Tales From a Blended Family: Swimming in Mom’s Pee

Dawn Davenport


combining birth and adopted kids in the same family

It was one of those perfect summer days–on a boat, at a lake, with my family. The sway of the boat, the smell of sunscreen, and the taste of watermelon and fried chicken is a particularly intoxicating mix. The gallons of iced tea we downed required frequent swim breaks. With my kids, no opportunity is lost to get away with potty humor, so the swim breaks quickly were dubbed pee breaks. Son # 1 was in the water when I jumped in, followed quickly by daughter # 2.

Son # 1 (17): Oh gross, you just jumped into Mom’s pee.

Daughter # 2 (11): Yeah, well at least I didn’t have to swim in her pee for 9 months like you did.

Son # 1(swimming up behind me): Too bad for you; back then I loved her pee ’cause it was the best pee around. (With a flair, he ducked under me.)

Everyone laughed, but I held my breath. Where would the conversation go? It went nowhere, which is to say, it went back to the toilet– kidding Son # 2 that he was swimming in his sister’s pee and a discussion of whose pee would be grossest to swim in.

Putting aside my children’s lack of any sense of decorum concerning bodily functions and their screwed up understanding of basic biology, what gave me pause was my reaction. For a moment, just the tiniest moment, I shifted into my mommy alert mode–would something be said that would make my youngest feel…different or like an outsider in our family. Such is the lot of a mom in a blended family. Son # 1 is mine by birth; Daughter # 2 is mine by adoption.

Why would I go into alert mode for such an innocuous remark? As a family, we aren’t known for avoiding the biggies. We discuss sex, drugs, rock and roll, and adoption more often than our kids would like. (Especially the sex and drug part.) But we don’t talk as much about the pregnancy and birth stories of our biological kids. I suspect my reaction as a mom in a blended family is not unusual because we received a similar question on this Creating a Family radio show which was about combining children by birth and adoption in a family.

In our early years as parents, on each child’s birthday, we would look at the photos of my last months of pregnancy and their birth. Slowly over the years, we’ve stopped that tradition. It wasn’t a conscious decision. The kids weren’t really into it and often had to be cajoled to sit with us to reminisce about a time they don’t remember. It didn’t help that in his enthusiasm to record their entrance into this world, their dad used precious little discretion. (Son # 2: Dad, was it really necessary to take so many crotch shots??? Dad: Whose fault is it that you couldn’t keep your legs together? I feel their pain since there are some early breast feeding pics that could use some editing as well.) But it was also easy to let the tradition drop because I didn’t want to highlight that we don’t have these pictures and stories for our youngest.

Our guest experts on the Creating a Family show on blended families responded about the need to create lifebooks for adopted children to explain their early life history. This answer didn’t satisfy me, but it wasn’t until after the show that I was able to process why their answer missed the mark for me. We have a lifebook for our adopted child, and we strongly encourage every parent to create one. (The Creating a Family resources on Lifebooks can be found here, including our podcast on how to create attachment through lifebooks.) We use and love our daughter’s lifebook, and it has indeed opened many conversations. But lifebooks address the adopted child’s early history. In my case, we were avoiding our birth children‘s early history because we don’t have the same degree of information for our adopted child.

When I really think about it, my avoidance surprises me. We are a family, in many ways, defined by our differences. I know this is the case in all families, but it seems especially the case in mine. Some are extroverts and some introverts; some live for athletics and others avoid sports like the plague; some breeze through school and others labor through some (or most) classes. I think one of the strengths of our family is our acceptance of differences. So why do I avoid this one difference? Truthfully, I’m not really sure, but I do know that it’s one thing to celebrate differences, but another altogether to make a child feel different.

As a mom, I want to protect my kids from all the harms and hurts of life, and one potential hurt is adoption. I love the institution of adoption and all that it stands for, but in the shadow of adoption is loss. I know it’s not fully within my power, but I so want to protect my child from feeling those losses, one of which is not being born into her family. I know that birth into our family is not a prerequisite to family membership, but I want her to know it on that deep gut level. One way I have tried to protect her is to deemphasize the pregnancy and birth stories of her siblings that were born into our family.

This type of thinking is falling into the trap I warn others about: treating our adopted kids as if they are more fragile than they really are. If we aren’t careful, this can become a self fulfilling prophecy. I have no real reason to think that this child needs to be protected from the hurt of not being born into our family and not knowing her birth story. I think she values her place in our family, and we talk about how she could only be who she is because she was born to another mother and father. We honor their contribution to who she is. And even if she did need help coping with this loss, avoiding the discussion is certainly not the best way to help her. So who exactly am I trying to protect here???

I love living in a blended family. There are so many different combinations that make us the family that we are. We have different strengths and weaknesses, different likes and dislikes, and yes, different stories. Some have birth stories that we know, and others have birth stories that are only partially known. That’s life. That’s our family. Since my kids went swimming in my pee, we’ve spent a bit more time with the crotch shot pictures. I want to protect my kids from all the hurts of life, but I know that I can’t. I can however, give them a family to fall back on and a place to come where they are loved completely and totally regardless of how they came to be a member.

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First published in 2009; updated in 2017.

15/08/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 12 Comments

12 Responses to Tales From a Blended Family: Swimming in Mom’s Pee

  1. Avatar Full Spectrum Mama says:

    Had to wait to stop laughing to comment – the story and the whole aspect of how you talk about important stuff Waaaay more than your kids would like…

    THEN I had to wait to stop crying because this post speaks so much to me.

    I have a bio son of 16 and a daughter of 12 who was adopted. I have those “mom alert” moments too! And yet, and yet…they end up like yours did 99.9% of the time; that is, my kids are – somehow, miraculously – SO okay with themselves and each other that it seems like they don’t even necessarily need That particular talk…Maybe we’ve already had it enough for ALL!

    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Oh, I love this: “SO okay with themselves and each other that it seems like they don’t even necessarily need That particular talk…” Sounds like you are doin’ okay, Full Spectrum Mama!

  2. Avatar Kristen says:

    I cried when I read this. I think it was so sweet and so special; it just overwhelmed me. I love the concept that we cannot protect any of our children from hurt, loss or pain but we can love them and be with and for them through it. Keep up the good work!

  3. Avatar Kristen says:

    Thanks for writing this! I can relate so much. My oldest is adopted, and he has watched me go through two pregnancies. I’ve often wondered what that was like for him, but he actually seems pretty unfazed. He gets that he grew in a different tummy. I am thankful for photos of him with his birth mom, and I think looking at that book regularly when he was little has really helped solidify a healthy outlook on the whole thing.

  4. Avatar Dawn says:

    I’m also parenting two by birth and by adoption and we don’t have a lifebook for our (adopted) daughter. We have an open adoption so we are fortunate to have nearly as many pics of Madison’s time in the hospital in our albums as we do of our son’s. What we’re really missing (and I oh so wish we had) are pics of our daughter’s first mom being pregnant with Madison. Unfortunately, Pennie just never got pictures taken while she was pregnant.

    I do know what you mean about sometimes holding my breath and wanting to avoid stuff because I know it’ll be hard. My daughter right now is all about breastfeeding. She’s five and her birth mom is due with another baby in September. She’s keenly aware that her brother breastfed and that she did not and now this new baby brother likely will get some breast time, too, and she DOES NOT LIKE IT. But talking it through is another way for us to help her process her adoption story, which has inherent loss. I wish I could protect her from her loss but I can’t — I can only love her through it.

    Thanks so much for your post!!!!

  5. Avatar randi says:

    I saw myself in your post today and didn’t even realize that I was avoiding topics such as birth and breastfeeding. I need to think more on this and talk with the hubby about it. I can see exactly what you are saying, but why didn’t I realize it before? Thank you for your honesty. I like that you don’t pretend to have all the answers or be perfect.

  6. Avatar Jamie says:

    This is a great post, Dawn, thanks from all of the parents of blended families out there! It’s hard to find the line between sensitivity and idiocy as a parent sometimes 🙂 And I know that as I try and protect my adopted kid it’s easy for me to cross that line. Thanks for being real with us!

  7. Avatar Margie says:

    Our family isn’t blended, but this post struck a chord anyway, because these same issues come up in extended family situations, too.

    “This type of thinking is falling into the trap I warn others about: treating our adopted kids as if they are more fragile than they really are.”

    The older our kids get, the more I finally realize this. But boy it’s hard!

  8. Avatar Katie says:

    New reader from ICLW… I’m not sure how old DD#2 is, but she seems to be very mature and comfortable in her biological history making that comment to her brother. It sound like to me you did a great job 🙂

  9. Happy ICLW!

    The fact that your daughter can throw it right back at her brother like that, shows how “comfortable” she is. I am not an adoptive parent, but I can see how you would want to protect your daughter from feeling hurt. From where I sit, you have nothing to worry about. your children seem like they have been raised very well. With all the knowledge and pictures they may not want to know/see ;o)

  10. Avatar Sari says:

    Hi. Thank you for speaking for us with both adopted kids and biologi cal kids. I also love being a blended family with 2 adopted and 1 bio, but I think few people know that it is a balancing act. Not a bad one, but still there are times when I worry. I have followed your radio show from the beginning and I can’t tell you how much they have meant to me. I really haven’t missed a one. I also read all you blogs, but this one has been the very best or at least the one that hit home the most. Thank you for what you do. I hopw you’ll do another show on combing kids by both birth and adoption.

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