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[Family drama] Step, step, where do we go now?


Brilliant Legacy

By HugosHalmoni

Step-families, now called blended families, have all sorts of resources at hand to help all family members thrive these days – books, support groups, therapists… My family drama story takes place in the 1940s, when those resources were non-existent and not blending was perhaps more common than it is now.

I grew up in a family of five siblings, with 25 years between the oldest and the youngest. I have a half-sister, B. (23 years older than me), a brother and sister (11 and 9 years older), and a sister who’s 2 years younger. My childhood memories of B. are when she was grown with a family of her own. When they came to our house for Sunday dinner, my sister and I and her daughters would play all afternoon. I didn’t really care whether she was a sister or an aunt. She was a grown-up. Maybe it felt as if she was an aunt, and as if her daughters were cousins, rather than the nieces they were, but it didn’t matter and we had a lot of fun together.


Five Kids

But when, as a young adult, I finally heard our family’s story, it made me determined to never call B. a “half” anything. So, long story short, my dad and his first wife had B., then his wife died. After his first wife’s death, my dad and his daughter moved in with his mom, Granny. Single dads weren’t expected to be hands-on then, and Granny lived in the same town. Granny cooked, kept house and took care of B. Win-win for all–at least temporarily. Sometime after that, he met my mom and they got married.

When my dad married my mom and they moved into their own house, B. was left behind at Granny’s. When I first learned this, I didn’t have any particular feelings about it. But once I had kids of my own, I started thinking about it a lot. How could my dad leave his own daughter behind and start a new life with the new wife? They even lived in the same town!

My mom took it for granted. It wasn’t a big decision or a demand on her part, it was just what they did. A newly married couple got a clean start, with no “step” or “half” complications. Because we’re not the type of family to talk much about family history and feelings, I never learned the details I would love to know now – did B. spend time with Dad? Was she invited to their house, but didn’t live there? All I know is that when my mom died, B. said she always felt like my mom’s relatives looked down on her. She wasn’t good enough for them and that’s why she had to live at Granny’s house. There were a lot of tears about a lot of things that day.


When the Camellia Blooms

I know grown-ups are often grown up in name only, like Dong-baek, Yong-shik, Jong-ryeol and Jessica in When the Camellia Blooms. In so many ways, Pil-gu will have a better story than the one my sister had. Yes, our Camellia parenting quartet will make mistakes, get on each other’s nerves, and do things that hurt and confuse Pil-gu. They all still have some growing up to do. But they all care about Pil-gu in their own ways, even Jessica, making sure he knows he can eat their food. Pil-gu will know he is loved, even if sometimes his family will drive him crazy.

Although Dong-baek’s status in Camellia is at the bottom of the Ongsan hierarchy, Pil-gu is accepted by the ajummas; even nurtured by Deok-soon. He feels hurt by the abuse his mom gets, but he’s not directly at the receiving end of it unlike the stepkids in an older drama, Brilliant Legacy. I’m re-watching it and getting my heart broken all over again by the stepmom’s cruel rejection of her stepchildren, Eun-sung and Eun-woo.


Brilliant Legacy

To the stepmom in Brilliant Legacy, family members are there to help you get what you want, and to be discarded if they don’t. After a horrible first marriage, she married Eun-sung’s father to gain financial security for her and her own daughter. She expects her biological daughter to lie to marry into an even richer and more powerful family. [SPOILER ALERT] And when her new husband dies, she literally kicks his children to the curb. The siblings do get their happy ending, reunited with their dad who isn’t really dead, but not until after a story with many sad and dramatic twists.

I think this drama still speaks to me strongly because of my own family history. The pain and suffering Eun-sung and Eun-woo go through gives me a window into the experience my sister had. She may not have been all alone, but she was surely lonely and confused. And seeing this just strengthens my commitment to always say that I have three sisters, not one half-sister and two (whole) sisters.


Brilliant Legacy

 
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My mom grew up in a household of a lot of brothers and sisters. After my grandfather died, at his funeral, they found out that they had a younger half-sister who was fathered by my grandfather. They didn't meet her, as some of the siblings were against it, but I'd like to meet her one day since she's family also.

I'm sorry that B grew up without her father and felt alienated by your mother's family, but I'm glad you got to know her and become close.

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Sometimes we have to deal with family issues that happened before we were old enough to influence those decisions, but I'm glad that you look forward to meeting your unacknowledged aunt. Learning something like this can change how you see your family and we eventually understand that family is complicated.

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Thank you. Your story brought back memories of my life. I had nothing as traumatic as B. But remembering old hurts--and seeing them with older eyes sometimes brings understanding.

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Exactly! The perspective you gain as an adult is eye- (and heart) opening. After my mom died, we started having sisters outings - movies, lunch, craft afternoons, weekends at one sister's cabin - and we are all really close now. We also include my brother's wife - in-laws are sisters too!

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I see this a lot where I am, grandparents raising their children’s children. It’s never the first choice, but usually one borne out of some tragic situation—in your sister’s case, the death of a parent. I’m sure your sister felt a strong connection to your grandmother and probably felt more comfortable with her than with a new mother and family structure. I’m thinking that she probably had some choice in the matter of staying where she was, and being so much older (12 years older than your oldest sibling), she may have preferred that living arrangement. However, it is unfortunate that she felt like an outsider with your mother’s family. That’s the complicated part. I hope you and your sister continue to grow closer and share your family’s story with your children and grandchildren.

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When I was a child, my Mom and B. always seemed more like friends or sisters. Maybe they avoided the parental conflict of step-parent and step-child ("you're not my real mom"), and were able to have a different kind of relationship, with its own rewards.

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❤️ thank you for sharing your story.
It touched me because I feel it touches in both the best and worst sides of human nature- Best being unconditional love; and worst being losing a parent and feeling like an outsider amongst people who are actually family.

I’m glad that B has you in her life and wish you, her and your family happiness. ❤️

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I love the way you put it, "feeling like an outsider amongst people who are actually family." That expresses so clearly my thoughts about how B. must have felt, after learning the whole story.

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Thank you for sharing, @HugosHalmoni. Your story touched me because my story is a little the same. My husband had a daughter before we got married. I learned about the child when I was about 5 months pregnant with our eldest. She and I were not close - she lived with her maternal grandmother, her mother migrated to Japan. Later my husband and I separated and he had another 2 kids with the other woman. During my husband's wake, we met again and she's married with a kid. My daughter treats her like an older sister but they are not very close. My sons don't really talk to her at all. Though nowadays I try to invite her to family gatherings like her father's death anniversary, she usually declines. I'm sorry that I didn't get to know her better but I still believe my husband should have made a different decision.

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I'm sorry that your family has been so fragmented. Sometimes the distance or wall that is created can't be easily overcome. I know a family where one child was estranged for over 20 years. Now that he wants to come back into the fold, the mom is ready, but the siblings can't forget the hurt and aren't ready. It's hard to figure out how to have a relationship again.

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I hate the story of Cinderella precisely because of the way it portrays the stepmother. My mother died when I was a boy, leaving my father with four children. It was actually his in-laws who persuaded him to re-marry. That is how we came to have a stepmother. She had a hard time and so did we for a while- but I have truly come to appreciate and love her. She went through a lot- and if sainthood could be endowed by an electoral process I would certainly vote for her. She also added a younger sister and a younger brother to my family- and please note that I do not say half-brother and half-sister- because I consider such terms utterly ridiculous. They are my brother and sister, period.

I am forever grateful to Providence and to her that she became a part of my family.

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I'm so glad you had a good stepmom story, even though it was hard for a while. When your life changes so dramatically, adapting to the change is a long process, not accomplished overnight.

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Hugs @rareniva, wish you and your sisters all the happiness

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Thank you! We do manage to have fun together, despite our age difference. It all fades away once you get to a certain age (which shall not be enumerated).

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Interesting family story. I have to admit that my family is pretty uninteresting. But I loved Brilliant Legacy as well, and it's one of my favorite dramas of all time. I think that because the stepmom was so evil, it really made the show work. I fell in love with Eun Sung, or Han Hyo Joo, she was just so kind and also fun too. I didn't like Lee Seung Gi's character for the longest time, and I called him mushroom head, because of his hairstyle. I think I let him slide because of his deeds later in the drama. Anyway, It's a great drama to watch and a bit sad too, of course. Bae Soo bin plays the second lead here and doesn't get Han Hyo Joo, and in Dong Yi he also doesn't get her. So for over 80 episodes he misses out. Poor guy.

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The stepmom was my favorite person to hate while I was watching that show. When they started showing her backstory, I was annoyed - I didn't want her to be complex and have reasons. I just wanted her to be the villain.

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This really speaks to me a lot. As people no doubt gleaned from reading between the lines of my own Camellia piece I have two "half" brothers but, excuse my French, f**k this "half" nonsense. They are completely my brothers.
When I first started watching kdramas this was the one thing I truly could not understand - parents abandoning their children when they got remarried - because it was just so contrary to how I was raised. When my father married my mother he got two sons. This wasn't negotiable and I could never understand how it could be. Honestly, it's the one thing I find truly upsetting in dramas generally.

I'm so glad you've embraced all your sisters and hope your older sister knows how loved and accepted she is by you. I'm sure she's grateful for it.

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