Every morning as I get ready to venture into the eyes of the public, I go over in my head my many trips to the store that have ended end in frustration—not from my kids misbehaving and not from them being sold out of my favorite brand of bread crumbs, but from nosy strangers disguising their judgments as “innocent questions.” As soon as I introduce the oldest child in my flock of kids as my stepdaughter, I can see their brains change paths. These people go from admiring my adorable, wholesome family to discounting my knowledge about one child because I’m not her mom. That’s when the little old ladies at the grocery store start asking my stepdaughter the questions, as if to make sure she is being included in the family and that I am not an evil step-monster making her do all the chores while her sisters and I eat grapes and relax in Epsom salt baths all day.
I don’t know when blurting out inappropriate questions and concerns became the new norm, but apparently while you’re out and about picking up toilet paper and milk, it is now acceptable to interview my family about our inner workings. So, here are the things you should not ask my stepdaughter or any other stepchild:
1. “When do you go home?” A seemingly innocent question at first, but when you really think about it, you shouldn’t be asking her that at all. When she is with her father and me, she is home just as much as she is home when she is at her mother’s house. By asking this simple question, you are implying that our house is not her home. She is loved and missed just as much here as she is there.
2. “Do you like having two houses?” She will say yes. But deep down, of course, she wishes her mother and father shared the same house and she could see both of them at the same time on a daily basis. A split home is never the ideal setup, and she’s doing the best with the hand she’s been dealt.
3. “The divorce wasn’t your fault.” I’m sure these reassuring words are said with the best of intentions, but have you ever been in the woods walking along and suddenly your subconscious says, “There’s nothing to be afraid of”? The next thing you know, you’re paranoid that there is, in fact, something to be afraid of. My stepdaughter is 7 years old, and she never considered that the divorce was her fault until you told her it wasn’t her fault. Until that very moment, she was under the assumption that Mommy and Daddy just couldn’t get along. Now there is that simple question of whose fault it may be floating around in the back of her head.
4. “Whose house do you like better?” This question usually stems from friends and family trying to get a vote of confidence that they are “the fun half of the family.” Let’s just put an end to this right now, because that question is unfair. She doesn’t want to disappoint anyone just as much as she doesn’t want to choose between her mother and father. This isn’t a competition, and there are things she likes better about our house and things she likes better about her mother’s house.
5. “Where is your real mom/dad?” You are correct, biologically she is not my daughter. She is my daughter by choice. That does not make me any less of a real parent. If there is a question or concern you have that needs an adult’s attention and I am the only adult around, I am more than qualified to answer. There is no need to wait for her real parent. I know everything about this little girl despite the fact that she came from a different uterus.
6. “Don’t you wish you had a real sibling?” This goes hand in hand with my previous point. Yes, technically her sisters are half-sisters, but who is really going to call them that? They are her family, and they love each other with their entire hearts, the exact same way she would have loved having siblings with the same biological mother and father. Granted, if she had a sibling from the same mother and father, they wouldn’t have to go a week without seeing each other and that would be fantastic. But whether they are together or apart, they are still loved equally and are very, very real siblings.
7. “Don’t you get the rules confused?” I mean, yes, the marriage she was conceived during crumbled because of a lack of communication, but that doesn’t mean things didn’t get better. It is always a struggle each week adapting to the differences between the two houses, but we generally expect the same things of her and have a similar routine. Breakfast, school, homework, playtime, quiet time and bedtime are all happening in the same order at each house—just in a slightly different fashion. Don’t give her another excuse to misbehave at either house, because if you think that is a good reason to not follow the rules, she probably will too.
These questions may seem innocent, but until you are in the situation, you don’t know how they feel. I am here to protect my children—biological or not. If you make my daughter question the validity of the family we have formed, you are not asking an innocent question, you are setting her up for a life of having nowhere to call home. It is hard enough to make sure children from divorce know that they are loved equally and no one blames them. The only thing society should be doing is helping children like my daughter to know and believe they are as much a part of the family as everyone else is.