When I say it out loud it kind of leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. I feel a sharp pain in my chest, my breathing tenses a little, and I begin to feel my mind try to "change the subject" on me. I would rather not think or talk about it, but as time has gone on, I begin to realize there are more and more people I'm coming across who are going through the same exact thing I am. I was always quite deeply scarred by my mom and dad's divorce, that happened when I was two years old. The best thing that came out of the divorce was my stepparents. I honestly have the world's greatest stepmom and stepdad, my world wouldn't be the same without them.
My dad got divorced a couple of years ago. To be honest, I had expected it. My stepmom and dad were anything but happy. There was tension in the house, my brother wanted them to divorce, and I had imagined what it would be like from time to time. Even though I expected that their marriage would come to an end, when it did, it left me a bit numb. The funny thing was, I didn't realize how numb I actually was until the wave of emotions hit me like a brick wall almost a year and a half later.
I remember the first time I met my stepmom. I was four, almost five. She had come over to my dad's apartment and we colored in my favorite unicorn coloring book. At the tender age of four, I was still trying to comprehend that my mommy and daddy were divorced. I remember crying every single time there was a pick up/drop off. I remember wondering why my mom didn't come with me and dad on weekends. Here is the thing though, when Shelia came around, life was different, she was fun.
Sure, Shelia and I had our ups and downs over the years. I remember one time we had an argument about something and I told her "It's not like you're really my mom or anything." Looking back, I'm ashamed of some of the things I said to her and thought when I was much younger. Truth be told, my stepmom was one of the biggest blessings of my life. When I was seven years old, she gave birth to my little brother-- my only blood related sibling. She not only expanded my family by giving me a brother, but her entire family accepted me as one of their own. Because of her, I now had another uncle and two more aunts, and two amazing grandparents who loved me from the moment they met me.
I remember when I was nine or ten years old, wondering if my dad and step mom would stay together forever. I feared they would get a divorce, just like my mom and dad. I feared the loss of my brother and new family. My dad and her always, always, always assured me that even if they got a divorce someday, that my brother and new family would always be mine.
Flash forward about ten years to when I realized that their marriage was over. I was angry with both of them for so many reasons, but because I was an adult, I also had an understanding as to why this was really happening. Right before I found out I was pregnant with my son is when they finally separated. To be honest, my brother and I were relieved. We both thought, Finally they can both be happy.
My dad moved on first. I didn't accept it very well, mostly because in my mind, no one would ever be my stepmom. My brother, however, was much more open minded than I was at the time. I kind of pushed the idea to the back of my brain because I didn't have to deal with it too often because I lived out of state. I was honestly looking forward to having some girl time with my stepmom. We had it all worked out, I would stay with her when I drove from Virginia to Michigan to attend my Naturopathy classes because she had an extra room at her house. I enjoyed staying up late and just talking. Having a step mom was kinda cool when you were older, they could be a parent and a friend all at the same time.
For a few months, I didn't really feel the effects of my dad's divorce, aside from the occasional awkwardness, that was until my stepmom moved on.
When I was ten weeks pregnant, I found out that my stepmom was moving on.
My brother called and told me, I was thrilled at first. In my head I imagined her dating occasionally. I didn't expect that this guy she was dating was going to be THE GUY for her. My grandparents were smitten by him. My grandmother and I spent quite a bit of time on the phone talking about this new relationship. Things changed quicker than I was expecting though. They moved in together pretty quick with the thought of "why wait, we're adults". The room that I once stayed in was now filled with her boyfriend's teenage daughter's clothes. I accepted this because I was happy for my stepmom. I did my absolute best to be supportive, after all for twenty years she had been supportive of me. When friends would comment to me about how "weird" it was that my stepmom and I were still close, I would calmly explain to them that there are three categories to blended families according to the University of Missouri researchers:
“never claimed” (those who never embraced their stepparent as a family member), “unclaimed” (those who considered the stepparent to be a parent figure during the marriage, but not afterward) and “claimed” (those who continued to consider their ex-stepparent as a family member after the divorce).
I felt that my stepmom and her family were claimed to me, and I was claimed to them. My mom, stepmom, and mother-in-law threw me a beautiful baby shower in the midst of this shift. The shift was obvious but my stepmom continued to remind me that she still loved me. I will admit, there was a lot of panic on my end. I was pregnant, hormonal, and wondering how this was going to effect me and my unborn child. I wanted him to have the family I had growing up. I wanted him to know the amazing people that did so much for me. Later that weekend that I met the girls and my stepmom's new man. I knew when I saw them together that this was the man for her and it was only a matter of time. A few weeks later, they were engaged.
It felt liked I blinked and then I was getting ready for her wedding. This was one of the hardest things I ever did. I cried on the way to the wedding and felt a heaviness in my chest. We had a moment right before the wedding happened. I smiled and hugged her, hoping that I wouldn't completely fall apart. I felt like I was giving her away.
"I am so happy for you" I said as I hugged her tightly, "I am so happy that you get to be happy now."
We looked at each other and had tears running down our faces. We both took a breath and got on with our day. I played the guitar as she blissfully walked down the aisle. I stood beside her as she said her vows. I tried fighting off memories of her and my dad's marriage, when I stood beside her and cried just like I was at this moment. I watched my brother embrace her after the ceremony was over. I knew what he was feeling, but I pushed those feelings away.
Flash forward about a year later and it all hit me.
I have to admit I think that my dad has done better than I was expecting. He has acknowledged and accepted the blame (at least when he is talking to me) and he has told me the things he would do differently if he could go back. He has moved on with his life and just took it day by day. My brother is starting to grow up in ways that I never thought possible. My stepmom is getting the life that she has longed for for years.
I couldn't help but feel like her whole life was going on without me.
The feelings that I had pushed back for about two years suddenly hit me, the numbness wore off. I missed her more than I knew how to explain. I missed her daily texts wanting to know what I was up to. I hadn't realized how much she encouraged me every single day of my life. I hadn't realized how much of my relationship with my dad had depended on her. I realized how communication changed between my stepmom and I, my grandparents and I, and so on. Part of it has to do with the fact that I live out of state, but part of it is that life has shifted.
So how does one move forward?
You join a support group. You talk about it.
You do your best to make sense of your feelings. Parents divorcing when you're "all grown up" is a whole different ball game. Your world isn't just flipped upside down, it is flipped upside down, shaken, and thrown out into a hail storm. I had imagined it would be easier because I'm an adult. It is not easier. Holidays get split once more. You get called the "step-daughter" for the first time in years by family members who have no idea they are shattering your already fragile feelings. You overthink everything. You feel jealous when family vacation photos are uploaded to social media. You become closer to your siblings than you ever thought possible, after all they are the only one who know what you are going through.
So how am I surviving it?
I am working everyday to forgive. When those crazy feelings jump up, I try to remember all the happy times. Some days when it is too much, I call my dad, and he accepts the blame for my crushed heart. I call my brother and we cry on the phone together. I try to get to know the new stepdaughters and accept them. I look up quotes on pinterest. I vent to my best friend, who tells me that I'm great and this is in no way my fault. I pray a lot. I think positive thoughts. I take my marriage 100 times more seriously. I'm remembering that the amazing blessing that she was to my life, she now is to two more teenage girls' lives and that makes it worth it to me.
Divorce sucks. Plain and simple. I'm old enough now to put on a good face. I'm old enough now not to resent the new husband and stepdaughters. I'm old enough to tell my stepmom that this is earth shattering and I am having trouble, even though I feel unimaginable guilt when I feel these feelings.
After all, I shouldn't feel this way. I should be happy for her-- aren't I? The answer is yes, I am happy for her. I'm actually over the moon that she is happy. I love her so much that I started going to therapy so I could keep our relationship alive. I talk to my mom about it and she gives me tips and tells me to relax and remember how much my stepmom has done for me.
I breathe & I try to let go.
I remember that maybe I didn't lose anything. Maybe I just have to learn how to bend my mind just a bit more. Something I've learned from being a "child" divorce in general, is you can look at it two ways. You can view it as a great loss or you can choose to look at it as a gain. I'm doing my best to remember that this is a gain, not a loss. No one gets out without wounds and scars, but those wounds and scars can turn out to be a work of art & a bump in the beautiful path that is your life.
If you're currently surviving your parents' divorce and are struggling, I hope our story has helped you. I hope you can identify with it and feel open to sharing your own story because there are people struggling just like you are.
Who am I?
My name is Jessica Kellaway! I am the earth loving, natural parenting, Jesus loving weirdo your mama might have warned you about!