Blended families and how the shapes of family trees are changing

Guest post by Kristin Ireland
Kristin and her brother. Photo by Stolen Glances Photography.

Families are magnificently complicated. They bend and shift to include new members based on shared lineage, marriage, and choice. These days family trees take on odd shapes. Limbs poke out of nowhere and tangle around one another. Red Oaks mix with Longleaf Pines to create something entirely new and utterly perfect.

Few people understand this pattern better than folks in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. We tend to find family in our communities. Those of us in same-sex relationships often need to become creative in-order to raise children. We enter relationships with children born from opposite sex unions. We adopt. We donate sperm. We find surrogates. We birth babies. We raise the babies our partners’ have birthed. It’s messy, but it’s real.

Last Christmas my (far bigger than me) little brother brought a girlfriend home. I wasn’t surprised by this. Finding girlfriends was never a problem for my brother. Staying with them has proved far more difficult. She brought children into the relationship with her. Experiencing the magic of the holidays through the eyes of tiny people who hear reindeer hoofs and tear open gifts like the secret of life might be in the bottom of the box is always exciting. But I was determined not to get attached.

But then I actually met Lisa and Alyssa and Reid. And I witnessed my brother fall absolutely and completely head over heels in love for the very first time. And all efforts to remain detached went out the frosted, snow-covered, window.

In the months that followed I watched as my brother, who for many years had stubbornly refused to settle down, was softened and matured by the love of a woman. And in finding that kind of love he has created a branch of our family tree that we suddenly couldn’t live without.

So when he proposed to Lisa and asked me to help plan a wedding that would be taking place in just a few short months I was honoured. I traveled from Ottawa to Sudbury to go dress shopping, to plan timelines, to shop for decorations. I helped my wife make invitations. I painted a couch in the bright turquoise colour of their wedding for a photo prop. I made tissue paper pom-poms, set-up tables, did the bride’s make-up, and wrote a speech. And somewhere in the middle of it all I wondered why I had taken on so much.

And then in the middle of my brother’s ceremony, before the minister asked them to exchange rings and make their union official, my brother invited his step-daughter up to the front of the service. At six feet and five inches tall he towered above the blonde haired eight year old. With a tremble in his voice, and tears that needed to be blinked back, he said the following:

Alyssa, before I marry your mother I need to ask your permission to become your dad. If you will allow me I will promise today to keep our family together and to love you for the rest of my life. Will you accept this necklace as a symbol of our becoming a family?

His giant hands pulled a tiny interlocking heart necklace from his pocket and he placed it around her neck as her smile got big enough to take over her whole face.

My heart filled with so much pride for my big little brother. And every minute spent making tissue paper pom-poms seemed entirely worth-while.

My brother and I grew up with very little in common. But as adults we have one very important shared experience. I am raising my biological child with a partner who is not biologically related to that child. My brother is raising children he is not biologically related to with a partner who is.

Sometimes family trees grow in the traditional way. Roots form, a trunk is established, and branches develop. Other times those roots tangle up with the roots from a different tree. They twist and mingle until it is unclear where one ends and the other begins. Pine needles mix with red oak leaves and the world makes very little and entirely perfect sense.

Comments on Blended families and how the shapes of family trees are changing

  1. Beautifully written and so so true. Thank you for this. My kooky family tree is something I’m so proud of, and it’s always amazing to me how many definitions there are for family!

  2. Im not crying… it’s allergies. Totally allergies.

    As a someone who grew up with a nontraditional family structure, it totally doesn’t matter as long as the love is there. And it so totally is for you guys.

  3. I got married for the second time this past June. I have 2 daughters from my first marriage, and so we also had to integrate children into a new family relationship. Our ceremony was beautiful and touching, and when we also said vows to my girls I completely bawled like a baby. I don’t know how many other people in the audience did, I didn’t pay attention. But this is so wonderful. Congrats on your new family members!

  4. We did the same thing at our wedding, it was very sweet.
    For the necklace, we found a company that would put both of our fingerprints on a heart pendant with all three of our initials on the back… loved it!

  5. *tears*

    future blended family here too. (well, already blended i guess, just not legal yet.) my husband passed away a month or so before our son was born. seeing my fiance become his dad has been both heartbreaking and mindblowing, so wonderful and bittersweet. we’re still thinking about how to incorporate it into our ceremony.

  6. I was in graduate school when I found and reunited with both sides of my biological family. For the first time I was able to draw a tree that felt AUTHENTIC to me. It had me at the center, with roots going down and spreading out. That was my biology, my foundation of genetics that I finally was able to tap into. The rest of the tree spread sky-high as I included my branches of my adoptive family and my in-laws.

    Thanks for writing this!

  7. Thank you for sharing such a personal moment/time with us. My fiance and I are blending two families as well and we plan to do something similar at our wedding next year. If Im anything like I am after reading your blog I will be an emotional wreck at our ceremony. LOL

  8. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story. We wanted to include my step daughter in our wedding but her mother wouldn’t let her come 🙁 However, we plan to renew our vows in a couple of years and we will definitely be including both her and our daughter in the ceremony – no matter what her mama says!

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