I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming a grandmother this week, which is odd, since my kids are under five and I’m not quite forty. What’s sparked these thoughts? Well, I just found out that my youngest daughter’s birth mom is six months pregnant with her second child, whom she will parent. I still think of my youngest’s birth mom as a kid, perhaps because her birth mom is my age (which makes me old enough to be my youngest’s grandmother, thank you very much!), or perhaps because when I was her age, I still felt like a kid. Truthfully, I’m not quite sure how to think about this new addition to our lives yet.
How will this new baby fit into our family dynamics? The baby will be my youngest’s half-birth sibling; will he/she also be my oldest’s half-birth sister or brother? Hypothetically speaking; if my sister has a sister, that sister is also my sister, right? Wrong? Does it matter? My oldest has a teenaged half-birth brother, who we refer to as her brother. But when my youngest is speaking of him, she calls him by his first name, rather than referring to him as her brother.
Where is this imaginary familial tie line? It is so blurred in our family that I feel the need to define it a bit. For example, I have two half sisters myself, whom I call my sisters; it confuses people since my sisters are quite a bit younger than I am. I often qualify the reference to my sisters for people who do not know my family of origin by saying, “they are from my dad and stepmom’s marriage”. Moreover, my children call my close friend “Tia”, Spanish for Aunt. We form all of these “family” ties without any real explanation to the kids. And they seem to get it. I guess it seems simple to the kids. From my daughters viewpoint they seem to define those who are in their family as people who love them, come to their birthday parties, send them Christmas presents, and are excited to hear about their first days of school. However, as an adult, I often get stuck defining who is in my family. Are they a beneficiary of my will? Are they my emergency contact? Can they pick my kids up from school? Are they related by adoption, birth, or by marriage? Would I loan them money if they were short one month? Are they sitting at my Thanksgiving table? Do we support each other’s dreams?
My husband and I tried to tackle the subject of family a few years ago when we were first diving into the deep end of opening our adoptions. We met with a therapist and he challenged us to define what it means to be a part of our family, and to look at the people in our lives and, see how they fit. By the miracle that is Gmail, I just retrieved a copy of what we wrote. It took us five rounds of discussion to boil down our definition of what it means to be a part of our family. (This is the generic/simplified version, there are many sub-bullets that further defined things for us, but I won’t bore you with those)
- We love you and our children love you
- We care for each other and rely on each other for support and encouragement
- We support your hopes and dreams and care about your future
- We celebrate holidays and special occasions together
- We’ll help and support you when you are in need
- We trust each other enough to say when we think you are making a mistake or have a disagreement and still be family
- We share a common history and participate in each other’s lives
- We share similar beliefs and values
As a result of looking back on this work that we did a few years ago, I am reminded what it means to be a part of my family. I can see where this new lil one will fit into our dynamic and into our definition of family. He or she will be a lil sister or brother, a lil birth sister or birth brother, a lil half-birth sister or half-birth brother to my girls, and most importantly, a new family member for all of us to love. (ok, and to buy cute outfits for-I mentioned that I’ve been thinking like a grandma right?!)