Home > Get Ahead > Living > Relationships
'She has a stepsister!'
Shalini M |
July 11, 2005
his is your space on Get Ahead.
This is where you get to share your story and your experiences -- be it on relationships, careers, family ties, growing pains, any isssue that has touched or affected your life.
Shalini M, an avid Get Ahead reader, begins the series with her experience on what it was was like to grow up with stepsisters.
I remember playing with my friends on a hot sunny day. In the middle of a game, my sister came to tell me my mother wanted me home.
"Your sister?" asked one of my friends. "My stepsister," I replied.
That did it. Five of them gaped at me as if I had just confessed to a double homicide. Finally one of them broke the awkwardness by turning to the rest, pointing to me and exclaiming in horror, "She has a stepsister!"
By then my 'stepsister' had sauntered away without so much as batting an eyelid and I was left to field questions on how many "such sisters" were living in my home and whether I had a stepmother.
Shocking reactions, undoubtedly. But not if you take into account the fact that we were all around seven years old and the only exposure my friends had to stepsisters (and stepmothers) was through the popular fairytale, Cinderalla.
I am convinced this much loved story has played a dominant role in popularising the notion that stepmothers beat their stepdaughters, are incredibly nasty to them and make them do all the work.
Unfortunately, what happened that day was not a one-off incident. I continued to battle such questions through my school years.
It was none of their business, but...
Whenever my friends came to know I had stepsisters, they would brazenly ask me, "Which one is your 'real' sister and which one the 'step' one?"
"Do you get on well with them?"
"Do they get on well with your mother?"
Somehow, I could never muster up the courage to tell them it was none of their business. My sister never faced that problem. She was rather abrasive and nobody dared ask her for fear of being ticked off or insulted.
Humour to the rescue
My earliest childhood memories are of us four siblings having loads of fun (and fights too!). My two elder sisters are from my dad's first marriage and the two of us are from his second marriage.
When it suited me, I would say I have only one sister (I was not lying). At other times, I would say three (not lying again).
Or I would say one and my sister would say three. And then, we would stare at the confusion on the person's face and run away giggling.
My eldest sister came out with the funkiest remarks (at least that's what we thought at the time :)):
"This is my fully biological sister and she is my half one" or "I have one sister but my father has four daughters."
The latter never failed to keep us in splits.
Once she crossed the line and said, "My father has four children but my mother has only two."
Needless to say, she got a mouthful from my father.
Happy as we were behind closed doors, our neighbours never really left us alone.
They would go out of their way to put spokes in the wheel, so to speak. The saga continues till date. The comments don't just come from innocent children; they continue thanks to the inquisitiveness of adults.
When my elder sister got divorced a few years ago, a childhood friend told me my father probably never gave his two elder daughters the emotional security they required. When I asked her on what basis she made such an accusation, her answer was: your sister is getting divorced.
I was too stupefied to even respond. Her answer made absolutely no sense to me and I would be lying if I said it did not hurt. I wanted to tell her that though, her parents were happily married, her sister too went through a divorce. So how could she place the blame on my father?
Once again, I could not muster the courage to tick her off because I did not want to hurt her feelings.
Years ago, over dinner at a friend's place, the issue of second marriages came up and someone commented on how my mother struggled when the two girls (my elder sisters) in their brassy adolescent years refused to listen to her. I ignored the remark despite the fact that it was made in front of people I had just met.
However, the biggest shock came when a lady from my neighbourhood told me she had heard a rumour that my father dated my mother even before his first wife died. The biggest mistake I did was to confront my parents as soon as I got home. The shock and hurt in their eyes will be imprinted on my heart as long as I live.
My parents stared at me in astonishment and then at each other. My father shook his head in total disbelief; all my mother said was, "May God forgive them for such slanderous lies."
I could have kicked myself for being so insensitive.
I went back and told the lady I never wanted to ever discuss my family with her again or listen to any gossip that was 25 years old.
It resulted in a very unpleasant situation where I was accused of being way too sensitive!.
The family behind closed doors
Back at home, nothing was ever hidden from us and never once were we made to feel different. "What's so different about us and them?" I once asked my mom about family friends who had adopted a child.
"Oh, their parents were only married once. Papa was married twice."
"What happened to Papa's first wife?"
"Did he love her?"
"Of course he did."
We all grew up with the assurance that all our parents loved each other. My father often spoke of his first marriage and his first wife. No topic was shunned. So why was it a problem to the rest of society?
I remember my mother once scolding my elder sister for leaving the door wide open and running out to play. While the rest of us were oblivious to it, a neighbour came up to my mother and asked her if she would have scolded "one of her own daughters."
"They all are my daughters," was my mother's retort.
When society stinks
Hostility also came from a source least expected: my two elder sisters' mother's family.
I remember the two of them being invited over for a birthday party while my sister and I were not.
"Why were we not invited?" I asked my dad.
"That is their mother's family."
"But my mother's family treats them like our own."
"Everyone is different, dear."
At that time, I did feel left out. But, over time, I can look back at it with a maturity that one gets only from having gone through a situation.
My equation with mom and dad
I look at my parents with immense appreciation.
My father tried hard to maintain a balance by showing his children that, no matter whom he married, his love for them would never change. Consequently, my mother often got the short end of the stick when it came to my father making a choice between the two relationships.
Though she was very gracious about it, she dared not discuss it with anyone since she had already gone through tremendous flak for marrying a widower with two children. The last thing she wanted to hear was, "I told you so."
My sister, stepsisters and me
As for my stepsisters, I cannot even imagine the vortex of emotion they must have gone through after having lost a mother and having your father marry again within two years. All at the ages of 10 and 12. While I have tremendous sympathy and love and respect for all of them, I have nothing but outrage at the people who caused nothing but problems.
When my sisters were little, no one ever told them things would work out well and it was great they were a family again. On the contrary, people went out of their way to ask the little girls if their "stepmother treats them right."
While I still think of how insensitive, rude and inquisitive people can be, I know I would never exchange my family for anything in the world. Now with one divorced sister and two married ones -- and three new additions to the family -- the past is just that -- the past.
When we revisit it, it is to relive the good memories. But I sincerely hope people learn to be more tolerant, and less nosy, of decisions people make in their private lives.
After all, WHAT do we gain from making other peoples' lives more difficult?
Do you feel strongly about an issue? Want to share your experiences with other Get Ahead readers? Write to us!