DNA Stands for “Does Not Apply,” Well, Maybe…
By Diane Stark
“How would you guys feel if we got married?” Eric and I asked our children in early 2007.
Our his-and-hers kids, whose ages ranged from 12 to 4, were thrilled. They actually happy danced.
So that summer, Eric and I took the plunge. We had a small wedding, with our children as our only attendants. We went on a Caribbean cruise – sans children – but the day we returned, our ready-made family began.
While talking with the kids one evening, I was struggling with how to refer to my new husband. “Eric, I mean, Dad,” I stumbled. Finally, I looked at my children and said, “From now on, I’m just going to call Eric ‘Dad’ when I’m talking to all of you. You don’t have to call him that, but it’ll be easier if I do.”
To my surprise, four-year-old Julia said, “But can we? If we want to?” And seven-year-old Lea piped up, “Can I call you Mom?”
So it was settled. Eric and I became Dad and Mom, and we tossed biology out the window.
We were determined to become a blended family where biology simply didn’t matter. We decided that we would love all four of the kids the same, no matter whose blood ran in their veins. We even joked that DNA was no longer the acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid. In our family, DNA now stood for “Does Not Apply.” Loving each child equally, regardless of their genes, was the key to making our situation a success.
For a while, our just-ignore-biology philosophy actually worked. And Eric and I could hardly believe how easy it was. “This blended family thing is a piece of cake,” we decided.
Since I had my stuff so completely together, I decided to use my infinite wisdom as a brand-new stepmom to help other women in my shoes. I put my writing skills to work on a magazine article. I interviewed two “experts,” both of whom had written a book on blended families. The first one I talked to was a really well-known author, and I asked him how to successfully blend two families. His response was, “Blended families don’t blend. They collide.” Yikes.
The female author I interviewed gave just as bleak a picture. “Being a stepmother is the most difficult and thankless job on the planet,” she told me. “Stepmoms do a lot of the work in raising the children, but the biological mother gets all the love. No matter what you do or how much you give, you’ll always be second to her.” Ouch. That one hurt. A lot.
Their advice wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so I ignored it. I wrote the article using only the quotes I liked – the Pollyanna ones that said, “If you love each other enough, everything will work out just fine.” The article sold and was even reprinted several times, but I’m not sure it really helped anyone.
Including – or maybe, especially – me.
Shortly after school started, it was my stepdaughter Lea’s turn to be the Star Student in her classroom. She was supposed to take in pictures of her family, and a family member was invited to school for the afternoon. Eric had to work, as did her biological mom, so I became the available family member.
When I arrived at school, Lea introduced me as her mom. Things were going really well until the pictures Lea had brought started circulating the room. “Who is in this picture?” A kid would ask, holding up a picture of Lea’s biological mother. I could tell Lea felt uncomfortable with the question. After all, she’d already introduced me as her mom.
And things got worse after the kids began to ask me questions. “What was Lea’s first word?” One girl asked me. Another said, “What was Lea’s favorite food when she was a baby?”
“How should I know?” I felt like saying. “I’ve only known her for eight months!” Instead, I stumbled along, finally admitting that I was Lea’s “other mom,” and I hadn’t known her when she was a baby.
When I finally owned up to my “other mom” status, the kids lost interest in asking me questions. “But I know lots of things about Lea,” I wanted to say. “I might not know whether she preferred strained peas or pureed sweet potatoes as a baby, but I know she likes sour cream and onion potato chips and that her favorite color is green.”
But the kids didn’t care. Their message was loud and clear: You’re not her real mom and therefore, you aren’t important. In other words, biology matters.
In the car on the way home, I apologized to Lea and said, “I hope you weren’t too embarrassed.”
She shrugged and said, “It doesn’t matter. I was just glad one of my parents could make it today.”
One of her parents. That’s how Lea thought of me. I smiled to myself and decided that despite everything, I’d count the day as a win.
By that Christmas, I was pregnant. When Baby Nathan was born, the kids were as proud of him as Eric and I were.
Nathan’s biology was an often-visited topic in our family. One day, Lea said, “Nathan is the only person in our family who is related to everyone else in our family.”
“Yes, that’s true,” I said. “He has a little part of each one of us.”
“Nathan is like a little string that ties our family together,” she said.
“That’s an awful lot to expect of a baby,” I said with a smile.
She grinned back and said, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s a good thing we’ve already got something to tie us together.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
She gave me a funny look and then said, “Well, duh. We love each other, Mom.”
I’ve learned that biology does matter and pretending that it doesn’t only complicates things.
Yes, biology matters, but not nearly as much as love.
About this writer
- Diane Stark is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. Her work has been published in 16 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, A Cup of Comfort for Christian Women and dozens of magazines. She loves to write about the important things in life: her family and her faith.