Am I the only parent who hates being asked, ‘How many kids do you have?’
Biologically, I have two. But, in my eyes, I have four. My partner, biologically, has three. But, when asked, he too answers that he has four kids. (I’ll give you a minute to work that one out.) I even joke with him sometimes, ‘I can’t believe you have three children! And I have two. Weird, right?’
Welcome to the wonderfully confusing world of blended families, when the last time we all were in a family photo happened about four years ago. My son wasn’t even born yet. That’s how hard it is to get all of us together.
Often, my son will be with his Nana, my partner’s mom, while my daughter is visiting with her grandparents, and my partner’s children will be hanging out with their friends or out in the outskirts of Toronto, where their mom lives.
Yes, it gets confusing. Last week, my daughter was in Aspen with her Dad. My partner’s children were with their mother in Florida. And my son stayed home. I often joke that I live in a motel, there are so many people coming and going and suitcases and overnight bags being packed and unpacked.
I believe deeply in two things. The first is that the word ‘step,’ when it comes to blended families, should be banned. In fact, I never use, or have used, that word, when it comes to my confusing, oh-so-modern family. Sure, my partner’s two children aren’t biologically mine, and I’ve never really ‘parented’ them, except to keep them safe, since they already have a perfectly good biological mother, just as my daughter, who lives with me full time, will never say that my partner is her ‘Dad,’ since, she, too, has a perfectly wonderful father.
My daughter will never call my partner her ‘Stepdad.’ She calls him by his name, just as my partner’s daughters would never call me ‘Mama’. They call me by my name, ‘Rebecca.’
I don’t believe, when it comes to blended families, in the word, ‘half.’ My daughter has a brother, not a ‘half’ brother. My partner’s two kids don’t have a ‘half’ brother. They, too, have a brother. So, yeah, the only ‘steps’ in my house are the stairs and when it comes to the word, ‘half,’ I pretty much only use that word when I order, ‘Half a sandwich with soup,’ for lunch.
I also deeply believe that children should grow up knowing their story. I’m not suggesting that you need to tell your kids when or how they were conceived. (Though in my case, I have. My daughter knows both her parents were drunk, dunk, drunk when she was conceived. And meh, she doesn’t care that she was the ‘best accident’ I’ve ever made. She is so loved by so many.) But you should tell your kids the story of their family.
My son, who is incredibly smart at four, knows that he has three sisters, one of whom lives with him all the time, save vacations and weekend visits with her father. He also knows that his other two sisters have a different mother than he does, and that they, more often than not these days, because they are teenagers, stay with their mother, where they are close to their friends, school, and jobs.
My four-year-old son understands that my daughter, Rowan, has an entirely different set of grandparents than he does. Just like his other sisters have another grandfather, that isn’t his, and a different mother, which is why they come and go.
He didn’t come by this knowledge naturally. For years, I’ve been prepping him, as if for a test. I’ll ask, ‘What is Rowan’s dad’s name?’ ‘Where are your other sisters now?’ He can answer, both the name of his sister’s father, and his other sister’s mother.
I’m not lying when I say I have four children exactly, am I? It feels wrong (and not entirely true) to say I have four children, especially when people respond with, ‘Wow. That’s a lot of kids. You look fantastic for having four children.’
Then I feel I must explain further and say, ‘Well, I have two biologically. And two are my partner’s children.’ Except, that doesn’t feel quite right either.
Often, because of the age difference of all our children—my partner’s eldest is 17 years old—people will react with wide eyes, until I explain that, sure, I look fantastic for having four children…because I only gave birth to two.
And then, too, there is judgment I sometimes face, or maybe feel, for being a mother of two children with two different dads. I’ve seen and heard all sorts of reactions when I tell them my first is with my ex, and my second, I had with another man…nine years later. Let me repeat…nine years later!
Piqued interest is foremost. I can tell people have questions, and truthfully, I don’t really want to get into it, especially when I feel judgment at a birthday party outside the bouncy castle, as if I’m the only person in the world who had a baby, got separated, and then—OMG!—moved on with my life.
This look of judgement always surprises me. There is something fascinating about having two kids with two dads, even I’ll admit that. People either like that they think I’ve fucked up my life (Couldn’t be more wrong!) so they’ll feel better that their marriages lasted, or they actually put me on some sort of weird pedestal, like, ‘Wow! You must live such an interesting life. Way to go!’ (Busy life is more like it!) Because I have two children with two different dads, people want to either know where I went wrong, or where I went right.
The genetic aspect interests even me. My biological daughter has brown hair and brown eyes and olive skin and looks exactly like me. My son, with Daddy Numero Two, with his blue eyes, blonde hair, and fair skin looks exactly like him and nothing at all like me.
Perhaps this is why I adore celebrities like Kate Hudson, who has two kids with two different men, and Kate Winslet, who has three children with three different men. This is the one area where I think that, yes, ‘Celebrities are just like us!’…or at least like me. I wonder if they also have to explain (or feel the need to do) when others question their life choices.
And this is why I’ve made sure my kids know their family story, and why I’ve pounded into my children’s heads that there’s no such thing as ‘step’ or ‘half.’ There’s only family, and family is family no matter your story.