Having A Step Family Isn’t Easy

Cindy McCain refers to herself as an “only child” when she speaks about her childhood, despite the fact that she has two half-sisters. “It’s terribly painful,” said Kathleen Hensley Portalski, a sister, to the Washington Post. “It’s as if she is the ‘real’ daughter. I am also a real daughter.” Both Portalski and McCain are the children of Jim Hensley. Portalski is Henley’s daughter from his first marriage in the 1930s to Mary Jeanne Parks. He divorced Parks and married Marguerite “Smitty” Johnson in 1945. And McCain was born nine years later. McCain’s mother also had a daughter, Dixie Burd, from a previous relationship.

Portalski told the Post that she remained quiet for decades while her father lavished attention on his second family. But McCain’s repeated references to being her father’s only child finally became unbearable in the past few months. “I was his family too,” she said. And I know from personal experience exactly how she feels.My parents divorced when I was about two. I don’t remember ever living with my father. My earliest memory of the two of us together is him feeding me fruit cocktail while visiting me at my mother’s home.

My father remarried in the mid-1980s and later adopted my stepmother’s son from a previous relationship, giving me an older brother. They also had another daughter and son. To the outside world, it seemed as if my older brother was the first born, but I felt that was an honor that I deserved. I have to admit that my father does introduce me as his first or eldest daughter. I think it’s his way of appeasing both sides or not ruffling any feathers.

After the birth of my sister and brother, I didn’t feel like an important part of the family. After all, I only visited every other weekend and sometimes went on vacation with them. So I removed myself from the family and my dad began to take me out on Saturday excursions, just the two of us.

At the time, this seemed like the perfect solution—I was able to see my dad, without having to deal with my feelings toward my siblings and stepmother. But separating myself proved more problematic in the long run because I became a distant relative to my younger siblings. Also, denying my father’s other life and family meant that I couldn’t fully know him.

When I was 18, I realized I needed and wanted a relationship with my family. I’d missed so much! I never saw my younger brother learn to walk or introduced my sister to Barbie dolls and other girlie-things. And an older brother definitely would have come in handy when it came to meeting guys because I had gone to an all-girls high school.

The transition was really rocky. For years, my younger siblings had a habit of referring to our dad as: “My dad,” when they were speaking to me. Sometimes I would correct them, but other times I would just ignore it because we were on the path to mending our blended family.

They’re much older now and, until very recently, I used to think they didn’t value my advice because they didn’t accept me as an authority. But now I realize they’re just typical teenagers that think they know everything. And now that my older brother and I are adults we’ve been able to bond over our adult problems.

My parents (yes, I mean my dad and stepmother) know me much better now. I have a very special relationship with my stepmother. She gives me advice and seeks my advice. She has definitely let me know and feel that she thinks of me as her own daughter. And I think of her as another mother. I know that she would defend me like my own mother. My dad helped me get through some emotional stuff by just calling me everyday and letting me know that I was important. This was a big feat because my dad doesn’t really deal with any emotion, besides happiness, well.

I can’t say that I’m completely over my issues, but I realize that in order to make this situation positive, I would just have to get over things. I couldn’t hold a grudge. I’d rather spend my lifetime making new memories with my family than regretting the past.

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