I came across therapist Mary Kelly’s blog, “Nobody Asked Me: The Plight of the Reluctant Stepchild” on Huff Post Divorce, and it really struck a chord with me. In her blog, Kelly describes the main problem she sees with stepchildren in her office is that they didn’t choose their circumstances. They didn’t want their parents to separate in the first place, they didn’t want their parent(s) to remarry, and they didn’t welcome the myriad changes that came with the remarriage(s). Kelly’s blog rings true to me because it’s exactly how I felt growing up in a divorced home.
My parents divorced when I was eight. My mom remarried when I was ten. My half-sister was born when I was twelve. In between all of that I was moving between two houses, enduring changes at school, and my dad was also engaged in a permanent relationship with the woman who later became his wife. These were a lot of changes for a kid to go through. My parents did an admirable job helping me through it, but it didn’t change the fact that I was angry. I remember telling my parents many times: “I didn’t ask for any of this.”
Feelings of powerlessness and lack of control are hard for any person to take. It’s especially difficult for children who are still developing and lack the emotional maturity of an adult. At the age of twenty six, I can look back at my childhood with perspective and feel very lucky to have had parents who were, and still are, devoted and loving towards me. Their decisions may have been hard for me to deal with at the time, but looking at them from an adult perspective, I understand why they made them.
It is alarmingly clear as you become an adult that there are countless things that happen to you that are both unwanted and unexpected. Your husband cheats on you. You didn’t ask for that. You get laid off from your job. Didn’t ask for that either. Maybe a good friend betrayed you or you lost a close relative due to an accident or illness. There are countless events people experience each day that belong in the category of “Life Isn’t Fair.” It’s a tough pill for anyone to swallow, but when a traumatic event like a divorce happens, it’s harder for children to understand.
In an ideal world, each member of a family should feel safe. They should believe that each member of the family is making decisions that will benefit everyone. The breakup of a family can’t be compared to the loss of a job or a similar traumatic event, because it’s personal. In a child’s mind, the people they trusted the most to take care of them have let them down. There are few pains that go deeper and wider in this world.
In addition to feeling powerless and telling my parents, “I didn’t ask for this” I had it in my mind that life would be better when I was an adult. Especially as a pre-adolescent, adulthood represented the greatest freedom to me. I knew that being raised in a divorced home and becoming part of stepfamily was a fate that was being forced upon me. As an adult, I believed I could live anywhere I wanted, travel anywhere I had in mind, take any job I desired, and spend time only with the people I wanted to. While it’s true adults have more autonomy than children, my pre-adolescent musings were far from realistic.
I know now that adulthood is full of compromise, full of wonderful experiences you don’t always deserve, and equally full of unpleasant ones you never expect. I know that human beings are frail and imperfect, and that sometimes bad decisions are made. Although I’m an adult with all the “freedom” I ever wanted, my life today is the sum total of all my choices – good and bad. I have hurt others and they have hurt me. There are so many things I didn’t ask for. But I know that blaming myself or anyone else for any number of unintended outcomes in my life doesn’t serve anyone. And so I learn to accept myself and others, despite mistakes and failings.
As a reluctant stepchild I said, “Nobody asked me.” I wish I could give my younger self, and all unwilling children of divorce a gift that only time can give them – perspective.
Tracy Clifford is a non-fiction writer who specializes in relationship issues, divorce, and stepfamilies. Tracy and her mother Terry Gaspard offer a healing community for adults dealing with divorce on their website Moving Past Divorce. She is also a blogger for Huffington Post Divorce. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.