Recently I took my 5-year-old son, Brandon, to Cold Stone Creamery. His eyes were practically dancing as he picked his mix-ins: gummy bears, rainbow sprinkles, and marshmallows. And what else for the perfect combination? Blue Cotton Candy ice-cream, of course! As he enjoyed his treat I thought about how my family is a whole lot like his ice-cream. Lots of mix-ins—an expensive, sweet, sticky mess.
In fact, my family has quite a few colorful mix-ins:
We are multi-cultural: I am American and my husband is Jamaican.
We are multi-racial: I am white, my husband is black and we have black and bi-racial kids.
We are blended: My husband and I have two kids together, his son who I have adopted, and two adopted foster kids.
With all those mix-ins, my family is, in a word, complicated.
Here’s a sample, a taste, of how these mix-ins make life and parenting complicated:
- To get library cards for my kids, I had to explain to a prying librarian why Kayla and Amias’ birthdays are only six weeks apart (answer: Kayla is adopted). Thankfully, Kayla already knew that she was adopted before the nosy librarian “outed” her to the long line of patrons.
- I had to explain to my then 8-year-old step-son, Keimo, why he can’t call his eraser a “rubber” after his Jamaican father told him repeatedly that he must, “always work with a rubber” and “always keep a rubber” in his pocket.
- When my adopted foster daughter, Kayla, was asked by her well-meaning, but oblivious, teacher to create a timeline of her first few years of life (complete with 3 photographs from each year of her life), I had to explain that the earliest picture I have of Kayla is when she’s 2 and that picture is effectively her Child Protective Services mug shot. I don’t know when she took her first step or what her first word was.
- My son, Denzel, has special needs and since he is adopted we don’t have a complete family or medical history for him. He’s got more diagnoses than I can keep track of—and we still don’t seem to have gotten it right.
- After Kayla begged me to have her hair straightened so that the girls at school would stop picking on her, I had to deal with endless criticism from people, including my husband, who misunderstood and thought I was just “trying to make her look like a white girl.”
- My bi-racial son, Amias, proudly calls himself “brown,” but snooty kids on the playground always insist there is no such thing as a “brown” person.
- I watched in apprehension as my husband gave our young son Brandon chicken bones to teethe on, apparently a Jamaican practice, and he used his mouth as a makeshift nasal aspirator even though I had several perfectly good ones on hand.
One thing’s for sure, we aren’t your average vanilla family with 2.5 kids and a dog! Don’t get me wrong, having such a diverse family is a wonderful and beautiful thing. But, it is a complicated proposition. Even though our 21st century society for the most part embraces blended and mixed families it’s still oriented towards traditional family units. As more and more families are blended and mixed, we need new insights, strategies and real-world solutions. I’ve found that when “Parenting 101” clichés fit just about as well as my pre-pregnancy jeans, I have to get creative and through trial—and many errors—find real-world solutions that work for my family.
What are some of the challenges your modern family experiences and how have you handled them?