How It Feels To Be The Other Daughter

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We’ve all heard the stories of the other woman. The one who watches the man she’s in love with go home every night to his family, a spectator of the life she longs for. Nose pressed against the glass, she gazes in at a life that should have been hers. Hope wanes as, every day, she sinks further into the reality that his life will never be her life. Eventually, defeated, she returns to her solitary existence. Because she knows it hurts less to be alone than it does to beg for scraps of attention from someone whose first love will always be his family.

That is the story of the other woman. But, it occurred to me recently that a similar pain is experienced for those of us who have lived as the ‘other daughter’. The one whose parents divorced when we were young. Who lived not only with the absence of a father, but who watched him remarry and have another family, a family with a mum, dad, three kids and a Labrador, while our childhood was stitched together with fragments of loneliness, struggle, neglect, dysfunction and, often, abuse.

I realised this is how I have lived much of my life. With my nose pressed against the glass as I gazed in at a life I wished had been mine, but never was. And, furthermore, I realised how much it has actually affected me to feel like the other daughter.
We suffer greatly when a parent leaves. It begins the moment they walk out the door and we blame ourselves that we couldn’t make them stay. We weren’t enough. Our wounds defy logic and reason; we cannot, as children, have the grief of a parent leaving explained to us rationally. No matter what the circumstance, a part of us will always internalise a parent leaving as our fault. But when our fathers remarry and have another family, it becomes a wound from a double-barreled shotgun.

Because this is where it all begins for us as daughters. This is where we form our core beliefs about our identity, worthiness and belonging. This is where our insecurities arise; our inability to trust, our fears of rejection and abandonment, our relationship issues, our addictions. It all starts here with our shame that who we are was never enough to make our fathers stay. But who they are, his other children… they must be everything we could never be.

And so we fight our perpetual battle to prove our worthiness. Our life becomes a silent competition to prove how worthy we are — how capable, how intelligent, how successful, how attractive. We seek attention and affirmation to feed the hungry abyss in our soul, but the irony is, all the attention and affirmation in the world will never be enough. Because at the end of the day, our fathers still chose them, not us.

Our pendulums then swing the other way. We no longer believe we are worthy of anything good in our lives. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, abandonment and rejection swallow us whole. We begin to sabotage our careers, our bodies and our relationships. We succumb to the inherent belief that anyone we love and trust will eventually abandon us, so we leave first. Or else we cause so much hurt to the person we love in the hope it will make them leave so we can feel some twisted satisfaction in proving ourselves right.

And it’s not that we begrudge the other family. We love them, we really do. Because they have the same father as we do, they share the same DNA. They have the same blue eyes and the same heart-shaped face and all those same mannerisms passed down to us, we also see in them. We are proud of them when we hear of their achievements, their grades, their university scores, their sports. But the thing is, we achieved all those things too. And we achieved them in spite of our shitty circumstances. But no one was there to be proud of us.

The wounds we feel as the other daughter are very real. We live with a constant sense of isolation, anger, confusion, betrayal and grief over being abandoned, rejected and not having the life we longed for. The life we were no less deserving of. We strive to be seen, fight to establish our worth and seek to belong to something or someone that will make us feel accepted and loved.

But something else I’ve come to realise is this: that just because I believe something to be true, doesn’t mean it is. Confabulation is a term used to describe the times we replace missing information with something false that we believe to be true. Essentially, confabulation is an honestly told lie with no intent to deceive. It is our truth, even if it is not the truth.

As children, if a parent leaves, we can’t comprehend the full story. There are huge gaps and our brains aren’t wired to cope with the missing pieces. And so we fill them in with our own version of events. We connect the dots in a way that makes sense to us and aligns with our belief of who we are and how we fit in the world.

And sometimes our stories are wrong.

In order to heal, we must change our stories. Because while we may always feel like the other daughter, this is not the truth of who we are. We are far more than that. We are the daughters of creation, the daughters of our ancestors. We are here by design, with purpose and intent, because there was something in this world that nobody could do but us. We are here because we are loved, worthy, important, valuable. We are deserving of all good things and we must take hold of them, claim them, own them as ours and allow them to be part of our new story. The rejection we have felt has never been about us, it was about an adult world of which we knew nothing of at the time. But now we know it for ourselves. We know how hard this life can be. We are all fighting our own silent battles. Our fathers did the best they could with what they knew. And we have done the same.

But now, beloved daughter, we know better. So let us do better.

28 thoughts on “How It Feels To Be The Other Daughter

  1. Hi Kathy,

    That was an amazing read. I was always wondering why i did the things that i did and felt the way that i felt. That is exactly the reason.
    Yasmin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Yasmin. Sometimes it’s hard to see things as they are and we have to step back and hear it from another person to realise it for ourselves. So glad my words could be of help to you x

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  2. I think your last line, ‘our fathers did the best they could with what they knew’ contradicts the beginning of your post about how many ‘other daughters’ are left neglected and abused as a result of their father’s actions. A lot of fathers make decisions out of pure entitlement, and are reckless as to whether it will do harm to other members of the family.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I get what you’re saying but it’s just a reflection on my personal journey and the place I have arrived at, in understanding we are all dealing with our own brokenness and issues that can make our choices less than ideal for those around us.

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  3. I loved your piece and identified with it strongly however in my instance the parent who left and made another family was my mother. You have articulated perfectly how it made me feel despite the difference in parent.

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  4. Thank you for being the voice for “other daughter’s”…..This other daughter, today loves her father from a distance. We all tried in our own way to make things work, but there was no real understanding or empathy. How can there be?

    Being viewed as “selfish, a spoilt only child ,unable to share, greedy and jealous, drama queen” who should have been smarter and strong enough to get over this, to have been able to control such feelings, only added to intense pain, shame and feeling insignificant. That I couldn’t switch this “on and off” and “simply get over it” given my intelligence and age, had me feeling a failure. It was that my mask didn’t work to hide my pain. I tried to smile, to be brave.

    As much as I try to forgive us all, it’s not always easy to forget. I am, however, grateful for the gift of life.

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    1. Your comment has really touched me. I too, love my father from a distance, because up close just hurts too much. It’s hard for them to understand why we can’t just “get over it”. I too have felt insignificant and as though I should be ashamed for my feelings and my pain. I still believe in many cases, they are doing the best they know how to do. But so are we. And there is no shame in that x

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      1. Thank you Kathy. My heart ached like it hasn’t for a while till I read your beautiful article. That there are most likely a lot of “other daughter’s” never ever struck till I was taken by your words. This could have been written by me. You shared yourself so authentically and in so doing have helped me not feel alone or as guilty as I have.

        Yes, loving from a distance is less traumatic. I tried to give my daughter a grandfather for such a long time, and he did try. This isn’t about one person being bad or better. As you have so beautifully articulated, he did his best with what he had and knew. I am happy he is happy, I am also genuinely happy he is a better father- which he is, with he and his soulmate of 40years, who I too love from a distance. I know they were fabulous parents who have every reason to be proud of their children and grandchildren. We weren’t meant to be a part of this equation for this lifetime.

        I have written my partner a letter in the sad situation should my father pass before me, that if this potentially triggers off my bipolar, I don’t wish to do anything hurtful or inappropriate to anyone. I have made plans to remember him quietly on my own. I don’t want to create anything negative or dressing for loved ones left behind

        Selfishly, I also couldn’t bear to listen & see what an amazing father he has been in his new life. The other fear is, that up to then at the moment of passing, I won’t enter his thoughts or mind. Some how, I am bracing myself for that realisation, preparing myself for that moment. Yet if the reverses was to happen, I have no idea what I would do if he did ask to talk or see me one last time. 11yeats have gone by. He has been seriously ill in that time, I heard through the grapevine. I was nearly about to grab some flowers to see him, when I stopped as I knew the reaction wouldn’t be good. So I didn’t do that.

        As a parent myself, this all sits sadly. Yet at the same time I am empowered, liberated even. That I chose to walk away and take something back for me.

        It’s time to love those around us and our next generations. Thank you, this has been profound.

        Ingrid xxxx

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      2. I hear everything you are saying. And you’re right, it’s so ambiguous. Our hearts ache with the void of a missing parent -both for ourselves and for our children who will never know their grandparent – and yet, to be courageous enough to step back from being hurt and do what we need to do for ourselves is a hard decision, but it feels right and it feels liberating. I grew up with the biblical commandments, and so the concept of honouring thy father and mother were misinterpreted to mean we must love them and allow them to be part of our lives no matter how much it hurts us or how much they don’t deserve it or haven’t earned it. And for too many years I did that. And now maybe I’ve swung to the other extreme, I’m not sure, and I’m not sure if I’ll find my middle ground. But it’s all part of the journey, isn’t it?
        Thank you for sharing your heart with me xxxx

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  5. Dear K, the more we share, the more similarities appear in our exchanges. Yes, the bible didn’t help me, rather as a child I felt so torn. The dysfunctional relationships with both parents was of course my fault in a young child’s eyes.

    Your words express the pain we have shared, that part of our soul that has a void, a hole that feels like something isn’t quite right, that an anchor is missing.

    The ambivalence is at times confusing and fuels inner conflict with self. Even now the nightmares still haunt me. I did the wrong thing, no matter which choice I made it was going to hurt and retraumatise. My behaviour, reaction wasn’t always great, needing a little sense of safety, would kick in – even though wanting to disappear filled my being.

    In one sense I say thank you for your incredible courage, your “going there”.. describing what is so incredible raw..and has rarely been talked about, if at all, And that’s only a part of it… As you mention, we are left behind in some circumstances that are not necessarily helpful, but add trauma upon trauma.

    But it does all happen for a reason, For me, I have been able to channel the negative energy and pain into something positive. We are who we are from our life’s experiences. I have a beautiful precious family, and am rich in friends.

    Pain has created vulnerability, which is now a strength, and my strength is my vulnerability which has awarded me sensitive antennae, a heightened awareness for when others are feeling fragile. Offering a little tlc, has afforded me unexpected gifts.

    After rain comes a rainbow.

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  6. thank you. you have just unraveled why my ex wife left me. I do not feel so rejected now. despite always faithful she believed the lie. I have struggled for so many years to make sense of what happened. This now answers a lot. I can have closure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mark, I’m so sorry to hear about your wife. I know how hard that must be for you. Every situation is different, but there is much to be said for the pain of being the other daughter and how that affects us in our adult lives and our relationships. There are so many times I have struggled to stay with my husband… not because I don’t love him or want to hurt him… but because I truly believe it’s only a matter of time before he leaves me, and I know it would hurt less to leave first. It’s taken me a long time to understand where these feelings have come from and to recognise them for what they are.
      I’m glad you have been able to find some comfort in understanding a little more the pain your wife is in and maybe why she wasn’t able to stay.
      All the best.

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  7. Wow, thank you. Your writing is beautiful to read. After reading this in huffington, I came and read some of your other work. But back to this – thank you for articulating my life so well. It’s nice to know we’re not alone, that someone else out there gets exactly how we feel. Now for the living despite the confabulation!

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    1. Thank you Belinda! It’s so great to connect with other people who understand and are going through similar things! It’s a tough journey – always helps to know we’re not alone x

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