By Blended and Black member Stephanie Martinez
From the time I was a little girl until I was in my early twenties, I felt forgotten. I felt unimportant. I felt like I didn’t matter.
I am a product of two divorces, abuse, and abandonment. Co-parenting was not a thing in our life. Everything was a fight, a battle to win. Our parents used us to spite each other: as something to dangle in front of the other, bargaining chips to get what they wanted from the other. We were pawns in a game that we were not asked to play.
The first time my mother got divorced, I was just three years old, with an 18-month-old brother. Our biological father was in our life one day and gone the next. We spent a year being shuttled every other weekend to his new house, in his new town, and eventually to a new woman. He had a new baby with his new wife and decided he needed to move on from his “starter” family. One day, my little brother and I were at daycare waiting for him to come pick us up. He never did. Our mom came and picked us up; I believe she said he forgot. The next and last time I saw him was several years later, in a courtroom where he signed his rights away. Even at a young age, I felt like it was my fault. What had I done to make him leave? Why didn’t he want to see us? Weren’t we enough? I was always trying to behave perfectly and tiptoe around my mom. I was worried that she would leave us, too.
Soon enough, she met another man, the man I call my dad. It was so great to have a dad, to be a family. They had three kids together, bringing us to a family of seven. They were together a long time, 10 years, but it was intense. They didn’t have a healthy marriage. I really think they tried very hard, but they were young; my mom had five kids by 30, and both had their own struggles. My dad drank a lot and would get mean and abusive to my mom, me, and my brother. I don’t remember him ever being that way with my half siblings. My mom was holding on to a lot of anger from her own childhood. Her father left when my grandmother was pregnant, and the man my grandma eventually married was verbally abusive to my mother. History tends to repeat itself, doesn’t it?
Eventually they divorced. I came home from school one day when I was 13 and all of my dad’s stuff was on the curb. I was initially relieved because our house was so unlivable and unhappy. I thought they could move on from each other and be better people and better parents. Maybe someone could give us an example of a healthy, loving relationship. We could move on from the violent household. It would be wonderful.
My dad promised us he would be in our lives. He would see us all the time. He was just moving to the other side of town, a 20-minute walk, 5-minute car ride. But he wasn’t there. He did not show up for us. I remember spending many hours sitting on the stairs, waiting, calling him again and again and again. He would either not answer would or tell me he was leaving soon. There were five of us so he usually only took 1-3 of us at time, and never all at once. I remember holding my three youngest siblings (7, 5 & 3 at the time) in my arms while they cried because their dad wasn’t coming. He was never on time. He was always hours late, if he showed at all. He broke promises over and over again. He always had excuses, they both did, for why they were the way they were. If our parents weren’t going to show up and be there for us, who was?
I spent many years treating myself as if I didn’t matter. I never felt like my parents cared about me or loved me. I found it hard to care for myself. I was drinking, partying, hooked on drugs, and not going to school. I moved out at 16 and spent some time living in my car. I had my own anger and pain that I was trying to self-medicate and avoid. Facing pain is hard. I didn’t want to do it. I was involved with older, abusive men. I was glad they treated me so poorly because I wanted someone to treat me badly. I wanted them to show me, physically, what I felt inside: that I didn’t matter and deserved pain.
Eventually, at almost 22, I decided that I deserved better. I left my abusive relationship because I realized that I was just repeating my mom, who was repeating her mom. I stopped doing drugs, stopped drinking, and started healing my body and mind. I started feeling okay about myself and with myself. I spent time finding me. It was uncomfortable and painful.
I met my now husband when I was 23 but I had no idea how relationships worked or how to be in one. I still didn’t feel deserving of love. My parents made sure that was deeply ingrained. But he didn’t care, he kept gently and steadfastly being there. He kept showing up. He kept showing me that he wasn’t going anywhere no matter how terrible I was. I am grateful every day that I wake up that he has been so patient with me and shows me such love and adoration. We have been together over 9 years now and have three beautiful children (8.5, 5 & 2.5) who are our world. They are being shown what a real, loving, and honest relationship looks like. And I am proud of that. He shows up. I show up. We show up.
I have no doubt that if my parents had tried to be open and communicated effectively and parented together, things would have been different. Things didn’t have to happen the way they did. That’s why Blended and Black is such a great space, I relate to so much of what is shared. What Naja is doing is so important. If families can learn how to co-parent, to embrace step families, and be happy as a unit, things will be so much better. If sharing my story helps even one person, then putting it all out there will be worth it.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Stephanie Martinez is a contributing writer and member of the Blended and Black community. Stephanie lives in Jackson, Wyoming with her husband and three children. She is the owner of Makes & Bakes by Stephanie, a small online business. You can find her spending time with her family, enjoying the outdoors or making magic in the kitchen. Connect with her on Instagram here.
Edited by: Jessica Terrell