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!!