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There's More to a Family Than DNA

Photograph by Getty Images

People often say that the hardest part about being a stepmom is finding your place in the family. Sometimes it’s hard to balance your life before you had two children in it and the life you’re leading now. They say it takes time to figure out where you stand with the little ones and just how much of their life you’re willing to be a part of. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people, but I was lucky. My stepchildren welcomed me in immediately, and our little foursome grew incredibly close. There was no learning curve or stepping stone. It just happened, naturally, and I will forever be grateful that our family’s foundation was just so easy to create.

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The same could be said for my entire family. When I started dating my husband, my family knew that he came with two kids whom I was determined to love and have in my life. The first Christmas we all spent together, just two months after meeting Chloe and Trey, my family bought them gifts, made them cookies and spent lots of time and patience getting to know them. It didn’t take long for Chloe, only 4 at the time, to decide that my dad was her grandpa and my mom was her grandmommy. From there, everyone else became family, too. My brother was their Uncle Tyler and my sister was their Aunt Jamie. That was nearly four years ago, and it feels like this was just how it was always meant to be.

What I didn’t expect from all of this, however, was the judgment I would feel from other people. This past year, someone told my husband that his family should come before mine when it comes to holiday schedules and planning visits with the kids. When he asked why, he was told that my family was just “icing on the cake” and that his family was “the cake” and the most important part. Because Chloe and Trey are biologically related to my husband’s family, this person felt that his family should get first pick on Christmas parties and Thanksgiving dinners.

I know, I know. Really, who prefers the cake over the icing? Nobody! And, if we’re using the kids in this metaphor, Chloe and Trey both throw away slices of cake instead of eating them, but the icing? Oh, it gets licked off immediately.

They knew who their family was, and that was all that mattered.

I was furious that someone would dare to say any side of the family was more important than the other, let alone for a reason like DNA. David, for the record, felt the same way I did. He didn’t see my family as “extra.” Instead, he saw them as part of his family, too. They were just another set of people to love and care for his kids, and they were as important to him as his own family.

It bothered me for weeks, but I was able to let it go, especially when I saw just how close Chloe and Trey had both become with my family, regardless of different genetics. Neither one of them has ever said “Sam’s family” or “my stepfamily.” Instead, they shout “GRANDPA!” when my dad pulls in the driveway, and they ask me to FaceTime “grandmommy” every weekend they’re with us. I pushed aside any negative energy I had and remembered that Chloe and Trey didn’t care about biology. They knew who their family was, and that was all that mattered.

But the moment that finally solidified everything for me happened just a few days ago. Chloe, after spending the day with my brother and sister-in-law, begged us to let her spend the night with them. It was the first time she had ever asked to spend the night with someone else on our weekend and, honestly, David and I were a little worried about how she might feel after we left her.

We told her we would think about it, but the girl didn’t let up. She begged and begged us until finally David said, yes, she could. “But,” he said, “you have to remember that we live an hour away. So if you decide you want to come home in the middle of the night, you’re going to have to be brave and stay here. We can’t drive all the way back to pick you up, OK?”

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Chloe nodded, nearly jumping up and down with excitement.

“Did you understand daddy?” I asked Chloe. I knelt down to her level and said, “You have to stay the whole night. Are you sure you’re going to be comfortable?”

Chloe rolled her eyes, leaned over and gave me a hug. “DUH,” she said. “I’m always comfortable with my FAMILY. This is my family! I’m not going to get nervous or scared!”

DNA, man. It just doesn’t matter to 7-year-olds. (Cross-stitch that one on a pillow.)

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