Today is National Stepfamily Day, and this week two of our contributors share their perspectives on raising children in blended families. Yesterday, Natasha wrote about life with her husband, Chris, and their three children. Today, Simone talks about her family: husband, Otis, and two children.
My husband was just telling me the other day that he showed his co-workers a few recent pictures of our kids. He said, as usual, they think our daughter looks like me, but our son looks just like him. This always warms his heart, because he’s a proud dad, glad to have a son who looks just like him — even though they don’t share any DNA.
Otis takes our son, Grayson, to school every day. If homework is giving Grayson and me trouble, Otis gets up early to help him (after getting off work at 11 p.m.). He carries him over his shoulder to bed. When Grayson wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, thinking that there are bugs in his room, Otis almost breaks his neck to get to him. He beats me there every time.
This is not Otis’ stepson, and he is not a stepfather. That is his child, and he is Grayson’s father.
My friend told me about friends of hers who were going through a hard time. My friend felt the wife was ungrateful because the woman’s husband was getting up with her daughter and taking her daughter to school. This was mind-boggling to me, because that’s not how it is in our home. It’s not insane that Otis takes Grayson to school, brushes his teeth, cleans his ears, or cuts his hair. It’s not some kind of favor to me. That is his duty as a parent to his child!
That might be part of why I have such an aversion to being called a blended family, because it would be absolutely insulting to Otis for anyone to view Grayson as any less than his child. He is not Otis to Grayson, he is Daddy. That is his father.
When we made Grayson’s family tree this week, it was Otis’ picture in the daddy spot. It is Otis he is referring to when he talks about his dad. When we joined him on a school field trip once, he completely ignored me and kept showing all his friends who his dad was. When he gets home from school and Otis is already at work, he wants to call Otis and tell him about his day (if it’s been a good one); and when he has a brilliant thought or idea, he wants to call Otis. He also has a good time taking my phone or tablet and sending a message to him.
When I met Otis, Grayson was three years old. The bond between them was instantaneous. I don’t think Grayson has any recollection of Otis not being in the picture, and at this point Otis has been in his life longer than he wasn’t in it. After we got engaged, Grayson took to calling Otis Daddy. That’s who got him dressed in the morning and took him to school, even then. When Otis would leave to go play basketball or football, Grayson would go with him. When Grayson is misbehaving, Otis doesn’t come to me to ask what he should do, or to have me handle it because he’s not his biological father.
The decisions we make for Grayson are made jointly, but Otis also has free reign to decide how to handle a situation, because he is raising Grayson just as much as I am. When Grayson becomes a man, he will be modeled after Otis, his daddy: the man who has stressed with me over him, loved him, held him, and raised him.
I worried, when I was pregnant with our daughter, that he wasn’t excited about her. The only thing he seemed interested in was Grayson. This was frustrating, but at the time it was amazing, because seeing that he didn’t falter when it came to being a father to Grayson warmed my heart in ways I can’t describe.
When people would ask Otis how it felt to be a dad, he would get so angry and tell them, “I’m already a dad.” They’d say, “Oh, you know what I mean. Your own child,” and he would again correct them and say, “No, I already have a child.”
When our daughter, Elind, was two months old, Grayson was going with his dad to work for a few hours. It was a beautiful Saturday in February, but something didn’t feel right to me. Before they left, Otis went to go to the gas station to get a soda for me, and the last thing I heard was him telling Grayson, “I’ll be right back to get you. Stay here.” Twenty minutes later, I was at the scene of an accident. Someone had T-boned Otis’ car. He was unconscious and, unbeknownst to the police, the paramedics or us, his neck was broken. Grayson had to get out of the car so I could put his carseat in my car, and he saw the paramedics taking Otis out of the car. At that point Grayson knew something was wrong, and he started to cry for his daddy.
When we got to the hospital and were allowed in Otis’ room, he was screaming and crying for his wife and kids. “Where are my wife and kids, where are my wife and kids?” he kept saying, over and over. He didn’t just ask for Elind, or his “kid.” Even in that moment, he knew he had two kids. Grayson and Elind.
I have a husband and two kids, and we are a normal family like everyone else. I understand other people refer to their families as blended, and they may refer to themselves as stepparents, and there is nothing wrong with that. We simply are not that family. My husband isn’t my son’s stepfather, he’s his father. Grayson is not his stepson, he is his son. Just as much as Elind is his daughter.
If, God forbid, there were ever a split, Otis would fight me tooth and nail for both kids, not just the one who shares his DNA, and I LOVE that. He is as much Grayson’s father as I am his mother. We are not a blended family. We are a family.
Does your family call itself a blended family, or do you prefer another term? Talk about it in the comments.