How can we celebrate our non-blood family with our daughter?

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Atlas Jack
Photo by Vanessa Wray.
I come from a fairly abusive background, and am perfectly happy with most of my biological family not being in our life. However, I'm finding it increasingly hard to find ways to celebrate the friends that we have made family. I want my daughter to know that she is surrounded by love — even though we don't have what you would call a conventional family unit.

I love the idea of family trees, but I can't exactly build one for her. How can my fiance and I incorporate a larger sense to our daughter? — Seren


Before we open this question up to readers, you might want to check these posts from our archives that address this issue…

  1. What about a family forest? Forests have their own sense of unity 😉 that I think you could make into something special. All growing on the same little plot of land, or something…

    For our wedding, we made a portrait of Simpsons avatars of everyone who would be attending and placed them in a scene. If you are savvy like that you could totally do it, I still love it and it hangs on my wall.

    1 agrees
    • As soon as I read the question all I thought was a Family Garden. The people who might be blood related to each other that you brought in might get a rose bush. Those single "Auntie" figures can be their own flower. Have your favorite plant symbolize her in the middle that all these other plants are here to protect and support her and also make such a beautiful scene.

      1 agrees
    • Family bouquet? Family flow chart (Showing more complex lines of interconnection than biological family tree)? Family mobile?

      I kind of like the idea of a family mobile. It's interestingly tangible and three-dimensional, it suggest the idea of each person in their special place creating a balanced, functional system and you could hang it over her bed so she could fall asleep to gently spinning family.

      1 agrees
  2. I think you could totally create a visual like a family tree for your daughter, but just without the kinship lines. What about creating a collage of your chosen family and hanging it in her room or in a family space? You could frame smallish pictures of your non-blood family (and the blood family that is still part of your life) and cluster them around a picture of your nuclear family or your daughter. Or what about doing a "family portrait" style photo shoot (either professional or with a self-timer) next time the gang is all together?

    So glad you've created the family you want and need, and so glad your daughter has that network to grow up in.

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  3. Just do the same as you would if it were blood family. I have a "sister" that is actually a close friend, but my daughters call her "Auntie" and there is a picture of her daughter in the collage of family photos on our wall. My daughters are 5 and 7 and know that she is not my blood sister but they treat her and view her no differently than they do my actual sister. It's all in how you present it to your daughter.

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    • I agree with this and I do have a best friend that my daughter calls her aunt but it tends to anger most of my blood family that are still around. I think that perhaps creating a family for my daughter trumps them though.

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    • I have a lot of "Aunts" and "Uncles" who are family friends or even my dad's cousin who fulfills the role of Aunt in a lot of ways. It was just always normal that these people were part of my family. If you refer to them using relational terms, your kids will pick that up. (I'm also adopted so to me, I'm as related to my "aunts" as I am to my aunt)

      It also will be shown by how these people interact with your kids. If they do things that family do and treat your daughter like family, then your daughter will pick up on that. The people who showed special interest in me or made time for me or bought me gifts acted the way that I was told family acted. So it made sense to me to consider them family.

      2 agree
  4. A community pond. You, your hubs, and you daughter can make little streams to the pond, each one representing a friend or family member. You can use different colored water for each person, it shows her you all come from different places and backgrounds but end up in the same loving place. We did this in a sandbox, but you can draw it or model it in clay or whatever!

    1 agrees
  5. I also come from an abusive family/ background. I had my 1st baby girl 6 months ago, and some pretty significant changes have taken place. And I just wanted to reach out and share with you.
    1st of all, after 38 years I was finally able to gain control in my relationship with my mother. It's amazing what the possibility of not having a grandchild (who she never wanted!) will do to a grandparent. She now takes her drama elsewhere in the family.
    That being said, the rest of my relationships haven't really changed in the family, I still send our daughter's photos out to extended family, yet will not add them on facebook. When they occasionally cause drama with me, I lay it out crystal clear that I'm not interested in their shenanigans, yet still make sure that they are included in the baby photo snail mail update.
    Now as our daughter gets older, I intend to explain to her why things are the way they are, and leave it up to her to figure out how she feels about it. Already at 6 months, she is so smart! 😉
    Ok, now onto things I've noticed since we live in Texas, and all of my family lives north…
    We have been here for 5 years, and our social life was never 'that' big…but we are reclusive (cool) nerds, and frankly had outgrown the industrial club life to a degree.
    We just took a trip to Houston this weekend for a friends 5 year old's birthday party, and back up to Bryan, TX to visit another friend whom I did the warrior dash with in 2010, and her little one is now 1 1/2… Friends with Children build the bond. Our other local (closer) friend has a 8 month old, and we try to get together for playdates…etc. These people have become our family. And I think as we get older, it will continue to be the norm…"Hey lets go camping and bring the kids", "Hey lets do xxxxx and bring the kids".
    So I guess what I'm getting at is, we still send out those milestone photos (valentines, easter..etc), to both sets: family – cards always addressed from our daughter. ;), and real family, our friends. Our daughter will know that she is loved, and build her relationships based on how she feels about things, and so will we. I don't know if it's ultra-important to label them…however I did like the idea of having a 'family Forrest' and will probably use that in the future. Best of luck to you. <3

    3 agree
    • Thank you, best of luck to you as well. I am actually considering moving to getaway from the drama. I agree that it's amazing what the possibility of not having a grandchild (who the grandmother never wanted) will do. I live in Nova Scotia and where we are is pretty isolated but I'm trying to enroll my daughter in more activities so she can meet other children. I had her fairly young and don't know a lot of people with kids yet. Thank you for sharing. I like the forest idea as well.

      1 agrees
    • Jenny S, it is great that you have a way to still acknowledge and somewhat include problematic family members (By sending them baby updates and pictures) while sticking to your boundaries and not letting them create drama for you.

      *Raises tea mug to you*

      2 agree
  6. You could put up photos of those who are close to your family.

    On a side note, both of my parents stunk at keeping in touch with their siblings and the rest of their families, and since they all live far away, I essentially grew up without a real extended family network.

    While I sometimes had a pang of jealousy when my friends talked about hanging out with their cousins, it was identical the the pang of jealousy when they talked about playing with a dog (my parents wouldn't get one). My parents didn't really have friends, either, and they did not attempt to fill the space of extended family in my life. I found people who cared about me easily on my own in school and church. Kids have a way of understanding when someone cares.

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    • That is what my boyfriend says as well. Sometimes my fears overtake my logic. 😛

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    • Y'know, I think we all forget to put out pictures of our friends who are family! Putting a picture up of someone not only keeps them close when they're away, it signals to everyone that this person is important to me, this person is family.

  7. We have a similar situation… some close family members and many who will probably never even meet our baby. And we have some close friends who fill those slots… We are also two mommies… so we had a custom baby book made by a terrific book artist on Etsy and had a special page created titled "Special People in My Life" in place of the traditional family tree. Katie, the artist will make whatever you can think of for your book at no extra charge (I think we paid $100 for the book but so well worth every penny!!!). We really had a wonderful experience with her and we have the perfect baby book for our unique family. http://www.etsy.com/shop/LinenLaidFelt is her shop site. Good luck!!

    2 agree
    • Way before etsy, when my little sister was born my mother made her a book of 'who loves you' which was just a photo album/scrapbook with all the people that loved the baby. It started with our immediate family, but grew to include her preschool teachers, friends, her friends' families, etc. Each person had a little bit about them next to their picture "Grandma died before you were born, but she would have loved to go bike riding on Sundays and read books with you!" or "Aunt Betty lives in California with her two dogs- she loves the cards you send her!"
      This helped my sister learn who was in her family (good for names and face recognition as a toddler!) and also helped her to feel closer to family she might not see (our other sister moved away and couldn't be around for much of her childhood).

      I was considering making something similar for my best friend's son, since his 'family' is pretty small and unconventional, but we are all fiercely in love with him and want him to know it.

      1 agrees
      • This is what we did, too! My husband and I are lucky to have mostly positive relationships with our families, but WAY closer, deeper connections to our chosen family. Our son doesn't see all of them as often as we'd like, so we made him a picture book with each friend's face, a few images of things they love (for example, a bike, bull dog, book, and Liberty Bell for a cyclist teacher friend who lives in Philly with his dog) and a picture of him with that friend. This is one of our favorite books to "read" at night, and it's a great way to reinforce both the love we have with these friends and keep their faces fresh in his memory for when we do get together. We just used Shutterfly…nothing fancy!

  8. I'm making my kiddo a personalized board book (like this one) and including our close friends and coven of "aunties". Let the love into your house, and her unique relationships with your wonderful friends will grow up on their own – just nurture and honor them however you can! Congrats on finding your family.

    • I could probably do something similar with shopersphoto. I really like this idea , everyone is there but you don't have to worry about explaining how they came to be there.

  9. I have created a photo album for my son with pictures of family and friends. Everyone is in the same place, on the same level. We have some very close friends that he refers to as aunt and uncle. I suppose some day we will explain the difference, but for now it all works.

    • That sounds good. I almost don't want to explain the difference because I feel that they truly are family in most cases more so than any blood. Maybe family is more than blood at least that is what I am starting to realize after reading these answers. Thank you, it is nice to know that we are not alone in our situation.

      • I don't live close enough to see my blood family very often so my family of choice was in part created to have a family I did love close to. I am lucky that one of those people that lives close is my best friend that I grew up with. He is Uncle Russ, and has been since my oldest could talk. I am also lucky that my blood family is very encouraging of this.

        My kids do know which ones are blood related and which aren't. I am not a big person for pictures or family trees so we included the family of choice by telling stories about each other. My 11 year old loves gettinng to tell stories about how dad and Uncle Russ aren't really related, but might as well be. So that is another way that you can make sure they are included in the childs life.

  10. I am not one for putting together photo albums or scrapbooks at all (I'd love to, but I never seem to actually finish more than a page or two). I've really liked creating photobooks online, though. I know a lot of places do this, but I've only really got experience using Shutterfly (because they've sent me a bunch of coupons!). You upload the pictures you like, and arrange them in a book (with or without words, your choice). You could do a family per page, or have only 1 person to a page, whatever you like. Then, once it's all done, you've got a book that you can have printed up & mailed to you. I'm thinking this is the next book I would like to have made for our son so that he is familiar with pictures of people who love him no matter how nearby or far away they may be at the moment.

    Another fun thing you can do once they're a little older is make a dry erase book with family/friends pictures in it like this mom blogger did. Granted, it looks like she only included immediate family, but I think it would be a lot of fun to include as many people as possible!

  11. Seren, I would suggest simply having lots of BBQs, hikes, walks, dinner parties, etc. with your daughter and the adult people you care about. She will see and hear and feel the love going on around her. Also take photos of these events and put them on her bedroom wall or the living room wall. Eventually you and she together will be able to talk about the memories the photos hold. And she will learn that family is who you love.

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