Thought Catalog
April 18, 2017

This Is What It Feels Like To Grow Up In A Non-Traditional Family

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What is the issue?
Nick Bulanovv

What is family to you?

What’s the first thing that popped into your head? What do you see when I ask you that question? Was it a person? Did you see your mom? Maybe your dad? Or maybe your family as a whole?

When I hear my friends talk about their family, it usually consists of having a mom and a dad, maybe one sibling, maybe a couple. But when I used to look back on my family history, I used to get confused. I used to get lost because when I was younger, I had no idea what my family consisted of. All I can remember was that for a while my dad was a single parent when my parents broke up and my mom left, then she came back but they were never really together again.

Around that time, I also found out that I was going be an older sister with my mom’s then-boyfriend’s child and somewhere in all of that, my dad started dating women again. This would now explain to most of you why I have a stepmom and also a stepsister who’s with us here in Canada. So now that I’ve caught most of you up to date, I’ll tell you that the road to becoming at peace with what I do know and don’t know took a very long time.

It took a lot of growing up, a lot of tears and braving my fears and a lot of long, sleepless nights before I could muster up the courage to finally accept that change was only going to happen if I decided to change myself and the way I viewed things.

When I was younger and my dad and I finally moved to Canada, I was about six years old. I went through a phase where I absolutely resented my birth mom. I didn’t understand why she left, what would have driven her to leave, why I couldn’t be enough of a reason to stay. I didn’t understand how I suddenly had a half-sister from her then-boyfriend and I hated, absolutely hated the fact that I grew up being bullied for something I had no control over. I went through my elementary years of school being bullied because I didn’t have a mom like they did, I didn’t have a normal family like they had. I was teased and bullied about how she must’ve left because she didn’t love me, no one in my life wanted me and my dad was just stuck with me. It made me feel like shit because I knew in the back of my mind then, if there was something I could’ve done, I would’ve done it. It also made me feel like shit because I was getting the short end of a stick because of a decision made by two adults without discussing their child about it first. I don’t, ever once, remember being asked if I was okay with what happened. I also knew at the time that I should be grateful because I had another woman in my life who was willing to take on that challenge and responsibility of becoming a stepmom, which I can admit to the fact that I didn’t make it easy for her to care after me.

But years after, sometime when I was sixteen, I stopped resenting my birth mom for leaving me and my unanswered questions, I stopped questioning my dad about it instead (over and over again), and I finally took the time to reassure that my stepmom didn’t feel as if she wasn’t “allowed” to raise me. I stopped simply because I realized that holding this grudge isn’t going to help me grow as a person with a peaceful heart and mind. It wasn’t fair to everyone around me who was pushed away because I built a wall to protect my heart and it also wasn’t fair to those I blew up on like a grenade when they decide to leave instead. Also, I realized that being angry with my past wasn’t helping me when it came to those who bullied me because they knew that if it bothered me, it was something they could use against me. Instead, I used my weakness to my own advantage and made it my strengths. I decided to tell my story to teachers, students, friends and other extended family members who wanted to hear my side of the story, who wanted to know what it would have been like from the eyes and ears of a child. So if ever in the same predicament, they would understand that even children have feelings, they know when something is wrong and they understand when they’ve been done wrong.

I took the opportunity every time we went back to the Philippines as a way to reconnect with my mom without making her feel like she owed me back for the years we lost. After all, she wasn’t the only one at fault here. But at the age that I am now, I’ve learned to accept things for what they were and to see things for what they are. I learned to be accepting of planting a new seed to have a relationship with my mom and sister back in the Philippines; I’m able to share my fears and my dreams with my mom and my mistakes and experiences with my younger sister. The same way I was able to share that bond and experience with my stepmom and my stepsister here, in Canada.

If there was anything I’ve learned throughout those years of hardship and pain, it’s that I had a voice all this time.

Instead of asking why, I could have voiced the way I felt with the both of them and make them understand the pain I was undergoing and that it all stemmed from the fact that I never really understood my family history. And if there was anything I could tell my readers who may have gone through this, or are going through this, it’s this: don’t ever feel like you’re to blame for something you might not have had control over, don’t ever belittle yourself, feelings and emotions, and the fact that your voice will always matter, no matter how young or old you are. Lastly, I want to thank all three of my parents for making me understand that families are not perfect, that they argue and they fight to make sure that all parties fight to make it work, that time can heal (if not all) some wounds and that maybe, just maybe, you don’t need to have the answers to everything. But rather, have an open mind and heart to accept all that has been allowed to happen in your life. I’m thankful because through it all, I managed to see through the blessing that not only was I gifted two parents, but three.

There is always a silver lining and mine was the fact that the experience of being a daughter in a non-traditional/blended family made me strong enough to stand up to those who left me, to those who made my childhood a living hell, it made me realize that mistakes are part of the learning curve and everyone around you is bound to make a mistake or two in life and life will always be your greatest teacher and lastly, everyone deserves a second chance, because sometimes their first one didn’t seem like a fair chance. TC mark