When mainstream labels simply don’t fit.
“Is she my actual aunt?”
Seemingly simple questions like this one are not simple at all when they come from an adopted child like my son.
Is a biological aunt he has never met his actual aunt?
What about my sister, who is not biologically related to him at all?
Or my best friend, whom I consider a sister but is not legally recognized as a part of our family?
Mainstream labels simply don’t fit most members of Levon’s family. While I only have one sister, there are many women in his life who carry the title of aunt, and he’s starting to ask questions in an effort to understand his family structure. Once he’s old enough to comprehend biological vs adopted, in-laws and exes, and all the other hyphenates that make up his non-traditional family, it will be easier to explain. But for now, he’s seven and still frequently mind-blown when I remind him that his grandmother is, in fact, my mother. Until he’s ready for an explanation that includes genetics and legalities, it’s up to us to find a way to explain his relationships in an age-appropriate way.
A person can be your aunt for many different reasons, I told him recently. If your mommy or daddy have a sister, that person is your aunt. If your Tummy Mommy has a sister, that person is your aunt, even if you don’t know her. Everyone has family members that they’ve never met. Sometimes it’s because they live far away and sometimes it’s because families are just big and we don’t all know each other. A person can also be your aunt simply because they love you very much and because you love them. It’s a name that we use for people who don’t live with us but are very special to our family, like Aunt Jill and Aunt Sandy.
All of your aunts are your actual aunts.
So far, that explanation makes perfect sense to him (and me). Much more sense, frankly, than the antiquated labels we continue to use in spite of modern family structures.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.