Q: In which “kind” of family structure did you grow up yourself?
A: I was lucky enough to be raised, singlehandedly, by my mum. It was just me and her as I didn’t have any siblings. My parents divorced when I was still a baby, and while my dad went on to have another family (I have two step sisters), out of choice I didn’t spend much time with them.
My mum worked hard to give me everything I could have dreamed of – a phenomenal private education, a childhood spent outdoors and unrivalled love and support. As far as I was concerned, she was all I ever needed in a parent – she still is!
Q: When did you wish to have your own children?
A: I was engaged to my (ex)husband at 20 and we – accidentally – fell pregnant with my oldest when I was just 21, so I never really had a chance, as an adult, to assess when, how or where I wanted children. My whole adult life has been as a parent, so I don’t know any different.
Looking back, and something I have spoken about publicly, I feel I was too young to have had the boys at 21 and 23. Of course, I wouldn’t change my parenthood journey for all sleep of a pre-kidder, but I certainly can acknowledge my lack of patience and self-contentment at 21, which can only come with age and has led to me being a much better, present, mum to Casper (and ultimately Hugo & Bruno), who I had at 30.
Q: How did the family model in which you now live evolve?
A: We’re what many might refer to as a ‘blended family’, although I prefer ‘patchwork family’. We’re made up of lots of shapes, sizes, colours and textures; stitched together to create a warm environment for the children. Or at least that’s the idea!
My partner, Russell, and I met over 5 years ago. We were both divorced, spending all our spare time with our two sets of boys. He has Noah (16) and Marley (14) while I have Hugo (11) and Bruno (10). The boys already knew each other, having been to the same village primary school, so the hard bit of introducing them was already taken care of.
In 2015 we had Casper, our fifth collective boy! Why did I ever think we might have a girl?!? He’s the glue that binds us all together – he’s the one that, without knowing, can diffuse sibling bickering or take the edge off a step-parent/child standoff.
Q: Have your children questioned their family model? Have you ever been questioned about your family model at school/kindergarten?
A: Our family model is a subject that features frequently on my blog and Instagram. I talk/write openly about the struggles, highs and lows of being a ‘modern’ family with step-children, other parents and alternate weekends involved. Like my life, I sprinkle my tales, anecdotes and advise with humour – as the parental goal is to just laugh more than you cry!
I always welcome questions about how our family works – the logistics, the emotions or the dynamics – as although I don’t always have the answers, it’s opened up the conversation to what is fast becoming a “normal” family set-up. Letting other mums and step-mums know they’re not the only ones feeling things or experiencing things has become my mini-mission.
I do, however, sometimes feel for Casper’s nursery staff when they’re bombarded with the list of all the people Casper holds dear. The list of brothers is like a cognitive memory game, then getting their heads round the different parents is like a game of Guess Who! For Cas it’s the norm, he just assumes everyone has a shed load of brothers that sometimes spend weekends at another parent’s house. If anything, it’s made him quite a secure and grounded little fella – he just accepts that the people he loves come and go, there’s always another family member there to play with or cuddle. I think it’s because of this that he’s never been clingy and makes friends easily.
Q: How do people in your environment respond to your family? Have you ever felt discriminated against as a family? If so, how did you handle the situation?
A: When we travel or go out as a family it’s quite a sight to behold, but people are always so friendly. Having 5 beautiful boys is a great ice-breaker. We often get asked “are they all yours?” and while yes, they are all ours collectively, the answer we give quite often depends on how much time we’ve got to explain!
Q: On a scale of 0 to 10: How much do you feel your family model is accepted by society? (0 = not accepted at all, 10 = fully accepted)
A: I’ll give this a 10! I certainly don’t feel we’ve been discriminated against at all due to our family dynamic. Sure, it’s harder to book hotel rooms/restaurants etc, but that’s just a logistical issue of their being so many of us.
Q: What’s the best thing about your family?
A: Oooo, can I give two? There’s honestly so many things I love about our hotch-potch family.
Firstly, one of the best things about our family is the diversity. Whether we share DNA, a last name, a bedroom or a home, everyone is so wonderfully different. Everyone brings new ideas and talents to the table, which always makes for interesting conversations.
Secondly, and although I might not think this at 9:30pm when I just wish they’d all go to sleep, their energy! When we’re all together, the energy – quite often boisterous – is electric. Everyone feeds off each other. The chaos and laughter is magical.
Q: What do you wish for your family in the future?
A: As the boys get older, beyond the obvious of wanting them to be happy and succeed in whatever they put their minds to, I hope our home will always be seen as a meeting place and a place of sanctuary. I just need to keep the fridge well-stocked and they’ll keep coming back!
And a few questions for Jess’s children:
Q: What do you find best about your family?
Hugo: There’s always someone to play with or talk to.
Bruno: When we do things together, with all of us, it’s always so much fun. Even if I’m in a bad mood, it makes me happy just spending time with my family.
Q: Do you ever have to explain your family structure to other children?
Hugo: Yes, I’m really proud to have my brother, half brothers and step-brothers. My Dad’s also remarried – there I have another step-brother and half-brother – so that really confuses people. In total I have one brother, two half-brothers and 3 step-brothers. We’re different, I know that, but I love that we’re special and I have such a great family.
Jess Warner is an award-winning mummy blogger, mum of three boys and step-mum to two. Her blog aims to let other mothers know that they are not on their own. Jess also writes for an internationally renowned interiors company and manages social media, design and decoration projects.
You can check out more We Are Family interviews in our magazine.