Gabrielle Union Says 'Non-Traditional and Blended' Families Like Hers Are 'Beautiful and Real'

The L.A.'s Finest star wrote a new children's book, Welcome to the Party, to celebrate her daughter's birth through surrogacy

gabrielle union and dwyane wade family
Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade with Zaya and Kaavia. Photo: Gabrielle Union/instagram

Gabrielle Union loves her modern family.

The L.A.'s Finest star just wrote a new children's book, Welcome to the Party, to celebrate her daughter Kaavia James' birth via surrogate.

"I wanted to create a love letter to my daughter to let her know that even though her entry into our family was a bit non-traditional, we love her and wanted her," Union tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "And she is celebrated."

Union, 47, hopes her book, illustrated by Ashley Evans, helps "celebrate these kinds of families," she adds. "This is also my love letter to every non-traditional family, blended families, that no matter how you became a new family, it is beautiful and real."

As for 18-month-old Kaavia, whom Union had with husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, 38, her personality has already helped garner more than 1.2 million followers on her Instagram account (run by her parents). "It's changed dramatically in quarantine; I think it just sped up her learning curve," Union says. "She likes to do things on her own. She wants to be a part of the conversation. But she's also very clear about her boundaries."

"Shady Baby" as Kaavia is affectionately nicknamed "is real! She's very suspicious," Union adds, laughing. "And considering she only has a few words, she communicates perfectly."

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The family, which includes Wade's sons Zaire, 18, and Xavier, 6, and daughter Zaya, 12, (all from previous relationships), takes turns when it comes to keeping up with a toddler. "When one of us gets burned out, it's literally like passing a baton," Union says.

And the actress has a "hack" for finding a little quiet-time when needed. "I stay in the bathroom probably a little longer than necessary just to give myself a little more time to pull it together!" she adds. "Just to cry or mindlessly scroll social media, whatever that is. We all give each other those extra long times in the bathroom to do whatever it is you sort of need to do with the door closed and have your own space."

When it comes to parenting, Union initially looked to Wade for guidance. "He's been a parent literally half his adult life. So, especially when she first arrived, I deferred to him, because he's a vet," Union says. "There's only so much reading that one can do, so I very much followed his lead."

Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union/instagram

Kaavia "is his little princess. It's been a really cool journey," she adds. "And it's interesting because Kaav arrived before Zaya's transition. Zaya had identified as gender nonconforming. And so we really worked a lot on unlearning so much of what we thought we knew about identity and gender expression and gender norms. We put so much effort into raising her differently and not trying to predetermine who she was."

When Zaya transitioned this last school year, "we were much better equipped to receive our other daughter," Union says. "So it's been a beautiful journey."

Now Union finds hope in "the willingness to learn and adapt," she adds. "Not just what I've seen of our own family, but what I'm seeing in the world."

For more from Gabrielle Union, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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