Our Blended Family
By Sheryl Cooksley
As we sat looking around the room last night at our family, we realized something very important: our family tree has trunks and branches and little twigs that shoot out from all parts of our life and has very little to do with bloodlines. In fact, only one little person in that entire room was a blood relative of mine. ONE.
Here’s a rundown of the people gathered for Christmas in that small apartment living room making up our family: adoptive mother, stepfather, adopted children, widow and her fiancé, their baby and the fiancé’s daughter, biological mother, son-in-law, his two brothers, and our grandchildren. Later this week we will celebrate with more family: the best friend, her mother, sister and niece, and her son. We will celebrate with other adoptive relatives in the form of cousins and their children. We will embrace some adult “foster sisters” and the lovely caregivers that support them.
These are labels that define relationships in writing or discussion, yet these are not the labels WE use to define each other. We simply call each other “family”.
We use the term blended family a little differently than its true definition:
1. a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships.
We like to tear apart the words “blended” and “family” and consider them separately.
Let’s look at the definition of the verb, blend. To blend is to mix (a substance) with another substance so that they combine together as a mass. Ok, our blended substances happen to be people who have entered our lives from a variety of avenues: marriage, adoption, birth, friendship, etc. Combined together we form a “mass” that we label “family”. Even the synonyms for “blend” make sense as we define our family: mix, mingle, combine, merge, fuse, meld, coalesce, integrate, intermix. We are a blend of multiple families, cultures and experiences in our lives.
Our definition of family is that there is no “definition” of family.
When I was no more than 5 years old, I recall sitting in the living room of my “Ome” (grandmother) with what seemed like hundreds of relatives on Christmas Eve. It was loud, lively, crowded and FUN. There were uncles, aunts, cousins and cousins and cousins! Later I learned there were neighbors and friends, too. I recognize now that my Ome embraced all of these people as her family.
What we have learned over the years is that our family is, just as my Ome’s family was, without border or “borderless”. You are a member of our family just by being part of the blend. We don’t know if this concept came naturally or was a necessity in order to make sense of all the relationships. We are a family full of adoption stories and varied experiences. We are a family where tragic loss could have irreparably broken us. Where being treated as if you are not an integral part of our family could cause immense heartache and damage.
We discovered long ago that it is easier to love and be accepting than it is to be angry and alienate. We are the example for the next generation. It is our responsibility to show them how to love one another. They will learn by watching that our home is open to whomever wants, or needs, to call it “home”. And they will feel loved and nurtured and be considered family.
We are twisted trunks and branches and twigs that form one giant glorious tree. and a blend of broken pieces that have come together to make one beautiful shiny ornament:
Sheryl Cooksley is an adoptee and biological and adoptive mother of 4. Her family is without borders and is based on the simple philosophy of “love one another”. She is a postpartum doula located near Portland, Oregon, and the owner of Family Tree Doula Services.