If you come from a blended family, these real-life accounts will hit home.
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via US Secretary of Defense / Flickr and The Today Show

As the nation braces itself for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, President Biden has embraced the family of George Floyd at what has to be an incredibly stressful time.

Following closing arguments in the Chauvin trial on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill has sent jurors to deliberate. The verdict is expected to come in the next few days.

"He was just calling," George's brother, Philonise Floyd, said about the president. "He knows how it is to lose a family member, and he knows the process of what we're going through. So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us, hoping that everything will come out to be OK."

Biden lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident in 1972 and his son Beau to cancer in 2015.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.