is modeled to them by an adult. And why on earth would anyone want to teach a child to withhold love [selfish folk, aside]? Amirite, (step)moms? But you get my point. There is no need to be greedy about love. No shortage in our children’s love tanks. In our OWN love tanks. We have a built-in capacity to give love infinitely. And that’s a truly amazing thing. Remember that, (step)mom, the next time someone deigns to tell you that you’re not your (step)child’s real mother, or that it is inappropriate for you to love your (step)child, or for she or he to love you. Hold your head high, take a deep breath, channel your inner Maggie Smith, and tell that person that there’s simply more than enough love to go around. [Then turn sharply in the other direction and walk the fuck away – all badass and shit – Lady Violet style!]

And to you, lords and ladies of Downton Abbey, “upstairs” and “downstairs” folk – and you, Julian Fellowes – thank you for helping me to remember that I, too, have an infinite capacity for love. Especially when I needed it the most. You’ll be greatly missed.

Pair with Sherry -just Sherry – and maybe your finest dressing gown.

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own.