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Ask Dr. C: Step-Families: Part 2 – The Day I Gave My Dad Away

Today we hear from someone who has gone through her own step-story:

My mom and dad divorced when I was 8 years old. Over the next nine years, they tried several times to ‘make it work’.

The ups and downs of that cycle were painful, but also filled me with a sense of hope that somehow, someday – my family would eventually get put back together again. I know now that is part of the reason why, when in 2002 my Dad told me that he had proposed to his new girlfriend, I was absolutely devastated. I felt so heart-sick, so broken inside over the finality of the decision he had made – I knew in that moment that my dream of getting ‘my family’ back was lost for good. I let the pain of that realization take over and that is when I decided to be angry.

Summer of 2002 – that was when I gave my Dad away.

Except it didn’t feel like it at the time. In my eyes, he was taken from me. From us. Stolen. Hijacked, even. Like ‘Invasion of the Body-snatchers’ — except worse, because he wanted to go.

The day my Dad re-married, he got a whole new family. His new wife and her three kids moved with him into a big, beautiful house in a big, beautiful suburb.

My Dad was really kind about everything. Over the years since then, when ever I look back, I can see all of the ways he tried to dull the pain of the transition for me. He never missed any of my softball games or swim-meets. He came to every important event I can remember. If I needed anything he was just a phone call away. He included me in the wedding plans, vacation plans and whenever I visited, he tried to make it as clear as he could that I was at home. All that he wanted was for me to understand that this was now my family too. But it didn’t feel that way to me.

This new house was my ‘home’, too… except it wasn’t.

None of my things were there. My mom wasn’t there. It was full of people and habits and customs that weren’t mine. I didn’t even have my own room – when my brother and I visited, we slept on the couch or on the floor in one of our new siblings rooms. It seemed like they had all the things my brother and I wished we could have, but couldn’t afford: a pool, the newest gaming systems, big family vacations, etc. It seemed like there was so much ‘happy’ in that house, sometimes it made me sick.

These kids were now my ‘brothers and sisters’, too… except they weren’t.

We really didn’t have any huge problems getting along outside of what normal kids deal with from time to time. The real problem for me was how jealous I was of what they had that I didn’t. They got to keep my dad. He was living with them, in the same house. Cooking their meals, tucking them in, teasing them, tickling and playing with them. Getting to know them. Loving them. And I was just an outsider. I went home and my dad wasn’t there. I felt like I didn’t matter anymore. He had gotten his second-chance. Everything that was screwed up about what was once our family, he now got to ‘do over’ again with them – only better.

This woman, this stranger, was now my ‘Mom’, too… except she wasn’t.

For a long time, I resented my Dad’s new wife. I know now that it really didn’t have as much to do with who she was, how she acted, or really anything about her, personally. When I was honest with myself, I actually really liked her. She was sweet, bubbly, fun to be around, and she genuinely seemed to care about me. My resentment and anger towards her had everything to do with what she represented to my dad. He chose her and not my mom; and they were happy. They were the kind of happy I wanted for my dad and my real mom.

It got to a place for me where being happy for them, or while I was with them felt like a betrayal – a betrayal to my Mom and to everything I had once hoped for. Being happy for them made me feel guilty, but being angry at them made me feel guilty too.

The next year, I went on my first Lovely Experience and I learned about forgiveness. I chose to forgive my Dad that day – for giving up on ‘our family’, for leaving me and my brother, for loving other people better than how I felt he had loved me. The moment I forgave him, I realized something that had crossed my mind before, but until that moment, never really sunk in: My Dad was hurting too. We all were.

I was so busy being angry – trying to hold on to everything I had lost – that I couldn’t see anything outside of the black vortex of my misery. I couldn’t see anyone else’s pain but my own.

I decided to be thankful for what I did have and to start loving the people who were in my life – all of them – right where they were at.

Now, ten years later, I can truly say that my family and I are happy.

I still hate divorce. There are times when I still feel the ripple-effects of coming out of a ‘broken-home’. But those strangers who came alongside of me on that summer day in 2002 are very much my family now. I can’t imagine my life without them. We love each other, protect each other, rush to each-others side when there is a need or someone has been hurt. There is not much I wouldn’t do for any one of them. It’s almost as if they have always been a part of me.

The biggest lesson I learned through adapting to life with my step-family, is that although we cannot always choose the things that happen to us, we can choose what type of person we will become.

The day I chose to stop being angry, was the day that I chose to look forward instead of backward. I chose to become a person who builds, instead of one who tears down.

I’m married now, with two children. I can understand much more clearly now how painful it must have been – for both of my parents – to have to help my brother and I through that season of our lives. They had their own pain to deal with, but they still managed to love us and give up so much so that we could have more. I will always be grateful for that. My husband and I are choosing to be the kind of people who will do the same for our kids. We know that each day we choose to lay down anger and put on forgiveness in our marriage, is another day we protect our children from the heart-ache that we both knew as kids. It means another day of saying to them and to each-other, “This is your home, it’s safe here, you belong and we love you. We’re not going anywhere.” 

Together, we are building the family that I have always wanted – and it’s lovely.

~ Erika

Is Erika’s story anything like your own?

There is hope, Lovelies.