The Blessings of Step

Janet Jayne - Bristol, Virginia
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, September 15, 2014
Janet Jayne

Janet Jayne has been a "step-something" for most of her life—a step-daughter, a step-sister, a step-mother. And while she recognizes the struggles that are often a part of "blending" families, she also celebrates the love that brings new families together.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: change, family, love
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For most of my life, I’ve been a step. I’m a stepdaughter. I’m a stepmother. I’m also a stepsister, though I’ve never lived with my stepsiblings.

Step relationships happen as a result of significant changes within families. Divorce. Death. But then, love transforms. Mom or Dad finds love again and we get—for better or worse—a stepparent in the deal. And they get us, for better or worse as well.

My stepfather got me when I was an incorrigible adolescent. He missed out on whatever cute/endearing phases I may have had and landed smack in the middle of my moody/surly teenage years. Our relationship survived because he loved my mother, and even though he had six children of his own, he loved my mother’s children, too. His heart was, and is, big enough for all of us. Somehow, I had the good sense to meet him halfway.

It delights my mother that her beloved husband, to whom I am not officially related, is one of my favorite people on earth. My stepfather now lives in a nursing home. When I visit him, his caretakers say, “Oh, you must be Bruce’s daughter!” I say, “Yes,” and do not qualify; not stepdaughter, not stepfather. Our love for each other goes beyond the “step.”

“Step” is how we describe a person we’re related to because someone we’re related to married him or her. But being a step is really about being a part of an ever-widening circle of connection. Families within families; layers are added as relationships grow and change. It is through this gift of overlapping layers of families—past, present, and future—that I believe in the blessings of “step.”

Now I’m part of another stepfamily. The stepchildren that I acquired were already grown when I met and fell in love with their father over a decade ago. I didn’t know the joys and difficulties of raising them, but our connection to one another forms another branch on my rambling family tree.

Of course, stepping is often complicated. Being a step-something sometimes feels more fragmented than familial. My two stepsons experienced the tensions of loyalties divided, and although my husband and their mother had been divorced for many years, my relationship with their father served as a catalyst. Lingering misunderstandings and unresolved anger bubbled up and burst forth. It was not fun. These are strains that many stepfamilies know well.

But I believe that successful step relationships are possible through the acknowledgement of mutual love. My stepchildren may not know me very well, but they know that I love their father, and they love their father, too. So I must be okay.

We recently celebrated my oldest stepson’s wedding, where both the bride and the groom have four parents each—moms and dads and stepmoms and stepdads—and it took forever to get the family pictures taken. But as we all stood together, arms around one another and beaming, we formed another overlapping circle of love in a chaotic world.

I believe that we “steps” are lucky because we have so many people to call family. I have more people to love, and more people to love me. And in this world, we need all the love we can get, even when it comes in steps.

Before Janet Jayne’s beloved stepfather died, he was known to carry a copy of her essay around in his pocket. Ms. Jayne reports that she hears from other step-people who've shared both the blessings, and the struggles, of being a step-something. But the "ever-widening circles of connection" continue, as Ms. Jayne can now add being a Step-Grandmother to her step resume.

Produced for This I Believe by Dan Gediman