If you look up “family” in the dictionary, you’ll find various definitions, including: a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household, a person or people related to one and so to be treated with a special loyalty or intimacy, a race or group of people from a common stock, and a group of people united in criminal activity.

Besides the criminal activity definition, most others mention some type of relation or biology being an essential part of what family means. Any person who is part of the adoption triad or adoption community knows family is so much more than simply the people who are blood relatives. I feel a better definition for family would be “a group of people who may or may not be blood relatives who love and take care of one another.”

The bonds between family members are special and should be treated as such, but what about when you have two families? The family that lives with you, takes care of you, raises and loves you—and the family that gave you this life by giving birth to you and choosing to place you in this other family’s care. There is a bond with both of these families, and both need to be strengthened and nurtured, but it can be difficult at times to find the balance of how to do that.

Growing up in a fairly typical family (mom, dad, brother), I know how family dynamics grow and change as the people in the family grow and change. I’ve always had a good relationship with my parents, but my brother and I tested them. I remember long nights of my dad and brother fighting over homework or my mom and I butting heads whatever it is teenage girls and their moms fight about. But the common thread was love. We loved each other through the hardships and through the wonderful times. Our bond was built out of unconditional love.

My son is only 16 months old, but we brought him home from the hospital when he was four days old. Although he doesn’t understand it yet, he has two families: his family with us and his birth family. Both are equally important to him.

I’ll admit, I was scared of the open adoption we agreed to in the hospital. I wanted to be a mom, and I wanted my son to know me as his mom. I was scared of not bonding with him. I was scared he’d never call me “mommy.” I was scared of regular mom things as well as adoptive mom things.

Truth be told, I’m still scared, but that common thread of unconditional love is what keeps me going. To strengthen our bond with our son, my husband and I are simply loving him and raising him in the best way we know how. I always thought it would be harder than that—and perhaps it will be as he grows up—but right now, he needs what every baby/toddler needs, and we are more than willing to provide it. He is our son in every sense of the word, and to keep that bond of unconditional love we will continue to love him and raise him as best we know how. As he grows and changes, our bond will grow and change, but the love will be constant.

For as fiercely as I love my son, I know his birth parents love him just as much, so it makes it easier to help strengthen the bond between him and them. We have a wonderful open adoption, one that includes exchanging texts, stories, and pictures and regular visits. I plan to keep that up as long as it continues to stay healthy for everyone involved.

It’s important for my son to know where he came from, to know who he looks like, and to know he was and continues to be loved. Will it be hard as he gets older? I imagine. Will it be hard if his birth parents end up together and parenting other children? I imagine. Will he have questions I don’t know the answers to? I imagine. But I do know by keeping a strong, healthy relationship with his birth parents, he’ll always know and feel the unconditional love given to him by both of his families.

If you keep unconditional love at the center of your bond with any type of family, that’s about the best you can hope for when raising children.