Featured in the Sun Sailor December 2017 Natalie Webster
Right off the bat I need to tell you that I’m struggling to have understanding and compassion regarding an issue that gets under my skin. Though I pride myself on trying to understand the point of view of another, I’m having a hard time with this topic.
Today’s modern family looks different than it did even several years ago. We have same sex parents, straight parents, step-parents, adoptive parents, grandparents and more, who make up a family in a household.
I’m divorced with three adult children. I live with my love Tony who has two young children, who I’m very involved in raising. We have his boys 50% of the time. Tony and I are not married, nor do we have plans to get married. We are a family and have been for a little over three years.
It takes time, work, patience and acceptance to blend a family. It was an adjustment for the young children, for my older children and for all of the adults involved in raising them. All in all I’m proud of the job we have done and continue to do.
Over time the boys came to me and asked if they could say I was their step-mom because at times it was easier to explain who I was to friends and teachers. They said that I was so much more than their dad’s girlfriend, even if we weren’t married. Since then they have introduced me as their “Bonus mom” or “Step-mom” or just as “Natalie.” I refer to them as my “Bonus kids” or “Step-kids”. They are fine with either. Regardless of labels we know we are a family.
When we have the boys I coordinate their schedules, and work my work schedule around them. We made the decision to design our lives so that one of us, and as often as possible both of us can be with the boys when we have them. I couldn’t be more dedicated to these kids if they were of my own blood. My grown children equally adore them as does my family.
On school forms or sports forms you have to check a box to explain your relationship to the child. There is no “Dad’s girlfriend” or “Bonus mom” box so we always put step-mom. It’s also how I introduce myself to their teachers. Trust me when I tell you school officials don’t take “Dad’s girlfriend” as seriously as they do “Step-mom.”
We had an incident recently where one of the kids was sick at school. The number to call is mine because I’m easier to reach during the day than their dad. The school nurse on duty refused to tell me what was going on because I was “Not a real parent.” That is what she kept saying to me, “I need to speak to a real parent.” She said, “You are not a real parent.”
This is after I explained that not only was I their step-mom but I was on the emergency contact form. If you have kids in the Minnetonka District, you know there is an area online called CareDox that we fill out for emergency contact information etc.
Now, If I were not listed as an emergency contact I would not fault the school nurse on duty for not communicating with me. What I would fault her for is being incredibly rude. She actually hung up on me when I was mid-sentence explaining again that I was not just a “Real parent”, but an emergency contact.
I called her back and let her that regardless of what was going on, I did not appreciate being hung up on. I point blank told her she was rude. I then went online to the CareDox forms, took a screen shot of the form that showed I was listed as an emergency contact and emailed it to the school.
Shortly after I received a call from a different school nurse saying they didn’t check CareDox because they were still using an old system. They allowed me to pick up my step-son who was sick.
There isn’t much that rattles me, but that incident left me bothered. First off, I was listed as an emergency contact authorized to pick up the child. The error in missing that on the school’s part is one thing, but what truly bothered me was that this woman thought it was okay to tell me I was not a “real parent.”
I wonder how she defines who and what a parent is? I have designed my life and schedule around these kids. I take care of them, live with them. I work with them on homework, sports, life lessons etc. All the things I did for and with my biological children.
The boys themselves will tell you I’m a parent as would their mom and dad. Their mom and I coordinate everything for the boys. A blended family is a team effort, one that sometimes comes with issues as does any family. It isn’t always easy, but at the end of the day we are doing this together and I appreciate the efforts of all of the adults involved.
I’m not letting one person’s unenlightened view of what a parent or family is define our family. I’m sharing about it with the hope of shedding light on the fact that families today come in all different shapes and sizes.
Charles Dickens said it well, “Family not only need to consist of merely those whom we share blood, but also for those whom we’d give blood.”