Which family is his family?

Its Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is Back to School.

It's Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is "Back to School."

family_vennFor homework this past weekend, my preschooler, Jacob, was to make a “me cube,” a tissue box wrapped in colored paper and then covered with photos, drawings and information about him. One of the faces of the cube was supposed to feature a picture of “my family.”

I agonized, as I often do, over whether to show his family of three — just Jacob, his mom and me — or his family of five, which includes his much older half-brothers.

About a year ago, when the teachers in Jacob’s previous class asked for a family picture for the bulletin board, we gave them the family of five. But even at that time, it was a difficult choice.

For a while I had been sensing my wife’s need to identify just the three of us as a family in our own right. A couple of years ago during the holidays, I had been putting all five of our names on Christmas cards when my wife, Angela, observed me doing it and asked why I was including the two sons who weren’t under our roof. I hadn’t thought much about it till then; I had just put their names down because they were my kids. But it was kind of illogical to do that — I know I shouldn’t presume to act as my older sons’ representative for things like greeting cards.

Lately, it occurs to me that Jacob probably thinks of his family in similar terms. Mama and Daddy are with him in the house every day, so we are his ‘immediate’ family in the sense that we are the ones in his immediate reach.

Another observation: When people ask if Jacob has any siblings, I don’t just say ”Yes” or that he has two older brothers. Instead, I usually say that I have two (much older) sons from my first marriage. I’m saying, in so many words, ”Yes but not the same kinds of siblings most preschoolers have.” In a way, I am doing it to differentiate between our ‘conventional’ family of three and our less conventional family of five. This seems to give everyone proper recognition for where they are in life.

In any case, a photo of the family of three is now pasted to the cube.

I’d like to hear from others who struggle with which family to identify as the family.



14 Responses

  1. I, too, struggle with the whole ‘half-sister’, ‘step-daughter’ thing. My wife is five years older than me, and her daughter will be 16 this year. People say things like, ‘You look too young to have a 16 year old!’ ‘Well, she’s my step-daughter.’ I reply.

    To our three year old daughter, the teenager is simply ‘Sissie’. She doesn’t need to be bothered with the details. Since the teenager lives with us, and dad is nowhere to be found, it’s not all THAT complicated.

    But I know what you mean, I have a niece that doesn’t live with her siblings, and their family is awkward about this kind of thing, too.

    Families are more complicated now. I look forward to the day when people are more understanding of that…

    • Howefitz: I’m sure my wife (and most stepparents) can relate to the dilemma you’re describing. We may consider all the kids in the family to be “ours,” but we don’t have to pretend that everyone is identical. Each person’s ‘back story’ is significant and worth acknowledging, especially when the ages don’t seem to compute. Sometimes to say nothing is to imply something false.

  2. Relating because I was brought up in a “split family”…I remember thoughts of feeling left out, at different times, of each. Therefore, my suggestion, and my opinion, bring everyone together as close as you can…you are all of the same family. Develop you own sense of family, not what society dictates!


    • BellaDaddy: Good advice — thanks! I’m thankful that there is a lot of love among the five of us. I think that’s due in part to our being honest about who everybody is and how they got to be a part of the family. My wife has a great relationship with my older boys, but she’s not a mom to them and doesn’t claim to be. Keeping it real! Thanks for commenting!

  3. This makes me think back to my brother and parents.My borhter and I are half brothers anddwere raise by our step-father (not the bioligical father of eather of us). As far back as I can remember, our step-father was “Dad” and we were brothers. My father has been in and out of our lives for years, never really part of the “Family” as you are talking about.

    Where I am having truble now is remembering to include my “father” and my mother and “Dad” in my children’s lives. Being a spread out family (wall all live in diferent states) this is hard. After reading your post I might have to re-evaluate my extended family, and how to deal with them all in my cdaughter’s lives.

    • Zerzix: Thanks for sharing this. My extended family is all spread out, too. In addition, we just don’t keep very frequent contact, although things like Facebook, e-mail and (especially) cell phones are making a difference lately. We’re all comfortable with infrequent communication, as long as it’s good when we have it. At this stage in my life, I don’t want to subject my wife, my kids, myself or anyone else to high-pressure relationships!

  4. From the other side of the fence, I’m the one who married into kids and then had one. Thankfully, the girls are only two and a half years apart and became “sisters” when the oldest was almost 3 so it’s a no-brainer for them. But I can see how the age difference can cause some confusion, especially when the first kids are teens.

    My wife and I never forced our oldest to call me dad and never assumed anything, but we behaved as if we were a single family unit. I started as Daddy Pete, but became daddy in no time. She did it all on her own. So echoing what BellaDaddy said, the family begins with how you approach it. Good self-observation you made there as well. That’s the kind of stuff that will get you through this.

    • Hey, Pete. I really appreciate your insights. My stepbrothers grew to call my dad “Dad” in the same way: naturally, over time. He was their everyday dad starting when they were 5 and 1, so that kind of makes sense. It seems like the less formalizing, the better. Kids tend to see things pretty clearly on their own anyway!

      Thanks, too, for the great work you do at Dad Blogs.

  5. my girls have 1 stepbrother, 2 half brothers, 1 half sister. the stepbrother is my husband’s, half brothers include my oldest from another relationship and my ex’s oldest w his 1st wife, the half sister is the ex’s and his gf’s child…she also has a 15 yr old son. whew! i’m tired writing that already.

    when my girls are asked, whether at school or anywhere else, if they have brothers and sisters, they don’t even think twice about rattling off all their brothers and sisters. the only one not mentioned is the ex’s gf’s oldest. my stepson and the girls call each other brother & sisters no ‘step’. it’s so funny when ppl tell them, but you guys don’t look like bros & sis. well no scheisse sherlock as they’re step which they inform the kids, but i think kids are getting dumber cos they don’t realize that step isn’t the same as half or full siblings lol

    i think you do have the right to be your own family, but then again, you should include your boys when you can. in the long run, they are your youngest son’s brothers regardless of the parentage if you know what i mean.

    • Ciara, I’m going to try to diagram that! Letting people guess at how the family members are related can be fun. My wife looks way too young to be the mom of sons #1 and #2, so when we are all out together, nobody knows who is who. These titles — “step” and “half” — are just shortcuts to explaining how people became related. Cool if you don’t attach any stigma to them, which most people don’t anymore, thank God.

  6. You have to do what works best for your family. I think the most important thing is that your family is clear as to what constitutes is your family, and maybe if clarification is needed, you could call one family your house family (the 3 of you), and the other more complete family as your family, just to make sure that your older sons don’t get left out as being a part of the family. After all, your youngest son and his older brothers are siblings, and their relationship will be fostered by how you nurture their relationship. Good luck, as I can imagine that this is not an easy situation. -Jason

    • Hi, Jason. I really like that term, “house family.” That is the distinction exactly — at least from a preschooler’s perspective. It will be a while still before he can even grasp that his brothers have a different mom, and at this stage that doesn’t even matter. Thanks very much for your insights and for visiting.

  7. I won’t pretend to know what this is like, cause neither my wife or I have kids from a previous relationship. But I do want to say thank you (and the commenter’s) for sharing. It helps a Midwestern boy who grew up in town like Mayberry a better perspective on life.

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