Non-Biological Families and Their Relationships

In Erdrich’s “Foreword,” the concept of non-biological families and their relationships are brought to light. The author is telling a story about a period in her life. She married a man who had a son with a disease. She shows us how, although she wasn’t biologically attached to the child, because of her closeness to him and the relationship she created with him, they became a true family that cared and loved each other. This love of a non-biological family is even greater than that of a normal biological family.

In Erdrich’s “Foreword,” we see the best example of how relationships within a family strengthen that family and makes then closer together. This story is so unique because she is not the child’s biological mother. She married a man who had adopted this child and in marrying him she adopted him too. Even with these obstacles, she was able to create a closeness and special bond with the child and keep their family together, with loving care.

The author begins with a tragic story of her child Adam, who suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He was shoveling the snow and had one of his many seizures. Right away we see her love and special relationship with her child by saying, “Jumping into the snow I felt a moment of obscure gratitude to Michael for letting me go to Adam’s rescue.” In life, when someone has to do something, even if it involves helping a loved one, out of our natural laziness we always try to go out of it, especially when there is someone else to do it for us. Here we see just the opposite. She rushes out first and is thankful that she can be the one that helps and ultimately saves her child. This shows us her love for this child, which is so great and must be from a special bond she has with him.

She goes on to explain how when she got married and ultimately adopted the children, the judge announced it was final. “Adam turned to me with delight and said, “Mom!” not Louise.” This is a very powerful statement. One can feel the emotion going through the author’s body. Her eyes watering with tears of joy and happiness. She is overjoyed with emotion that this child which she loves so much and was able to build a powerful relationship with, loves her back with the same enthusiasm.

Once Michael went out of town and she was left to take care of the children by herself, for the first time. Being that Michael was a parent for more time than Louise, Adam feared him more and thought he could get away with making trouble while she was in charge. The other kids had all finished eating dinner and Adam’s plate was still untouched. She begged and yelled at him to eat, but to no avail. She knew if he did not eat, he would suffer an attack in the morning. She made him his favorite sandwich. Nevertheless, Adam was still being stubborn and did not eat and she did not know what to do. She loved him like her own biological son. She had a special bond and relationship with him, but said “If I can’t help him to survive in the simplest way, how can I be his mother?” She was so upset that her love for him was not enough and she was losing their aura of a family because she could not take care of him. This hurt her so much she began to panic. How can one love someone so much and not be able to help them? It is a scary thought. She goes on to say, “I don’t think I can handle it.” She is afraid that she cannot handle Adam and this hurts her so much because of her love for him. It is like someone you love is dying and you can do nothing to help them. You feel helpless and guilty. This is what she had to go through. This is her love for Adam. He is not her biological child but her closeness and relationship with him is much closer than most Biological mothers and sons, which make them a close and unique family.

We see this same idea of a non-biological relationship in Cheever’s “The Nanny Dilemma.” The author tells a story about a woman named Dominique who is an immigrant to the United States, coming from Trinidad. Like many woman immigrants from there, as well as other Caribbean islands, she got hired to work as a nanny for some rich family living in New York City. She loved this job so much. She had her own apartment, clothes, got paid very well and was part of a family. Of course, she was not literally part of the family she was working for, but she had a special relationship with them. From knowing every move the parents make and what they need, to being a supplemental mother and sometimes a father figure to the children when the parents are not there, that was her job.

Her day starts off with going to the house, finding the parents trying to get ready for work, the kids all screaming and not being taken care of. Quickly, she sends the parents off to work and tends to the children’s needs. She spends most of the day and the early part of the night with the children. As in Erdrich’s “Foreword,” she begins to create a bond with her non-biological kids. Over time she develops a closeness and special relationship with them. They consider her a sub-mom, one that is there during the day and is replaced at night. She loves the children as if they were her own and they love her as if she were their real mother.

She explains however, why she is upset with the parents. She loves the children and knows that the children need to be loved. She says, “They want us to be mother and father to these children . . . they are the ones who brought the kids into the world, but then they don’t have time to raise them. So the kids get attached to you, because you’re the one who’s always there. Then the parents get angry” (Cheever 158-159). Unlike Erdrich, in which Louise has none else to fight with over the child’s love, Dominique has the real parents to deal with. She loves the children like her own, but has to keep a distance because she does not want to upset the parents. This is a hard thing to do. The real downside, however, is when her job is done and she is relieved of her duties because they do not need her anymore. It is like losing a loved one for life. She loved these kids and they loved her, now they are saying goodbye forever. Unlike Erdrich, where they had their whole lives to spend together and Louise was not going anywhere, Dominique says “When you leave, the children can be devastated – and it can break your heart too.”

In Gates’s “Down to Cumberland,” we see this idea of a non-biological family having a closer relationship than that of a biological one. However, the author now shows this point through a different view. We see from this story how a biological family has a very distant relationship, unlike the non-biological families I have mentioned thus far. He starts by saying “I saw the Gateses all together on only two occasions in my childhood, and those were my grandparents’ funeral”(Gates 147). He continues by telling the story of his father’s family, which he only knows from an album full of pictures. He found this album in his grandfather’s trunk, in which each picture tells a story. Every relative had a problem with another one. His grandfather hated his sisters, his father hated his grandmother and so on. He went on to say that even on occasions where they would go down and visit his father’s brothers and sisters, “Daddy would drink a beer and spend a lot of time talking to his old buddies from Carver High School”(Gates 151), and not with his own family. Gates went on to tell of stories where his aunt was engaged to a very nice gentleman. Her fiancé was drafted in the war and never returned home. He ended up marrying some young woman he met in Paris. We see from this that even one of the closest relationships within a family of a husband and wife, wasn’t close enough for them to stay together. Though he mentions that he is close with his mother’s family, we see the main idea of Erdrich’s, that non biological families have closer relationships, since he was not close with his biological family.

Relationships are very powerful things. They can make people happy and sad and sometimes both at the same time. A relationship is a bond that two or more people share with each other. Through a family is one of the strongest forms of relationships. However, a non-biological family has a stronger relationship than that of a biological one. From Erdrich’s “Foreword,” we see this strong relationship with a non-biological family. Though Cheever’s “The Nanny Dilemma” and Gates’s “Down to Cumberland” differ with each other and with Erdrich, they all share this same underlining characteristic. Families have the strongest relationships with each other than any other type of relationship known. Ironically, it is the non-biological families rather than biological ones that are usually more intense and closer.


Cheever, Susan. “The Nanny Dilemma.” Making Contact: Readings from Home and Abroad. Ed. Carol J. Verburg. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. 155-163.

Erdrich, Louise. “Foreword.” Making Contact: Readings from Home and Abroad. Ed. Carol J. Verburg. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. 137-145.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. “Down to Cumberland.” Making Contact: Readings from Home and Abroad. Ed. Carol J. Verburg. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. 146-154

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