Nobody Asked Me: Thoughts from a Stepchild

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.

I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

Tracy Clifford

8 Responses to “Nobody Asked Me: Thoughts from a Stepchild”

  1. Kay H says:

    Ugh. This makes me depressed. My kids didn’t ask for their father to cheat and move out of the house. I’m hoping he has enough care for them not to introduce his new girlfriend yet. I struggle with the anger at him for doing this to our children. Yes, it shapes them for who they end up as a person but what happens if that’s a different path than what they should have been on? I wish cheater would consider someone other than themselves before they make the horrible decision that they do. If you want out of the marriage, bow out gracefully. Don’t start your new life before removing yourself from your old life.

    • Terry says:

      It’s so true that cheating is hard for your children and parents need to put their kids needs first. In time, your children will gain a better perspective but change is hard for all kids and they may react in negative ways. Approaching your situation with awareness, acceptance, and compassion will help ease the pain for them.I agree with your last sentence “Don’t start your new life before removing yourself from your old life.” Thanks for your comments. Terry & Tracy

  2. Mona says:

    I guess this also applies to “children” who are now 31 and 28? Parents divorced when they were 15 and 18 and they are still unwelcoming to step parents.

    • Terry says:

      The impact of having a stepparent can apply to adults. Certainly how the situation is handled makes a difference as well as their relationship with their other parent. Stepfamily relationships are complicated. I recommend a website called remarried for more information. Regards, Terry & Tracy

  3. Melinda says:

    This was beautifully written…you’ve nailed my own feelings as a stepdaughter. As Terry says, stepfamily relationships are complicated!

    My parents divorced when I was two and my father was mostly absent from my life. My mother had several boyfriends over the years, including one who was very kind to me…I thought of him as a father figure and I was heartbroken when my mother ended the relationship after nearly 4 years.

    She met my stepfather when I was about 14 but they didn’t actually marry until I was about 16. I won’t share all of the details, but I will say that it was years of pure misery. There was a lot of verbal/emotional abuse and psychological torment.
    It only ended when I met my husband, married him, and moved out.

    The title of this piece describes my experience so well. Nobody asked me about my feelings…growing up without a father, my mom hardly ever having much time with me because of work or her busy social life, and then having my life turned upside down when this abusive person (my stepfather) was brought into the picture.

    Sometimes parents don’t realize or consider that when they meet somebody, they need to think about how this could affect the children. They need to ask themselves, will my child adjust to this situation/person? Will my child be happy and feel safe? Will my child still know that they are valued and loved even if I remarry or enter a new relationship?
    Will my partner accept my child and treat them kindly? Does this person have a criminal history? If not, how do they deal with conflict? What are their views on discipline? These are all questions I wish my mother had asked herself before becoming involved with my stepfather.

    There are many wonderful step-parents out there, but there are also many instances of stepchildren being mistreated by their mom or dad’s new partner.
    I’ve heard step-parents complain about being disrespected but very few people try to see things from the perspective of stepchildren. It is painful to have only one parent and then have somebody else threaten that relationship, as well as treating you badly.

    My stepfather was/is extremely anal and rigid about things…I never knew when I would be severely punished, sometimes for things I didn’t even do. I felt powerless very often.
    Nobody asked me either. This is why a blog like this gives me so much hope and reminds me that I’m not alone.

    • Terry says:

      Melinda, We are so glad that Tracy’s blog brought you solace and a sense of being connected to others. Truly you are not alone!
      Best Regards, Terry & Tracy

  4. Melinda says:

    @Mona…I agree with Terry. I am now in my 30’s, my mother remarried when I was about 16.
    You didn’t share many details about the situation but I will say that sometimes it can take a long time to heal and to adjust. Everyone is different.

    I no longer hate my stepfather and I am cordial with him, but we will most likely never have a truly loving relationship.
    You didn’t say whether you are a stepmother or biological parent yourself, so I can’t really offer advice. But I do believe that it isn’t so much about age…it is more about how the situation is handled, as Terry said. Sometimes it takes a while to let go of past issues, whether real or perceived.

    Also, sometimes it is important to see things from both sides. The stepchildren might seem unwelcoming to the step-parent, but they might still be dealing with feelings that time hasn’t healed yet. And if the relationship has been rocky for the most part, that complicates things even more.
    My stepfather has never loved me…he seems to “tolerate” me. We don’t have the bad blood we had when I was younger, but I generally don’t feel comfortable around him. He might feel that I am unwelcoming to him and maybe that is true in some ways. But I think understanding goes both ways. Stepfamily relationships can be tough, but issues can be worked out with mutual empathy and respect.

    • Terry says:

      Hi Melinda, Thanks for your words of wisdom and support! You appear to have a very mature outlook and have learned from experience.
      I hope that you continue to read out blogs and write comments! Regards, Terry

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