New Paradigm in Family
by Kim Wright Black Mountain, NC
you noticed how families have changed a lot in the past couple of decades?
I deal with that everyday in my holistic law practice, where I help people
redesign their families to include step-children. I encourage them to
drop the term "step" from their vocabularies and to keep relationships
with the children of the ex-spouse those kids who used to be called
Today I am living that new design of family. I am one of those "modern"
women who has had several partners in my 46 years. My third husband jokes
that you need a 3-D diagram to understand my family relationships. Hes
probably right. My family relationships don't fit into the typical family
tree. Were more of a set of interlocking vines.
Recently, events really brought that home for me. In 1983, I married a
man with five children
well, three of them were his blood children
and two were former step-children he informally adopted. Into the marriage,
I brought my firstborn son from my first marriage so together we
had six children. A seventh was born nine months later.
Dagny, my first husbands oldest birth daughter, was 13 when we married.
As soon as I gave birth to her sister (after five brothers,) she and I
created a strong bond. That bond was tested over her teen years. When
her mother decided to move in with a boyfriend who didnt want kids,
she sent Dagny to live with us. Separated from her friends, Dagny was
an unhappy 14 year old. She resolved to make our lives so miserable that
we would have to send her back to live with her mother. Dagny's IQ had
been tested in the seventh grade and we knew she was a genius. She used
all of her faculties to disrupt our household. When we finally declared
that wed had enough, her mother refused to take her back (oops!)
and Dagny was sent to live with an aunt and uncle on a military base.
Suffice it to say that she preferred living with us to living with them,
and wanted to return. Her mother thought the best approach was one of
tough love that Dagny should have to live with the consequences
of her choices. Dagny became a chronic runaway. In response, we became
chronic custody litigators, trying to regain custody of a child who wouldnt
stay put long enough to get anything resolved.
It was during this time that I began to consider law school. I saw it
as a money-saving proposition. If I got a law degree, we wouldnt
have to hire lawyers any more. I also saw the power of the magic words,
"Im a lawyer." Once, when Dagny had been picked up from
her wanderings and was in state custody, I spent $800 on long distance
calls trying to get information about her. I was unsuccessful. Our lawyer
made one phone call and uttered the magic words. Suddenly, everything
we wanted to know was told to him. That was when I decided to go to law
During Dagnys adventures, she mostly stayed in touch with me, and
we developed an even stronger bond. Often, when I was worrying about her,
I would intend that she call she would almost always do so. When
she didnt, she told me that shed gotten the message but was
rebelling by not calling. We began to joke about our connection. Soon
it wasnt a joke. Each of us still has the power to get the other
to call by merely intending it.
Miraculously, after years of running away, hitchhiking across country
several times, living in runaway shelters and on the beach, Dagny survived
to become an adult. At 18, she married her first husband. I was her matron
of honor. Six weeks later, he hit her and she left him. Pregnant, she
arrived at my doorstep. I was in law school and in the middle of the divorce
from her father. She testified on my behalf at the custody trial and I
was awarded custody of her sister. A few months later, thanks to Dagny,
at age 36, I became a grandmother. Her son, Ben, was born while I was
taking the bar exam.
Later, in another life transition, Dagny and her daughter lived with Andy,
my third husband, and me for a year. Three year old Stephi was impossible
to resist and Andy fell head over heels in love with her. They were quite
a pair. He, being a 64" near twin of Hagrid (of Harry Potter
fame,) and Stephi being a tiny blonde cherub with Grandpa wrapped around
her little finger.
Often I talk to my clients about how I divorced Dagnys father but
I didnt divorce his children. (His other children have also stayed
in my life.) When her mother wanted to reconcile three years ago, she
called me for support and they mended their relationship.
It only made sense that when Andy and I divorced after seven years of
marriage, he stayed close to Dagny and Stephi. Now, at age 11, Stephi
has both Andy and my current partner, Marty, as Grandpas who think the
sun rises and sets at her command.
So, today when Dagny called me from Florida to say that her father-in-law
had died, it reverberated through several households. Andy called from
Oregon to comfort Stephi and assure her that her other grandpa was okay.
Dagny told us that she was being strong for Stephi and Kristen, Stephis
step-sister. I wasnt surprised when Dagny told me that she was making
sure that Jenny, Kristens mother, her husbands ex-wife, was
being included in the family events. She felt strongly that Jenny should
be included. After all, she was still family even though she and Patrick
In the old paradigm of family, Dagny and I arent related at all
at most she is my former step-daughter. Andy and Marty are certainly not
related to her. Jenny and Dagny are enemies in that old paradigm.
But, I wouldnt advise telling Stephi that I am not her grandmother
or that Andy and Marty are not her grandfathers. Youd be likely
to get quite a lecture about the meaning of family.
J. Kim Wright practices holistic law in Asheville, NC and coaches lawyers
on bringing holistic principles into their law practices. More information
is available at www.jkimwright.com