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Every family is different. Every family is special.

That's something we hear often. Whether it's written in children's books or on TV shows, the message that every family is unique is something that's become ingrained in us.

What makes a family a family, though? For a long time, we were taught that it was just a biological bond — that the people you're born to are the people you belong to for a lifetime.


Of course, now we know that's just one kind of family. It's one small part of a much bigger picture.

[rebelmouse-image 19397764 dam="1" original_size="700x467" caption="Photo by Vasile Tiplea/Unsplash" expand=1]Photo by Vasile Tiplea/Unsplash

Today, more and more people are members of blended families.

According to the US Census Bureau, over 50 percent of families in America consist of people who are re-married or re-coupled. More than 1300 step-families come together every day. Recent statistics also show that more than 135,000 children are adopted every year in America.

These family members may not all share biological bonds, but they share something just as important: love.

[rebelmouse-image 19397765 dam="1" original_size="700x467" caption="Photo by rawpixel/Unsplash" expand=1]Photo by rawpixel/Unsplash

While being part of a blended family can be as rewarding as every primetime TV show makes it out to be, it can also be a challenge. But we often don't talk about the realities of what it's like to be a member of such a unit.  

That's why Sean Anders, writer and director of the upcoming movie "Instant Family" wanted to make something that was different and real.

Anders and his wife are the parents of three children who they adopted in 2013 who also happen to be the inspiration for Anders' film.

"I wanted to tell a more complete story that doesn't shy away from the tragedy or the trauma, but also really gets into the laughs, and the love, and the joy involved as well," he says of the new film.

"We hit upon the idea of adoption exactly like it happens in the movie. I made that same joke to my wife, that I was feeling like I was gonna be too old of a dad, and she said  'Why don't we just adopt a five year old? It'll be like I got started five years ago.' I was totally kidding. But, she took it seriously enough to get us moving down the road." Anders was on board, but could never have anticipated the challenges, or the rewards for that matter.

"You go through this really awkward time where you have these people in your house who, you're supposed to be their parents, and you don't love them. And they don't love you. You don't even know each other yet. You go through some really difficult transitional times, but you also get this amazing experience of getting to fall in love with your kids."

We wanted to know more about what it's like to come from a blended family.  So we asked. Real people answered.

Here are 5 people's true stories of the ups, downs, and life-changing experiences that being part of a blended family brings.

1. Krista Ball was raised by her grandparents, and learned family are the people who accept you for who you are.

"I was adopted as an infant by my maternal grandparents. Children being raised by other family members was fairly common where I grew up (Newfoundland, Canada), so I didn't feel isolated or weird. My teens were tough, though, as I went through a lot of identity issues. I wondered why my biological mother gave me up, but kept her other children.

"As an adult, I absolutely understand those kinds of decisions and I feel no malice or ill-will. It was the best decision for her in that time and place. But I didn't have the tools to understand that at fifteen. I didn't know my biological father's identity until I was in my 30s."

"Family is such a strange thing. I think it's the people who teach you things, who accept you the way you are, and who try to do what's best for you. Mom and Dad (her grandparents) are my family, and I am fiercely protective of them. There is a kind of connection that is beyond simple genetics and shared last names. I was given the best possible life for me. As I get older, I am so grateful for that. Whatever struggles I had as a teenager were worth it, in the long run."

2. Courtney Lipsham is a step-daughter and became a step-mother three years ago at 19-years-old. As such, she thought she knew what to expect. She didn't.

[rebelmouse-image 19397766 dam="1" original_size="750x563" caption="Photo by Sestrjevitovschii Ina on Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Sestrjevitovschii Ina on Unsplash.

"I come from a blended family and I’ve always had my step-mum around since I was young. I don’t actually remember a time when we weren’t a blended family. When I met my partner I had false hope in the fact that I’d grown up in a blended family fine, so taking on becoming a part of his would be easy, which is quite a misconception I’ve heard among step-parents.

"Between issues with the bio mum, families, living far away from his daughter, and the terrible twos, it’s been challenging to say the least. However, being a part of this family is the most rewarding decision I’ve ever made, especially now his daughter is four and we can go on little adventures together. Seeing her come out of herself with bundles of confidence and watching her grow up is a blessing I never imagined!"

"I’m just so proud of her and so proud of the journey we’ve come on as a family."

3. Louis Swingrover's family is even more unique than most blended families. He can't imagine it being any other way.

[rebelmouse-image 19397767 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption="Photo by Brittany Simuangco on Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Brittany Simuangco on Unsplash.

Photo of the Swingrover family by Amber Glanville.

"My wife and I have four children-two biological boys, a girl we adopted through the foster care system, and another girl we are currently fostering. It might be the case that blended families in general tend to have some features that are not as common in other kinds of families, but to be honest, I have no idea what those are! I am only aware of what it is like to be a part of my family. It is incredible, innervating, embarrassing, pride-giving, life-giving, depressing and uplifting."

"We have contact with members of our daughter’s family of origin. This means that a distinct kind of extended family is attached to ours, which can be both challenging and rewarding. No other reward in life, however, has the distinct quality that raising an adopted child does. Watching my daughter thrive, and knowing that I played a teeny tiny role of some kind in that is marvelous. But what is more profound to me is the attachment we have formed."

"I will never forget the moment I learned that she would be issued a new birth certificate. It does not list us as the biological parents (our version of the certificate does not include them), it just simply lists as us as her parents, period. From the legal to the relational, I cannot help but marvel at the sheer miracle of her being ours. "

4. Tiffany's new siblings helped heal her relationship with her father.

[rebelmouse-image 19397769 dam="1" original_size="750x1125" caption="Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash.

"My parents went through a nasty divorce when I was nineteen which strained me and my younger sister’s relationship with our father for quite some time. When my father reached out a few years later to let me know that he was expecting a child and marrying a woman I’d never met, I was completely caught off guard."

"This woman was not that much older than me, and I was in the midst of planning my own wedding when I received the news. I remember thinking that I was entirely too old to have an infant sibling."

"Five years (and three new siblings) later, I get to be a big sister to these tiny impressionable little humans and I gained an awesome stepmom in the process. As an added bonus, the births of my new siblings brought my father and I back together and our relationship has never been stronger. Their existence forced my father and me to work through our issues to ensure that they do not grow up witnessing the conflict that infiltrated my childhood home."

"One of the best things about being in a blended family is that I get to feel those warm feelings of nostalgia when I see my dad teaching my younger siblings some of the same fun traditions I got to enjoy as a child."

5. Jill Johnson Young has been widowed twice and has three adopted daughters. Their bonds are too strong to ever be broken.

Linda Johnson-Young and Kerry Johnson-Young, Photo courtesy of Jill Johnson-Young.

"One memory, I will never forget was the first night our oldest child, Kerry, was at home with us for good. We'd been visiting her on day visits for weeks while we waited for her to finish her school year. We brought her home the day school ended. "

"That night we bathed her, helped her dress in her little jammies, and brushed her hair. We read stories, said bedtime prayers, made sure she had enough lights on, and kissed her goodnight."

"30 minutes later she came back out of her room, and looked really scared. She said 'I can't sleep. Can I come spend time with you guys?' We took her into our room, and turned on Ann Murray singing 'Can I Have This Dance?' We picked her up and laid her across our arms, holding her like a hammock laying between us, and slowly danced with her while her eyes started to slowly trust us enough to close."

"It's the moment you know your child has decided she is yours, and that remarkable ability to trust big people again after so much trauma. I keep it close to me."

When she's missing my first wife, her mama, Linda, I tell her the story again. All of us wrapped together. A new family that she knew would be hers — we just needed to find her."

There is no right way to be a family. Love, support, and understanding are what truly make the people in your life your closest allies.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

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That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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