Vice President-elect Kamala Harris embodies many firsts. She’s San Francisco’s first Black district attorney. She’s California’s first woman attorney general. She will be the first woman to hold the office of the vice president. She’ll also be the first Black woman, the first Indian woman, and the first biracial woman to hold that honorary title. She’s the first daughter of immigrants to ascend to the White House, and the first graduate of Howard University — a prominent HBCU — be elected to the second-highest office in the land.
She will also be the first stepmom to become vice president of the United States. As a result, for the very first time, countless women of every age will see themselves, and their families, in Kamala Harris’ vice presidency. For a blended family like mine, that kind of historic representation is not only thrilling; it’s life-affirming.
I’m a single mom to a biracial child, and I have a new fiancé with two kids of his own. As such, I see very few reminders that families like mine exist in the United States, even though we’re far from uncommon. A reported one in six children live with a blended family, and 63% of women in remarriages are in blended families. Yet the “American family” is often touted as white, married only once, and consisting of biological children — “traditional.”
And while we know the quaint 1950s depiction of white suburban families has never actually been the “norm” in this country, blended families are still too often considered “less than” their nuclear counterparts. Even the term “broken home” to describe divorce reinforces the idea that ending a bad relationship is inherently a bad choice — or that blended families are somehow lacking.
And when we’re not vilified, we’re ignored entirely. Even with the rise of diversity initiatives spearheaded by prominent media companies in the name of “inclusion,” blended families are wholly underrepresented in television and movies, as are biracial families and single-parent homes. A 2014 study found that the white, heterosexual “nuclear” family is the most depicted family in scripted family shows on both network and cable television; the same study found that childless families were more often depicted than blended families.
For a blended family like mine, that kind of historic representation is not only thrilling; it’s life-affirming.
Which is why I am so thrilled to see Kamala Harris ascend to the White House — a biracial stepmom who married into a blended family but kept her maiden name. She’s also a working mom like me — someone who isn’t beholden to the “traditional family makeup,” and as a result, she’s someone who gives every woman the silent permission to make up their families as they see fit. Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, will reportedly quit his job to support his wife when she takes her oath on Jan. 20 and becomes vice president of the United States — throwing gender stereotypes out the proverbial window (stereotypes that have made working single moms like me pariahs to those who believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen).
When you find the courage to buck something as “traditional” as the nuclear family, it’s easy to feel as though going against the grain is synonymous with being fundamentally wrong. For me, the decisions that made it possible for me to have the incredible family I have now — a 9-year-old daughter and a partner with two children — were undoubtedly the right ones. Still, society made it impossible for me not to second-guess myself along the way.
Because even when you know divorce, single parenthood, remarriage, and coparenting can all be beneficial decisions — decisions that should be just as celebrated as two parents who’ve been happily married for 30 years — the lack of positive representation of these life choices can make them feel like steps backwards. It can make us question if we’re doing right by ourselves, our children, and our romantic partners — even those of us who know deep down that these steps are leading us towards a more meaningful, more beautiful future.
When Harris spoke on stage at the Democratic National Convention and accepted the party’s nomination for vice president of the United States, she spoke about her mother and father’s divorce. “When I was 5, my parents split and my mother raised us mostly on her own,” she said. Like so many mothers, she worked around the clock to make it work: packing lunches before we woke up and paying bills after we went to bed; helping us with homework at the kitchen table and shuttling us to church for choir practice. She made it look easy, though I know it never was. My mother instilled in my sister, Maya, and me the values that would chart the course of our lives.”
My daughter is witnessing, in real time, an often overlooked reality: that families like hers can and often do create people like Kamala Harris.
At that moment, I knew that if Harris did win the vice presidency, her historic accomplishment would mean something extremely personal to me. And now, it’s happening. My daughter is witnessing, in real time, an often overlooked reality: that families like hers can and often do create people like Kamala Harris.
I think of my own mother and father, who divorced when I was 13. And as a mother myself, I am reminded that creating my own family on my own terms, in a way that I know is right for me and for the people I love, isn’t me taking anything away from my child; it’s me giving her so much more love, so much more opportunity, and so much more support. So that she, too, can build a life — and, if she chooses, a family — that best fits the future she wants.
Of course, having a biracial working mom with a blended family become vice president of the United States does not erase the work that needs to be done when it comes to inclusion and representation of so-called “non-traditional” families. More of us need to be showcased, celebrated, and acknowledged, in all our complexities and trials and successes, in all of our universal experiences and unique circumstances.
But I can say that, as an entrepreneurial working mother with a family makeup similar to that of the first woman vice president’s (!), I am so grateful to see a family like mine in the White House. Finally.