Being Chosen, Not Being Chosen…

03.23.2012, 12:38 PM

I do not envy stepparents.  Granted, I am sure there are outliers: stepchildren who connect with their stepparents on a profound and meaningful level thus creating a relationship that runs as a constant thread of support and love throughout a lifetime.  Judith Wallerstein points out that these outliers do exist.  But the more that I listen to stepchildren and step-siblings reflect on their relationships with their stepparents and step-siblings, the Brady Bunch rarely happens, and any sense of obligation or loyalty tends to vaporize with age.  Once a roof is no longer shared, any sense of connection emotional or physical is no longer shared either.

My thoughts are just forming here but I think it relates to choice. In Blue Nights, Joan Didion reflects on the undercurrent of fear that seemed to run through her adopted daughter’s existence.  A fear of abandonment.  Even though she and her husband affectionately called her “the chosen one.” The title seemed to exacerbate the underside of that term: in order to be chosen, someone else did NOT choose her.   Didion cites as a mantra the anxiety that her daughter felt around the story of her adoption: What if you hadn’t picked up the phone when the hospital called?  What if you had gotten into an accident on the way to get me?  What if…?”  At one point she reunites with her biological family which seems to unnerve her as the two worlds, or two stories, of her life collide.  She decides to cut that story out, although Didion notes that one of her sisters sends flowers at her death.

Stepparents don’t choose their stepchildren, but they do choose how they will relate or not relate.  In this week’s Dear Judy, a stepdaughter asks what choice she should make in attending or not attending her stepfather’s funeral.  A hard choice to make.

“Dear Judy,

My stepfather just died. He was very good to me when I was growing up, and I appreciate that, paid for my high school AND my college (my mother was jobless and also a drunk, to be honest).

Then he divorced my mother and remarried. I couldn’t bring myself to forgive but not because he left my mother. He also left me. I never got a phone call or even a birthday card after they split up.

So now he’s dead, and everyone thinks (even my mother) I should pay my respects, go to the funeral which is in two days’ time and visit the widow.

I am torn. I have great memories and bad ones. Christmases without even a small present, and birthdays with no note or e-mail. And lots of phone calls (from me) that went unanswered.

I can’t decide. Should I go and say how sorry I am?


Judy says its her choice.

3 Responses to “Being Chosen, Not Being Chosen…”

  1. hello says:

    A family friend of mine has a very good relationship with her ex-stepdaughter. Her ex-husband fell ill after they legally separated and died shortly after their divorce, but at this point the daughter was an independent adult. However, even though they generally got along it was not always smooth sailing. My friend and her ex-husband raised her as teen and the stepdaughter often took her anger about her mother’s absence on her stepmother. My friend’s experience, plus that of other women I see who valiantly try to raise other women’s children has persuaded me it is something to avoid.

    I once read an adoptive parent write “the essential problem with adoption is that it requires a trauma: something sad has happened so that the child requires a second family”. This is how I view step-parenting. Of course the level of damage incurred from the parental breakup will vary from child to child. The stepfather in this story was a fool to throw away the bond with his stepdaughter. However, step parenting bonds are often fragile despite everyone’s wishes. I know a man whose wife left him after he’d spent over a decade helping her raise her two boys. Her (now grown) sons opposed the divorce and they called their stepdad to offer support. But predictably they faded away after their mother remarried and the bond between those young men and the man who raised them is broken.

  2. digdigby says:

    I knew that the statistics on step parents, step-children relationships were bad. I hadn’t realized till reading a recent study that they are APPALLING. All these broken and put together ‘families’ are breeding grounds of hurt, damage, unresolved anger and lead to a petri dish of dysfunctions.

  3. Tony says:

    I agree that the key word is “choice.” When you think of it, the sweetest things in life come to us as gifts, and are not the products of our choices — joy, for instance. One can pursue pleasure — that is the result of choice. Hedonism is choice-ridden. But joy is the visitor that comes unbidden. So is the grace of a child. When we get around to the inhuman practice of choosing our embryos according to our vain specifications, then we’ll have simultaneously “exalted” our children and demoted them to the status of manufactured objects.