Tag Archive | blood is thicker than water

Grafting Onto Your Family Tree

No matter how "rooted" your family tree is in blood ties --  there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

No matter how “rooted” your family tree is in blood ties — there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

*In collaboration with Chris Little

When I think about family trees, my mind naturally drifts to how different so many families look than they did in the generations of our parents and grandparents. The “faces” of families today are much more diverse – for reasons such as interracial marriage and building a family through adoption. Nowadays, a family is often comprised of different skin colors, ethnicities and cultures.

As I think about this concept further, I also consider what – or should I say who, really makes up a family tree. Is it biological members of a family – those with only true blood ties to the family line? Or, can a family unit be more than that? I wonder too … if family is also supposed to be about love for one other, and about taking care of one other, and about respecting one other – then what if that is not happening with certain so-called “family members.” Then, are they your family? And then further … are the special people in your life who “make up for” those sour relationships – who do love, care for and respect you, are they your family?

In other words, is a family bound by blood … or love?

I will be very bold and say that I do not consider every person in my blood-related family to be my family. There are a few members in my family who do not exhibit the traits I consider to be worthy of family; and therefore I avoid them as much as I can, and certainly do not let them know much about my life nor infringe upon it. Yes, I feel they are that toxic.

Aside from this, our son is adopted. If I thought that family was only about blood ties, I could not possibly have become his mother. In my opinion, a family is less about blood ties and more about a culture. The term culture encompasses ethnicity, racial identity, family structure, economic level, language, and religious and political beliefs – all of which profoundly influence a person’s development and relationship to the world, from birth and childhood on. And, therefore, also how they integrate into a family and take part in that family unit. So in my mind – and in my world, family is built by choice. The “family tree,” therefore, is not so much about where the trunk of the tree first took seed, or how the roots took hold in the ground – rather about the many thick branches and lush leaves that grew from that initial form.

It is so very difficult for me to understand how others cannot see beyond how a child comes into a family and simply acknowledge that it is a true blessing that the child is there. Perhaps, though, that is because I have experienced the love of those family members in my life with whom I share not one ounce of blood. When I look back on my childhood, I see clearly how in many ways those special people were more of a family to me in the true meaning and experience of the word than many of my “blood” relatives. Just as some people remark that they “don’t see race” (I laugh heartily when Stephen Colbert humorously states this on his television show) as a factor in how they interact with people from ethnicities other than their own, I don’t see how inherited physical and personality traits such as daddy’s eye color, mommy’s nose, and grandpa’s sense of humor are at all relevant in how a family lives and loves together.

The credit for my point of view on this subject really must go to my amazing mother. Unknowingly, she is the one who taught me about the beauty of building a family through adoption. My mother was an “only child” and since she grew up without siblings, she built her family through friends with whom she became close over the years. Therefore, my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side of the family were introduced into my life from those friendship bonds. And guess what? I was none the wiser. There was no talk of how “Aunt So-and-So isn’t my ‘real’ aunt,” nor lengthy explanations and justifications as to why “Mr. and Mrs. X” became my grandparents. I did not find this at all unusual – it just was.

My mother's dear friend who became my aunt holds my son when he was a baby.

My mother’s dear friend, who became my aunt, holds my son when he was a baby.

As an example, there were two wonderful married couples who were very good friends of both my parents, and who then became my aunts and uncles – Don and Louise, who were my godparents and have both since passed away; and Bob and Nancy, who continue to be such a delightful presence in my family’s life.

Two sets of other “relatives” in particular influenced my life in some very profound ways. I can tell you that I have definitely “inherited” my Aunt Mary Alice’s flair for entertaining masses of people in my home without breaking a sweat. Her grace and class, and the way her home made an open, welcoming haven for traveling family and friends no matter what else she had going on in her life, astounds me even to this day. She also imparted to me the importance of moisturizing one’s entire body with lotion daily – clearly a beauty regiment necessity!

I remember my mother once remarked to me about Mary Alice saying, “She saved my life,” as her eyes welled up with tears. You see, Mary and her husband, Bob, had become more than just my mother’s dear friends – they became her family when she had none. It is amazing to me how anyone upon hearing this story could continue to think that a blood tie alone to another person makes them family in the true meaning of the word!

A couple of years toward the end of my Aunt Mary’s life, I had the pleasure of flying to Colorado from time to time where my aunt and uncle lived. My dear Aunt Mary had been very ill for some time, and along with her physical ailments, had begun to show early signs of dementia. Although my Uncle Bob had weekly help in his home and was able to take breaks from caring for my aunt round the clock, I wanted to be present during this difficult time for them both whenever I could. I wanted to help too. I wanted to give something back – no matter how small, to the people who are forever bound to me through love. To my family.

As I stayed present with my Aunt Mary while Uncle Bob played cards with his friends and went to the movies; as I helped to feed and dress her; as I looked into her eyes and smiled; I was overcome with emotion. These people had become my true family and I was so much closer to them than many of those who share inherited traits with me. When my aunt passed away, my heart broke in places I didn’t know it could – I had lost a big piece of it.

I had a similar experience growing up with my grandmother and grandfather. Both of my parents’ fathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother passed away after having seen me only once when I was just an infant. My maternal grandmother battled cancer throughout my childhood and passed away when I was in the ninth grade. So the grandparents I refer to were not the biological parents of either my mom or my dad – they were actually our neighbors.

When my mother returned to work after raising us, she turned to a retired woman in the neighborhood who babysat regularly for help with our afterschool care. To our family however, Edna and her husband, Septimus, became so much more – they became our grandmom and grandpop. I cannot put into words what a special part of my life they became, sharing everything from school days to birthdays. Septimus passed away when I was a freshman in college and when my beloved grandmother passed away in 2001, I felt as though a piece of my life had died too. I assure you that in all the years I was blessed to have her in my life, her homemade cookies, cakes and pies tasted no less delicious; and her presence in my life was no less special, because we were not related by blood.

My "family tree" continues ... my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

My “family tree” branches out … my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

Now the same need for family must be fulfilled for my son. He too is an only child, and my husband and I are not close with all of our immediate family members. So we are forming a family for him – growing and adding branches to our tree trunk. We have looked outside of our family members for those special relationships of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My best friends and their families have been very present in my son’s life. In fact, my son calls them aunts, uncles and cousins; and just as I did growing up, doesn’t seem to think anything of it. For they are the ones who make the effort to stay in touch across the miles, to send my son special gifts, to visit or host us when we visit them. They are the ones who support us in raising him, uplift us when we experience life’s challenges, and celebrate when we share our joys. They are our family and we treasure them!

The expression, “Blood is thicker than water,” is a misrepresentation of family life. It simply is not true. Although it is sad to say, when you go through a really difficult time in your life, you may well find that those still standing by your side at the end may not be your blood relatives!

In my blog, “Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life,” I share a story which illustrates further my thoughts about true family

My husband and I had been following the Camelot television series and during one episode, Arthur spoke to a man who was afraid of losing his daughter if she ever discovered that he was not her biological father. When Arthur spoke, my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled – finally, a script writer who truly “gets” adoption, who truly understands that families can be built by choice as well. To the man, Arthur said, “It’s not blood that ties you together; it’s the memories you share. Everything you taught her, everything you gave up for her – it’s your love, that’s what flows through her.”

Enough said!

Do you have a special person who has become family even though they are not related by blood? Are there people in your life you consider family members just as much as your biological relatives – and whom you would add to your family tree? Our OTMGR community would be interested to hear your story about those treasured relationships!

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“Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

My son looks nothing like me yet my love for him runs deeper than any blood between us could.

My son looks nothing like me yet my love for him runs deeper than any blood between us could.

I once read an advice columnist’s comments to a gentleman who was concerned about his wife’s preoccupation with having a child, and their struggles to conceive after three years of trying and countless visits to IVF doctors. He said his wife becomes upset when friends become pregnant, is “obsessed with all things ‘baby,’” and is in denial that they simply might just not have kids. The columnist commented that his wife was not in denial, rather in despair. She said his wife is aching to be a mother – and that’s a real ache. She advised the man to get counseling for the couple, as well as to consider adoption. In fact, she said, she was an adoptive mother. The columnist added that there are children in the world who need mothers just as badly as his wife needs to be one. She assured the man that the instant he and his wife hold their baby, the importance of the manner in which the child was delivered will dissolve in tears of joy.

My husband and I had been following the Camelot television series and during one episode, Arthur spoke to a man who was afraid of losing his daughter if she ever discovered that he was not her biological father. When Arthur spoke, my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled – finally, a script writer who truly “gets” adoption, who truly understands that families can be built by choice as well. To the man, Arthur said, “It’s not blood that ties you together; it’s the memories you share. Everything you taught her, everything you gave up for her – it’s your love, that’s what flows through her.”

How a child comes into a family is not as important as the blessing that the child is there. In my life, I have experienced the love of family members with whom I share not one ounce of blood. When I look back on my childhood, I see clearly how many ways those special people were more of a family to me in the true meaning and experience of the word than most of my “blood” relatives. Some people remark that they “don’t see race” as a factor in how they interact with people from ethnicities other than their own. (I laugh heartily when Stephen Colbert humorously states this on his television show – of course we see race!) In the same way, I don’t see how inherited physical and personality traits such as daddy’s eye color, mommy’s nose, and grandpa’s sense of humor are at all relevant in how a family lives and loves together.

Just funnin' with Dad!

Just funnin’ with Dad!

Unknowingly, my mother taught me about the beauty of building a family through adoption. She was an only child and built her family through friends with whom she became close over the years. My aunts and uncles were introduced into my life from those friendship bonds. And guess what? I was none the wiser. There was no talk of a woman not being my “real” aunt, nor lengthy explanations and justifications as to why Mr. and Mrs. X became my grandparents. Two wonderful married couples who had been friends with my parents became my aunts and uncles – Don and Louise, who were my godparents and who have since passed away, and Bob and Nancy, who continue to be such a delightful present in my family’s life.

Two other sets of “relatives” in particular influenced my life in some very profound ways. I have definitely “inherited” my Aunt Mary Alice’s flair for entertaining masses of people in my home without breaking a sweat. Her grace and class, and the way her home was made an open, welcoming haven for traveling family and friends no matter what else she had going on, astounds me. She also imparted to me the importance of moisturizing one’s entire body with lotion daily – clearly a beauty regiment necessity!

I remember my mother once remarked about Mary Alice saying, “She saved my life,” as her eyes welled up with tears. Mary and her husband, Bob, had become my mother’s family when she had none. A blood tie alone to another person does not necessarily make them family.

When my dear Aunt Mary became very ill, I wanted to be present during this difficult time. I wanted to give something back to the people who are forever bound to me through love. As I stayed present with my Aunt Mary while Uncle Bob played cards with his friends and went to the movies, as I helped to feed and dress her, as I looked into her eyes and smiled, I was overcome with emotion. These people had become my true family and I was so much closer to them than many of those who share inherited traits with me. When my aunt finally passed away, my heart broke in places I didn’t know it could – I had lost a big piece of it.

My son playing with his "non-officially" related cousins

My son playing with his “non-officially” related cousins

I had a similar experience growing up with my grandmother and grandfather. Both of my parents’ fathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother passed away after having seen me only once when I was just one year old. My maternal grandmother battled cancer throughout my childhood and passed away when I was in the ninth grade. So the grandparents I refer to were actually our neighbors.

When my mother returned to work, she asked a retired woman in the neighborhood to help with afterschool care for me and my sisters. However, Edna and her husband, Septimus, became so much more – they became our grandmom and grandpop. They became a very special part of my life, sharing everything from school days to birthdays. Septimus passed away when I was a freshman in college and when my beloved grandmother passed away in 2001, I felt as though a piece of my life had died too. I assure you that in all the years I was blessed to have her in my life, her homemade cookies, cakes, and pies tasted no less delicious and her presence in my life was no less special because we were not related by blood.

Now the same need for family must be fulfilled for my son. He too is an only child, and my husband and I are not close with all of our immediate family members. So, we have looked outside of those relationships for aunts, uncles, and cousins. As you can see from the snapshots, my best friends and their families have been very present in my son’s life. He calls them aunts, uncles, and cousins. They are the ones who make the effort to stay in touch across the miles, to send my son special gifts, to visit or host us when we visit them. They are the ones who support us in raising him, uplift us when we experience life’s challenges, and celebrate when we share our joys. They are our family and we treasure them!

Andrew's Aunt Karen and my best friend since the seventh grade

Andrew’s Aunt Karen and my best friend since the seventh grade

Do you have a special person who has become family even though they are not related by blood? I would be interested to hear your story about that treasured relationship!

Celebrating National Adoption Month and the Blessing of Family

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Those of you who read Mary Ann Filler’s blog, “Change Your Perspective,” were likely as moved as I was. Yet for me, it was more than just her message of looking outside ourselves and our world into that of others to see our blessings.

What actually most impressed me was that she had set out to write on one topic and then–bam–changed it completely because she just had to write about what was in her heart at that moment. That’s what we writers do. We see something, hear something, experience something … and we just have to write it down. Then we find that we just have to share it. And that’s what I felt like I had to do late this Monday night as I sat by the fire, warming my tired and aching back.

For nearly two years now, I have been living (sort of) and dealing (barely) with chronic pain through two conditions. To spare you the details, I will just say that fortunately neither of my conditions is life-threatening. The first actually has now been completely treated and resolved, and the second is getting there.

Although certainly this does at the end of the day make me grateful, those who have been through the same thing know that non-stop chronic pain and all that goes with it–pain management regiments, endless doctor’s visits, various treatments and procedures, and some big lifestyle changes really affects you and your family.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am especially thankful for the endless and unconditional love, support, and grace I have received from my family. Although just a small one–comprised of my husband, son, and dog–the three of them have helped me hold my life together when I have felt it coming unraveled. The best part about my family? It was not built by blood–it was built by choice and by love.

Few of the people I consider extended family are biologically related to me. As far as I’m concerned, whoever created the expression “blood is thicker than water” was wrong. In my experience, those have generally not been the people who have been a part of our lives. Rather, it has been those who have come into our lives and stayed, who have become a part of our family by choice.

November is National Adoption Month. President Obama wrote a powerful and stirring proclamation to mark the month as such, and to let the world know what a special way adoption is to build a one’s family. I share it with you at the end of this post, and encourage you this Thanksgiving and the rest of this month to do three things:

1) Count your blessings – all of them, no matter how small.

Recently, one of the specialists I am working with delivered a difficult message to hear: I will not be able to run again. As a former avid runner, who found great peace, solace, comfort, and even triumph over life’s many trials through running, I was devastated. That is, until I realized that I have been, over time, replacing that activity with another–Middle Eastern dance. It is a doctor-approved activity I can safely do with my condition and it actually strengthens my body. Oh yeah, and I’m good at it–blessing counted!

2) Support and uplift all those people you know who have dealt with infertility and loss of children, and who have struggled to build their family. Celebrate with those who have finally done so through adoption.

Recently, I talked with a cousin of mine who had suffered miscarriages as well. For her, even though she is now a grandmother and that time of great sadness was so long ago, discussing it still brought her to tears. The pain never goes away.

Also, it hurts when an adoptive family is shut out from extended family activities and doesn’t feel embraced by those around them. It is, quite simply, not their job to have to fight to be included, or to feel welcomed and embraced. Rather, it is the job of the adoptive family’s extended family members and friends to go out of their way to make extra sure they are being sensitive to that adoptive family, and to see that they feel welcomed, embraced, and included. Your acceptance and love will mean more than you could ever know to them – please read my blog, “Supporting Adoptive Families” for some ideas on how you can be that special person in their lives!

3) Look around to find people who can fill the shoes of anyone biologically related to you who, for whatever reason, isn’t willing to be a part of your life.

For awhile, my husband and I were really feeling down about this issue in our lives. It took us awhile to process through it, yet finally we made a decision to stop wallowing in the loss, change our perspective, and begin building our family through those whom we choose and who choose us. Our spirits have now lifted greatly, our feelings of sadness and loss have dissipated, and – best of all – our little boy is going to grow up around some pretty fantastic and loving people!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and happy National Adoption Month. Here’s to our families–no matter how they are built!

NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH, 2012

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

As a Nation that believes all children deserve the chance to reach their full potential, we have a fundamental responsibility to ensure each of them grows up knowing the love and protection of a permanent family. During National Adoption Month, we give voice to children who are still waiting for that opportunity, celebrate the bond that unites adoptive parents with their sons and daughters, and recommit to providing every child with the care and security that will nurture their development and well-being.

Later this month, many Americans will also mark National Adoption Day by completing a foster care adoption and embracing a new member of their family. Driven by reasons unique to their households but united by the spirit of compassion that moves all who choose to adopt, these parents will take up our country’s most important task — the work of raising our sons and daughters. As we celebrate the contributions of adoptive parents across our Nation, let us also strive to eliminate discriminatory barriers that would separate foster children from a loving family. Adoptive families come in many forms, and it is essential that all qualified adults have the opportunity to care for a child in need.

My Administration remains committed to helping every child find a loving home. We have partnered with faith-based and community organizations across America to help connect children with adoptive parents, and we continue to work with State, local, and tribal governments to improve child outcomes; enhance safety, permanency, and well-being; and support adoptive families. I was proud to sign the Affordable Care Act and the International Adoption Simplification Act, which have made it easier for families to adopt, as well as the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, which will help reduce the length of time young children are without families. We have built on those efforts as part of the National Adoption Campaign, which continues to bring adoption and foster care into our national conversation.

Thousands of children living in America hope for the comfort and safety of a loving family. This month, we pay tribute to the dedicated professionals who help make those children’s dreams a reality, sharpen our resolve to find a permanent home for every child, and celebrate the stories of all whose lives have been touched by adoption.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2012 as National Adoption Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month by answering the call to find a permanent and caring family for every child in need, and by supporting the families who care for them.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

BARACK OBAMA