Throughout life there are labels foisted upon us, we no doubt impose labels on ourselves as well. Some are necessary, it’s how we categorise the world. To be honest, I think labels are all about perception, so what one person may label us is quite possibly the complete opposite of what society may label us. But that’s a whole different post.
The specific labels I’ve been thinking about a lot lately are to do with our family.
We are a blended family, just 18 short months into our journey together. Before the blend there was ‘Abbie&Nat’ and ‘Richard with his Three Amigos’. I guess we came into our new life with labels. Richard was a widower. I had the less respectable divorced single mother labels to carry. Now we love the ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ titles (and roles!).
Very quickly, and very intentionally, we started talking about ‘we’ and ‘us’ as a couple and a family, and referring to the kids as ‘brothers and sister’. We also started referring to the children as ‘ours’. Because they are. Ours, that is.
Here’s the thing though. I think that hearing us say ‘our’ and ‘my’ kids throws some people. Perhaps they’re not expecting it, some are definitely not comfortable with it. I guess for those who already knew Richard, his late-wife and the boys, hearing me ‘claim’ them could be a little shocking. I’m not completely insensitive.
Now I want to make it super clear, what other people think isn’t going to change the decisions I have already made (and not lightly). But I do like to try to see things from all perspectives and I have put a lot of thought into this.
So when someone asks me how many children I have, I answer ‘four’ – three boys and a girl. I freely talk about ‘my daughter’ going to Brownies, or picking up ‘my son’ from hockey. Someone who already knows Richard may correct me: “Richard’s boys”. If it is someone new and we chat further, I will share more of our story as appropriate. Possibly to do with the fact that I’m in my mid-30’s but often mistaken for younger, I’ll be given that knowing look. “Oooooh” the other person says “so YOU don’t have four kids, three of them are your husband’s”. Like how could I possibly have done that? Whatever.
Actually, I do have four children.
I’m not trying to claim anything that isn’t mine, but I will proudly proclaim that God has blessed me with four children (I always wanted a big family). Sure they didn’t all come from me the conventional way. I’m not the boys’ biological mother and we’ve always been really clear I can’t, won’t and wouldn’t want to replace their mum. By all accounts she was an amazing lady and wonderful mum. Her name and stories are more than welcome in our home. But I am the mum-type-person in their life now to guide them, with their dad, into adulthood (and beyond). It’s a responsibility I take really seriously – I do believe God entrusted all these children to my care and placed us together for many reasons. I’m not about to let anybody down.
Likewise, Richard has taken Nat under his wing and chooses to be the father she wasn’t able to start life with. Nat doesn’t call him ‘dad’, the boys’ don’t call me ‘mum’. And we don’t expect that unless they initiate it – I suspect they won’t and that’s cool. We refer to the kids as brothers and sister – they do too, Nat talks about her ‘annoying three big brothers’ and they refer to their ‘annoying little sister’ (there are smiles in those comments).
It’s about moving forward as a secure family and forming relationships that everyone is comfortable with. And yes, there are different relationships between us – naturally stronger between biological parent/child, and I’m bonding with each of the boys differently. Sometimes it is more appropriate for the biological parent to step in with a child, particularly on disciplinary matters. We all understand that. But either which way, we are family.
I’ve never been a fan of the ‘step-‘ label. It’s messy. I know this because I grew up as a step-sister, a step-daughter. That particular label always seemed to put a barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Truth be told, my step-father who raised me since I was seven is truly the only father I have ever had. I never called him anything other than his first name, but we have talked over the years about how what I call him, isn’t a reflection on our relationship. And he doesn’t need the ‘dad’ title to feel validated.
Growing up, I can still remember the first time my dad introduced me to someone as his daughter (not ‘step-daughter’). It was an important moment in our journey, for me anyway. I was about ten years old at the time – I think I felt about ten feet tall the rest of that day! So I really do understand this ‘step’ label. I get that’s not for everyone to do it this way, but for us, we prefer not to use it.
So yes, I have four children – three sons and a daughter. Richard has four children – three sons and a daughter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all fluffy bunnies and rainbows, it can be mighty hard. Sometimes I wonder how on earth I can do it. But Richard and I are a committed team. We are so proud of all of OUR children and love ’em to pieces. We respect that they are all different, each with their own talents and gifts. We understand that having different starts in life, we’re all in different places and we’re all learning to live with, and work around each other.
But we are family.
Our new label is Harris6.