Are You My Mother? How to be Sensitive to the Complexities of Blended Family Life

I overheard a conversation the other day one of my children was having with an older, married couple. They were talking about our life, all of the brothers and sisters they have, and how fun it must be to grow up in such a big family, and then the woman turned to my kid and asked,

“Who are your real brothers and sisters?”

My child responded with the biological names.

Then the woman said,

“Is that your real Dad or your real Mom?”

My tongue began to hurt as I bit down hard upon it.

A year into our marriage Ryan and I finalized the adoption of each other’s biological children because we didn’t want our kids to feel as if some of them were real to one parent and some of them were not, and we’ve done a pretty good job of eliminating any labels. We have never allowed a pick and choose buffet – it was an accept them all of none of them.  This also applied to extended family, and they have responded beautifully to this desire. Our children usually feel confident in their identity in our blended family until outsiders ask an ignorant question which then has the undesired result of making them doubt themselves and who they are in our family unit.

The definition of real is this – being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary.

We are a real family; we have an objective existence – which is not imaginary.  We aren’t a step family.  We are a blended family.  We take real ownership of what we are and what we aren’t.  We don’t pretend that I gave birth to eight children, but I am the real, active mom to each and every one of them and Ryan is the real, active dad.

Questions such as the one this couple presented, although asked without malice and probably in ignorance, are not appropriate. Not only are they not appropriate, but they have the potential to be extremely hurtful and often have the additional tendency to imply that the children are not involved in a real family situation. Instead, the implication suggests, it was their unfortunate luck to get a fake family.  These questions also enable the construction of boundaries (real or imaginary) between the biological members and the adopted members as the children begin to question their identity and place within this perceived unreal family situation.   Kids in situations such as ours, or adoptive children in general, already have many questions in terms of their identity, where they fit in the world, and where they fit in their family. They also have a tendency to harbor doubts about the structure and security of their new family unit that don’t need to be amplified by strangers.

I would guess that the majority of adopted or step parents feel offended by the implication that they are not a real parent or the siblings are not real to one another.  If you need to address any family in such a way, or if it is merely for curiosity sake you wish to know who are biological or who are not, present the question in a respectful way, but please be careful about asking when the kids are present.  I won’t (unless heavily pressed) say who my biological children are and who the adopted ones are in the presence of my kids.  It’s happened before, and I didn’t like the looks of quiet, almost shame like induced shadows that crossed some of their faces seeming to suggest that they weren’t as good as nor as wanted as the biological ones.

It is a sensitive issue for our family and for families like ours.  Our children have one earthly mom and one earthly dad. We acknowledge that there was another parent, a parent who loved them fiercely, but he or she is gone, and our faith tells us that he or she is in Heaven where they no longer hold the title of earthly Mom or Dad.  Neither one no longer plays any active role in raising them, and therefore, in our family, they are referred to as Mom or Dad in Heaven. Ryan and I are the God appointed, active and engaged parents, the one and only. No one is subbing in, we don’t have every other weekend to ourselves, and we don’t get breaks.  We are two people who try day in and day out to be the best we can possibly be for our eight kids. To suggest that I’m not a real mom or he’s not a real dad is hurtful; especially when we participate in all of the real aspects of parenting such as discipline, family meetings, devotions, driving to and from practices and school, cooking, lazy river days, laying out school clothes, haircuts, snuggles, heart to heart talks, tears and laughter, and the list could go on and on and on because a parent’s to do list is never complete.

We do the REAL WORK of raising REAL KIDS so that makes us REAL PARENTS.

My prayer and hope for this post is to educate because you can’t fix what you don’t know.  Ignorance is not always bliss. I may have said something similarly hurtful to someone in the past before I understood how delicate of a situation adoption or blended families can be.  Please be careful with your words and even doubly careful in the presence of children.

We are really invested in each and every one of our children in a unique and special way because we are a God appointed REAL family.

Just keep livin!!


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9 thoughts on “Are You My Mother? How to be Sensitive to the Complexities of Blended Family Life

  1. As an adoptive mother of two children, this hits home. The year we adopted Noah, another family member had a baby. A family Christmas letter went out, authored by a well-meaning relative, that welcomed the two babies – one biological and one adopted. While we don’t ever hide the fact that our children are adopted, it hurt me to read that in the letter. My children could not feel anymore like mine if I had given birth to them. Thank you for sharing your heart as always.

  2. Reading your posts, I always get the impression that you and your husband are trying TOO hard to be the ‘real’ parents of all of your children. It is strange to make the comparison with other adopted children; those children are typically put up for adoption because their parents didn’t want them or couldn’t (financially or whatever reason) take care of them; your situation is quite different because the children’s ‘real’ dad and ‘real’ mom probably wanted nothing more than to see their children grow up and take care of them forever. Their love was very very ‘real’.

    My husband’s father passed away when my husband was only a baby. He grew up with a stepfather and uncles who provided for him and loved him just as they would their own. Does this mean my husband ever forgot about his ‘real’ dad? Of course not. Actually, my husband’s father has been dead for almost 30 years and my husband still gets teary eyed at times because of the pain of not growing up with his ‘real’ dad. It hurts my husband that he too was raised as if his father no longer existed or barely ever existed at all. He knows almost nothing about what his father was like; his personality, what he liked or didn’t like etc. It hurts my husband that none of this was talked about during his childhood.
    One day, those children of yours will be grown and will have questions about their ‘real’ parents. They will, and I can practically guarantee you this, blame you and your husband for practically erasing the memory of their mother or father. Even when children are completely loved and provided for, every human being has the need to know about their ‘real’ parents. You can deny this as much as you want and justify it with religious beliefs that are convenient in your situation, but on the long run, your over-eagerness to pass off as the ‘real’ mom and ‘real’ dad will probably only hurt your children and have them turn on you when they’re older.

  3. I have two gut reactions when reading your comment. The first is that you are operating under an assumption (a false one at that) that we do not speak with our children about their other parents and we are in some way attempting to “erase their memory.” Second, you are coming at me with your personal experience which involves your husband who did not grow up with his biological father. I’m coming at you in this post as the real mother raising eight children. Our children are blessed because they were and are loved by TWO sets of real parents. The first ‘real’ parents are no longer here and are no longer able to play an active role in raising them – in no fault of their own because you are correct when you state that their love for them was very real. Now grant us the same as the adopted parents. Our love is also real and authentic for each one of our children. We are not step parents as your husband grew up with. We are the real parents – now in the present, and we have no problem with sharing with them the love that their other parents had for them in the past. But to diminish our roles due to a parent not giving them up for adoption isn’t fair to anyone.

  4. Jessica you seem a bit delusional and confused, you are a step mom- look it up in any dictionary. As a councilor working with many families, it is obvious your family needs outside help.Their mother died yet she will always be their mother. You are their step mom, stay in your proper place. The biological pull to the real mom is genetic, it is proven most adopted children go back to connect with their biological parents once they are grown. Let your children be children instead of broadcasting your personal insecurities on to them.

  5. You are obviously trying to create an image for your self by erasing all comments that do not agree with you selfish and delusional views. I hope Kaci’s beautiful children are able to get past the evil trauma you are enforcing upon them by brain washing them into believing you are their real mother. They look just like Kaci, the pull will always be there no matter how forcefully you push yourself down their throats. You did not even allow Ryan to focus on his kids after Kaci’s death instead throwing your self at him,
    ” comforting him” all you wanted was another man. Evil Step mother!

  6. Oh my gosh. This is horrible. Leave Jessica, her husband and family alone. I have come to know her over the past year or so, and she is truly an inspiration. We come from very different backgrounds, have differnt religious beliefs and lead two differnt lives. However, I find value and warmth in her and her writings.
    Sometimes I have questioned various things, but she ima trying her best as a wife (widower), mother , and new wife.
    Do you seriously think that her kids have forgotten about their birth parents? Even if what you say was true and she tried to brain wash them, do you not think they wouldn’t see their parents faces in them every time they look in the mirror? How about everytine they go to a doctor and have to fill out a family medical history and check off whether it runs in the mother or father’s side.

    The children seem to be living normal and very very happy lives. Not just happy lives for kids who lost a parent… But happy lives period. Do you want the kids to grow up sad and spend their childhood mourning their parents every minute?

    And Evil step mother??? I have a step mother who is not nice to me at all. Do you know what I would give to have Jess as my “step” mother? (Sorry jess I know you hate that word but I’m using it for this particular point). She has a set of rules for her kids, one for my sisters and a “special” one for me. In giving her love and full commitment as “mother or maternal caretaker” for the non-biological kids- do you see in anyway that she has neglected her biological kids as a result? No. Jess is their real mother- just as the biological mother was their real mother. Why can’t they have two moms in this case? Their deceased parents loved them fiercely- don’t you think they would only want them to be happy? They didn’t want to die and leave their kids. Of course they rather have lived to raise their children. But they couldn’t. They will always be in their children’s minds. A biological parents bond is strong with their child, even after death. The children have had to go through more heartache then anyone should have to. Thank goodness, they were LUCKY enough, to have Jess and Ryan to respectively step in and become their REAL parents – NOT step parenfs, for this next chapter in their lives.

    As for the person who commented after about jess and ryan trying too hard… Did you ever stop to think that they try so hard because they are trying to make their non-biological children feel just as loved?

  7. Sorry just want to clarify that when I weote, sometimes I have questioned various things- I didn’t mean that I was disagreeing with the items in question necessarily but instead wondering the “whys”. Also… Even if I did disagree with an aspect of the way in which the ronnes parent… That is none of my business. It’s their family. And personally, I think that they have done an outstanding job…

  8. It never ceases to amaze me how people’s own faults and insecurities tend to come out as hateful criticism towards others. Don’t sweat it- these are almost always really their issues and have nothing to do with you! You’re a good mom. A good person. The best anyone can do is to do justly love mercy and walk humbly before God. These situations where families are “blended” “step families” or whatever label gets applied are vastly complicated. More so than anyone who hasn’t lived in our shoes can ever imagine. You’ve got my support! I get it.

  9. Jessica, I admire the job you’ve done with all of the children. Neither of you ‘took am opening”. You all (children included) became a family. You took two families that were fractured and led by God’s will began a new family with a different dynamic. If either your spouses had chose to leave, no one would be so harsh and quick to judge. I for one am glad the children have two parents who love them and love each other.

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