My Truth as the Step-Kid
Disclaimer: This is only a partial analysis of my perception of the families that my parents married into and how it affected me. It is not the full story, nor does it represent who people in my family are solely based on my account. I recognize them to still be good people who are simply prioritizing their own lives. They might not think so or care, but I still have respect for each one of them. If you take offense at something I’ve written, take it up with yourself, as I am only speaking for my own experiences from my own point of view. Even if you feel misrepresented, that is really not my problem, because I am writing much of this from the memories and experiences of a nine to seventeen year old girl.
When I was six or seven, I prayed to God constantly that he would give me a brother and sister — at least one of each. Thinking back on it, I probably wouldn’t have minded if I had only sisters instead given my natural inclination toward befriending other girls or feminine presenting people as a child. Now, I have eight siblings — most of which are boys. Every single one of my siblings is by marriage, with the exception of my youngest brother. Still, I’m on good terms with most of my siblings as an adult. I don’t speak to my oldest two siblings, through no fault of my own. No family is perfect. We all took different paths, though I try to be there for each of my four younger siblings, divided evenly in half by the two states I currently call home.
My dad was the first to remarry. When I met my stepmother, circa when I was six or so, I thought she was beautiful. She is, really, to this day. Auburn hair, dark eyes, one of the prettiest smiles I’ve ever seen, easily. I loved her instantly. I also loved my new siblings instantly, too. The day my father told us he was marrying her, we were so happy. I remember my little sister throwing her arms around me in excitement — “we’re gonna be sisters!”
Life stopped being remotely normal for me after that.
The key thing that tainted the beloved image that Little Me painted in my mind of my stepmother: she was a very particular person.
I’ll note that I’m aware every person has their preferences. But my stepmother became a puzzle to me fast. As I grew older, I noticed a stark contrast between the warmth she extended to me versus her own children. She’s always denied it, of course and I’m really not even upset with her about that. I’m not upset with her about anything anymore. I left that part of myself behind. My stepmother was also a peculiar type of Christian lady — the kind that wore long jean skirts and volunteered to run church book sales. She makes a mean buffalo dip but thinks taco seasoning is “zesty”. She comes across as really nice, but when I was younger, I found she could be really mean. Nowadays, I feel like she’s left that part of her behind her, too. We all are striving for something. I’m really not trying to point fingers, so I hope that’s enough for you to decipher what I mean and why our relationship is strained.
I tried to embrace having another set of grandparents to no avail — her father is…questionable at best and her mother seemed disinterested in having another grandchild, always opting to sign her holiday cards to me “Aunt”. My own biological grandparents died within two years of each other. My father and stepmother were married not even for a full year before my pop-pop passed, taking the last vestige of biological grandparents away from me. My maternal grandparents are really not great people, with one being a raging racist who abandoned my mother when she was two and the other being a pedophile. So, here I was at nine years old in the wake of my pop-pop’s death, realizing that with each death of someone I loved, it felt like my world grew smaller and smaller. Here I was feeling unwanted by people who claimed to be my family. I became accustomed to it.
However, I do have to note that my stepmother happens to have wonderful siblings and niblings all the same. I love my cousins, Aunts, and Uncles, as well as my siblings through my stepmother very much. The joy they brought to my life was worth the rockiness between my stepmom and I.
My mom remarried when I was much older, but we had lived with my stepfather and his family for some time. We lived on the third floor of his parents’ house with my five siblings. I was already used to gaining siblings unexpectedly by this point, so I accepted it, though I at first found my new family to be quite odd. I was used to my father and stepmother’s strange dynamic — church, anger issues, silence, happy family. I was used to my mother and I’s dynamic — alone, taking care of each other, fiercely bonded. I was not used to theirs: loud, rambunctious, chaotic, all disinterested and interested in each other at the same time. My stepfather’s children were interesting to me because our interactions were so different than the bonds I share with my stepmother’s children.
These days, I am much accustomed to this dynamic, although I may never really fit into it the way I did as a kid ever again. I’m okay with that, my stepfather’s parents were much like me in that way. We loved the noise, and we relished in it. My grandmother in particular was more outgoing than her husband and I. My grandfather and I would sit in the living room, sometimes by ourselves or with other people. He liked watching westerns. I hated westerns but I didn’t mind watching them with him. He was a very peaceful person to me as I was adjusting to the chaos and he was the first person to really accept me as just another family member. I think to him, he really was happy to accept another grandchild, even if I wasn’t really his. He and my grandmother replaced much of what was missing after my biological grandparents’ deaths. I was shy in the presence of the other children, my new cousins. I took to the others who were quiet like me, because we were comfortable sitting in silence or quietly playing games and joking around in rooms away from all the craziness. I am comfortable around my immediate family; they laugh when people tell them I’m quiet. But the truth is, I’ve had a long life in a short span of time and these days I prefer to remain quietly observant because I feel restrained by my anxiety sometimes and it makes me feel like I’m talking in circles or being irrelevant.
My dynamic with my stepfather’s family was nearly a mirrored opposite of that with my stepmother’s. Where I was close with her extended family and my siblings there, I was not at my stepfather’s. But I was close with him and two of my brothers. I love my stepfather very much, to a point of having conflated him walking me down the aisle at my wedding one day instead of my biological father. My biological father knows that and he hates it. But it’s the truth. My stepfather knows where I come from and he’s always protected me, regardless of my choices. My grandmother does that, too. So did my late grandfather, may he rest in peace. They’ve accepted me for who I am, because my grandparents are not the type of people to shut out a scared young girl who lost a lot at a young age. They made me a part of their family since day one.
Much of my family, particularly my stepfamily is under the impression that I don’t come around because I don’t want to. They’ve also insinuated that I only come around when I want something, but that’s blatantly false. When I lived down south, I tried to call my grandparents and mother frequently. I was not as frequent as I would have wanted to be, however it was because I struggled to find the words to say over the phone. It felt almost impersonal sometimes. I enjoyed visiting Connecticut for holidays because I valued seeing them at least for those times, when we could all be together. As a young adult, I’ve struggled with a myriad of things. I’m not about to trauma-spam you into pitying me because I’m fine and I’ve got the help I need now. But suffice to say, I struggled with a lot and nobody outside of my sister and mother seemed to check up on me. So, I’ve come to realize there’s no reason to force bonds where there isn’t, family or no. I continue talking to the family that I want in my life, but not with any kind of regularity. If getting the help I needed taught me anything, it was that I needed to prioritize ME.
It’s not that I don’t want to speak to my family. But I get caught up in my own life and I think that’s justifiable. We all are adults with things going on. We prioritize time differently. But I support myself and have since I was eighteen, I spent much of my time working when I moved back to Connecticut because I could barely afford my bills. Even now, with more time on my hands, I am resting myself in the wake of a traumatic few months. I keep to a very small circle of friends. I see my family when they are all together because it is more draining to see them individually, especially given how big of a family I have. I have over forty cousins between all four sides of my family, both parents and stepparents. I’d be past the point of spreading myself thin if I tried to chase after every single member of my family begging for a relationship when they are all also busy with their own lives and I’m assuming, don’t often reach out for that reason. It doesn’t mean my love for them is lesser, nor theirs for me. We’re just people trying to find a way to make life work for us. We shut people out, we let people in in. We grow, we shrink. We learn, we forget.
My truth as the stepchild is that I’ve felt ostracized my entire life by parts of my stepfamilies on both sides. Though I came into both families at a reasonably young age, some of the hurt my parents’ marriages allegedly caused somehow fell back on to me. As if I had any control over anything my parents were doing. Hello, I was literally a child?
All I wanted was to be loved by my new families. But I developed my social anxiety at a relatively young age and my quiet nature made me more outcast, especially as I carried it with me into adulthood. I feel like some people, on both sides, resent me for that for whatever reason. They tell me I should come around more, that I don’t get to know any of them. Phones, cars, and Google Maps work both ways. If you’re using my not coming around as a scapegoat for why you’re being unjustifiably rude to me — when I am a perfectly amicable, communicable, tolerant, and open-minded person by the way — then maybe you should have tried harder to do those things first if us not knowing each other was an issue for you.
I’m not saying that to be rude, but I’ve faced an ugly reality as a stepchild — once again, I can’t force myself on people that don’t want me. I learned to not force myself on people as I grew older by extension, because I became insecure in who I was for a long time. It took me well until I was an adult to realize that people didn’t resent me for being brought into the family. Instead, they felt like their biological inheritance from the family made them more superior than me, as if they belonged there more than I did (despite my lack of choice in the matter). They still push that narrative until this day. I don’t understand why I am relevant in some members of my stepfamily’s minds when they clearly are in disdain of my connection to the family. They aren’t relevant to me.
That’s another thing I’m not saying to be mean. I would be open to getting to know them, becoming friends with them. That is beside the point. I only speak to a handful of cousins on all sides and not with any regularity, but we check in on each other occasionally. We accept, support, and love each other very much, but the family I choose to speak to is family that knows that our bonds aren’t tied by codependency. Since becoming an adult, the only other person I’ve relied on outside myself is my mom. I’ve accepted her help, but I am far too proud to ask for or accept it from others. My younger self’s tendency to be emotionally codependent on everyone in my life fueled my need to stop chasing people.
Maybe we don’t see each other as frequently as we should. Our family relationships are not like the movies. Some parts of our family are closer than others, to a point of cliquishness in some cases. We are evidently and transparently dysfunctional as a unit. But that’s okay. My door is truly always open to ALL of my family, bad terms or not. The ones who actually talk to me know that. I hold no hatred nor resentment or unkindness towards any single one person in my stepfamilies; I have fond memories of each of you individually from our childhoods together. But do not place the blame on me for things I had little control over. Do not shame me for my literal personality — if you knew a single thing about me, you’d know I’ve been through it and wouldn’t wish my experiences on my worst enemy. I’ve had to not only survive my trauma but figure out how to live with it every day for the rest of my life. My head is a mess some days. My depression has chained me to my bed for months at a time.
Today I am still taking my life step by step. My only motivation in life is to find my own definition of peace and fulfillment, set only by my own standards and limitations. I don’t care for spending time with people who prefer to spend that time scrutinizing my choices and the way I live my life. My life and my choices work for me and I am content with them. I am not perfect by any means, nor better than anyone else. Nor am I coming from a place of judgement with any of my words. But I have always respected my family members’ choices and supported them quietly from a distance, even the ones I don’t speak to much at all. I’m happy to see my family happy with their children, for example. I personally love babies and the pictures of my cousins’ children that take up my Facebook feed are adorable to me. They make me smile.
I am generally pretty proud of most of my family. I’ve seen growth from many people. I have love for them.
My life is for me, though. I’m entitled to be selfish with my time as I learn to love myself in adulthood. I’m entitled to take all the time I need to learn and grow. I’ll admit I have shame in not seeing my grandfather during his final years but between living out of state and a pandemic, I wasn’t left much of a choice in the matter and I’ve had to forgive myself for that. Though my visits with most of my family, including my grandmother and even sometimes my own mother are infrequent, they are usually hours long. While it isn’t always often, I am still happy to see them and talk to them at those times. I’ve quietly helped my family in need when I could. I know my own heart and know that biological or through marriage, I do not use or abuse my family in any way, and I have nothing to be guilty for. Our relationship may be neglected, but that is far from being solely my fault or responsibility.
This is my truth as the stepchild. I can’t speak for everyone ever that’s been a step-kid, not even my own siblings. The way we all perceive the world is inherently different and not a single one of my siblings and I are truly alike, though we do share many like traits despite our lack of shared biology. Their experiences are their own, better or worse and their stories aren’t mine to tell.
For me, sometimes I loved the bigness of my family. When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a part of all of it. I strived for other people to see me, even when I sat shyly in corners. But I gave too much of myself at a small age to people who didn’t even want me in their family to begin with. I understand their perspective and there’s nothing there for me to forgive, because there was no wrongdoing.
But please forgive me if I’ve tired of playing the pitiful role of the unwanted stepdaughter, stepsister, and stepcousin. Let me be in peace if you don’t want to recognize me as more than that. I am not a punching bag for your childhood trauma or a screen for you to project your insecurities onto. I am not interested in conflict and I’m not open to physically fighting because I’m an avid fan of communication and not being an asshole to people.
As a stepchild, I’m telling every single person with a stepchild in their families to recognize some very important facts of the matter: no matter how we got here, we are here now, and we don’t have a say in the matter. Second, if we aren’t talking, we’re probably traumatized and socially anxious, not stuck up. Third, you don’t get to define our bonds with your biological family members just because you don’t like us. My aunts are still my aunts. My siblings are my siblings. My grandparents are my grandparents. I don’t even use the term “step” outside of clarifying purposes in conversation. My family is my family. My memories of them define who they are to me, not our DNA.