June 09, 2010

Family Ties

Have you seen A Family Is a Family Is a Family , the HBO documentary by Rosie O’Donnell? It’s actually a really fun look at what makes a family a family, told through the eyes of young kids. It’s appropriate for all ages, and showcases how families are made up (mom and dad, two moms, two dads, black and white, grandparents, adopted, etc.). My daughter watched it with me the other night, and didn’t get all of it, but she got the gist of it: family is the people who love you and take care of you.

It got me thinking though about how I’ve been asked if I think my children will be confused about their relationship to their “extended” family (i.e. birth parents and birth siblings). That seems like such a silly question to me, but I’m guessing those asking either come from a small family or haven’t really stopped to think about what they are asking.

Basically, the extended family of a child who was adopted is no more or less likely to be “confusing” than the extended family of a child who was not adopted (“confusing” is in the eye of the beholder). Most of my friends still can’t figure out my family or remember which of my siblings and relatives are half, step, or adopted. But because it’s what I grew up with, my family makes perfect and total sense to me. Why wouldn’t it? It’s all I’ve known.

I’m not sure why the assumption is often made that because a child was adopted, their familial relations are automatically more confusing than anyone else’s family. If an adoptive family is unaware of any extended family members (birth siblings for instance) that their (adopted) child may have, then there really isn’t much to be confused about (as far as an “extended” family is concerned). If the family does know about extended family members—even if they’ve never met—it’s as easy as keeping a life book (or baby book) with that information. Though we have never met our daughter’s birth mom or her birth siblings, save one, we know all their names and ages, and have that information written down for our daughter.

Our daughter may not have the opportunity to have a relationship with her extended family on her birth mom’s side, so maybe she won’t consider her biological relatives her relatives at all. And maybe she will even if they never meet. That’s up to her. Either way, it’s her story and we’ll make sure she knows it. It’s not confusing when it’s what you’ve always known.

Speaking of confusing, though, this has got to be my favorite example of how a family is a family is family, no matter whether you were adopted or not.

Our neighbors—who have numerous grandkids—have two granddaughters in particular that are technically “half” sisters (same mom). The older one has a half-brother from her father, and the younger has a half-sister from her father. The older one considers the younger one’s half-sister her sister, as well, but there is no blood relation. But the younger one thinks of the older one’s brother as just the older one’s brother.

To me—even with my own crazy familial ties—this is confusing. But to the people in that family, it makes perfect sense. As it should.

So, here’s to all the wonderful, amazing, and sometimes crazy, families out there, no matter how they became a family. Because it’s not the “how” that matters so much as the “ever after.”