As A Stepparent, Kamala Harris Puts 'Families You Choose' In The Spotlight When Vice President-elect Kamala Harris takes office, she brings with her what stepdaughter Ella Emhoff describes as a "big blended family." Other blended families are celebrating that visibility.
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As A Stepparent, Kamala Harris Puts 'Families You Choose' In The Spotlight

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As A Stepparent, Kamala Harris Puts 'Families You Choose' In The Spotlight

As A Stepparent, Kamala Harris Puts 'Families You Choose' In The Spotlight

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When Vice President-elect Kamala Harris takes office, she brings with her what her stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, describes as a multigenerational blended family. As NPR's Juana Summers reports, families that look like Harris' are celebrating that visibility.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: One of the first things that Beth McDonough told her stepdaughter, Mia, about the next vice president was that Kamala Harris has a stepdaughter, too.

BETH MCDONOUGH: She just lit up because, I mean, we live in a super small town. And as already a kiddo with, you know, two moms and in a blended family, like, she faces a lot of not being able to see what her family looks like in other families.

SUMMERS: Harris married Doug Emhoff in 2014, and he has two children, Cole and Ella, from a previous marriage. McDonough is 33 and lives with her wife and stepdaughter in Meadville, Pa. She writes a blog about stepmom inclusivity.

MCDONOUGH: When kids are growing up now, they're going to think of the word stepmom, and they're going to think of the vice president of the United States and the first lady.

SUMMERS: According to the Pew Research Center, 16% of children are living in what the Census Bureau calls blended families, a household with a stepparent, stepsibling or half sibling. Harris pulled back the curtain on her family life during a speech earlier this year. She talked about cooking Sunday dinner, cheering from the bleachers at swim meets and the chosen name that Cole and Ella picked for her.

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KAMALA HARRIS: I've had a lot of titles over my career, and certainly vice president will be great. But Momala (ph) will always be the one that means the most.

SUMMERS: During the Democratic National Convention, Ella Emhoff helped introduce Harris to the country.

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ELLA EMHOFF: you're a rock, not just for our dad, but for three generations of our big, blended family.

SUMMERS: Chryl Laird, a Bowdoin College political scientist who studies Black political behavior, said that because cultural images of Black motherhood historically have been so negative, it is significant that Harris, who is Black and South Asian and a stepparent of two white children, has chosen to center her family in this way.

CHRYL LAIRD: It is a nickname and a term that they use to describe her because they love her. And so for her to profile that as part of her politics, part of how she interacts, part of how she engages in her work is important.

SUMMERS: Many families like Harris and Emhoff's are choosing different language.

ERIN PADILLA: I never wanted to come into this house with the whole stigma of step.

SUMMERS: That was Erin Padilla of Carlsbad, Calif., who calls her husband's children her bonus kids. She related to Jill Biden's journey. The president-elect's first wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident, leaving behind two surviving sons, Beau and Hunter. After Biden remarried, he and Jill also had a daughter, Ashley.

Padilla had a young daughter when she met the man that would become her husband. He was raising two teenagers after his first wife's death.

PADILLA: It's big footprints that you're trying to step into. And that person has left and will always just be, you know, like, this wonderful memory and without any flaws (laughter). And here you are, this flawed human, trying to pick up the pieces and carry that out.

SUMMERS: Padilla says as her bonus kids have grown into adults, their relationships have matured into friendships.

PADILLA: I will never be their mother, but, you know, they're my children. You know, I love them as friends. And you know, I honor and respect that they had a mom before me.

SUMMERS: Jason Ware sees no distinction between the now-adult daughter he gained by marriage, Gwen, and the 5-year-old daughter, Indie, that he and his wife share. They're both just his daughters. Ware and his wife Ana stayed close to Gwen's father, who lives about a mile away. He comes over for dinner a few times a week.

JASON WARE: There's this kind of coequal branches of government. I don't have a lesser vote because I'm a stepparent.

SUMMERS: Ultimately, he said, they might not all agree, but they always work out a compromise in the best interest of their kids.

When Ware looks to Biden and Harris' families, he said it's refreshing to see families that look like his reflected in public life.

WARE: It's normal, and it is healthy, and it's good, and it's celebrated. So I do see that in the first family and the second family that there is more than one way. There is no just nuclear family anymore. It's families who you love, families who you choose and you consistently choose, day after day.

SUMMERS: He and other families say it may open the door for society to view them the way that they see themselves - as just normal families.

Juana Summers, NPR News.

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