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Editor’s Note: Alison Omens is an executive at the nonprofit JUST Capital and you can follow her on Instagram @stepmominablender. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

In November 2021, my husband and I took our two sons to get the Covid-19 vaccine. I was excited to have found an appointment at a children’s hospital, the safest and most kid-friendly environment possible. My seven-year-old son sat between my husband and me, and grabbed both our hands. The five-year-old climbed into my lap, and I cradled him as we waited for his turn.

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The nurse asked us questions about the kids’ medical history, and then turned to me and asked: “Do I have your consent to vaccinate?” I hesitated. My husband leaned forward, catching the nurse’s eye, and chimed in: “Yes.”

I wasn’t legally able to consent on their behalf. That’s because they are my stepsons and my husband is their biological father. Every family is different. And not all blended families choose the path mine took. Yet our laws completely ignore the fact that stepparents are, in fact, parents.

In August 2020, I married my now-husband and officially became a stepmother to his two boys, then ages three and five. Like all parents, that first year-and-a-half of Covid was extraordinarily difficult as we juggled virtual school and two full-time jobs. Your kids interrupted your Zoom calls? So did mine. You tried to explain why suddenly kindergarten was online with age-appropriate information? Same. When we all got Covid in February 2021, I spent several sleepless nights unable to stop myself from imagining the worst as they coughed in the next room.

We split custody evenly with their biological mom and stepdad. According to the Pew Research Center, our blended family is exceedingly common. Roughly 13% of adults are stepparents – almost the entire population of California –and between eight to 16% of kids in the United States currently live with a stepparent, with up to 30% of kids living with a stepparent before they’re 18.

Yet American society has not caught up to this reality. Even the research community has under-studied the topic. According to one recent study from the University of North Carolina, there is a huge gap in studying the relationship between a stepparent and a child, and the outcomes associated with that relationship.

I love my children deeply. And in all the ways that matter, from nightmare-soothing to lunch-making, I am a mom to them. Yet, I have zero legal ability to protect them or advocate for their interests. I am viewed as a virtual stranger in the eyes of the law.

This shows up in ways big and small. When my older son asked me recently to sign his permission slip to go on a field trip, I hesitated if I could say yes. What signal am I sending to him that I’m not allowed to give his school permission to take him while I’m simultaneously insisting he listen to me when I tell him to turn the video games off? I compromised, and signed my name and then wrote my husband’s name under it.

My deepest fear is my husband dying while our kids are under 18 (in speaking to other blended families, this is a very common anxiety). This isn’t a random fear - my husband’s father died in an accident when he was four years old. If something like that were to happen to our family, I would have absolutely no right to ever see my children again. Ever. My husband has no ability to guarantee or pass along his parental rights - or even visitation - to me.

Their biological mom, not coming from a place of malice, could unilaterally and legally decide to move away with them, and move on with her life and away from mine. If that happened, I would go from being a mother with a husband and two kids who are with us half-time – who I cuddle with in the morning and do homework with at night, and who I will later drop off at sports or music camp and help with colleges – to a single person living alone. In an instant. They would lose their dad and stepmom at the same time.

Why are we still pretending a two-parent household is the only one in our country? The unsurprising reality is that it’s not just blended families where the law hasn’t caught up. The notion of the White, straight, Leave-it-to-Beaver family is long outdated. In 1960, 73% of kids lived in different-sex marital families. Today that number is less than half.

Family structures exist in many variations, from same-sex couples to non-traditional familial structures including grandparents and siblings and families who rely on surrogacy. Yet there has been no national momentum to reimagine how the law thinks about families.

In 2017, an updated model law for states called the Uniform Parentage Act was introduced by the Uniform Law Commission, an organization that promotes the development and enactment of uniform laws to ensure consistency across states. This model law was one of the first instances of a parentage statute even acknowledging a different family dynamic. It includes a concept of de facto parents, which essentially is a measure beyond biology to prove parenthood. Only seven states have enacted some version of this model law. Critically for blended families, the model also provides, in some limited instances, that a court can find that a child has more than two parents. However, only two states have adopted this language. In other words, anyone who falls outside the two-parent unit doesn’t exist legally in any state except Washington and Connecticut.

The whole concept of only two parents, originated because of biology, is both deeply ingrained in our society and also much simpler - for courts, schools, doctors and more. We need to adapt. I’m asking for something new, a third category, an opt-in.

I don’t expect the same rights as biological parents or that my choice should override theirs. But it’s outrageous that I’m viewed as a stranger in the eyes of the law, and oftentimes society. If a biological parent chooses another adult to be in the lives of their children, we should consider whether those adults should have some right to protect and care for them during, or even after, a marriage.

I know from experience that without that protection, it’s hard to take that leap of love, which is so essential for kids and their grown-ups, knowing that my connection to my children is dependent on my continued relationship with their father and his continued existence.

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That leap of love is so foundational for blended families. And my stepkids are the ones that modeled it for me. When my husband and I first got together, I had my limits. I wouldn’t do diapers. I laid on the couch during bath time. I’d sit on the floor during bedtime story time. But then… life happened. Love happened.

My stepkids loved without limit and didn’t understand the distinctions I was making. So they’d want to know why I wasn’t lying in bed with them, helping with the bath, helping with the potty. Without any trying, their hearts and lives grew to include me. I was lucky in that they were so little, so that idea of linear or constrained love hadn’t entered their consciousness yet. It didn’t occur to them that there may be a competition for that love, or that they should protect it or themselves in some way.

It’s us, the grown-ups, who made that distinction. And it’s within our power, as grown-ups, to change these laws to better care for the ever-increasing number of children who are living in non-traditional families, and in this case, blended families. As a non-legal mom, I’m asking for a seat at the table for the kids I’m raising, because their dad chose me, and I chose all three of them.