Thomas Rhett Opens Up About Raising Daughter Willa: 'It Feels Like She Never Wasn't' Ours
One of Thomas Rhett‘s daughters was born in Uganda and the other in Nashville, Tennessee, but they are both country to the core, says the singer.
“You don’t have to be from the South to be in the country,” he tells PEOPLE for this week’s issue, which hits newsstands Friday. “There is honestly more country in the world than there is city.”
Take Masindi, Uganda, where his 2½-year-old daughter Willa Gray was born. “It doesn’t get any countrier than being in Masindi. Everywhere you look is corn or beans, or chicken farms, or cows,” he says.
There are other similarities, too. “In Uganda, family and religion are super important and music is gigantic,” says Thomas Rhett, 28. “If I just pick up a guitar, Willa starts dancing. It’s in her blood.”
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“The word ‘adopted’ doesn’t even make sense in my head anymore really,” he says. “I know that it happened and I remember it very vividly, but it kind of feels like she has just always been here. Even though Willa Gray comes from [a] whole different part of the world, she’s ours and it feels like she never wasn’t.”
Three months after the couple brought Willa home, Ada James, who just turned 1, was born, and the sisters “are two peas in a pod getting into all kinds of trouble together,” says Thomas Rhett, whose latest single “Life Changes” puts their real-life tale to music.
Both girls have been on tour and on stage with dad, which Thomas Rhett says is a dream come true. “Probably as early as high school, I thought if I had kids and I got to tour one day that I’d want my kids to be a full part of that touring life,” says the singer, who has fond memories of going on the road with his own dad, singer Rhett Akins.
Away from the spotlight, at home in Nashville, the family tries to lead a simple life, Thomas Rhett says. Growing up as the son of a successful country singer-songwriter, he explains, “We had what we needed but it was never excessive or over the top, and I think we’re trying to really instill that in our children too.”
He continues, “When I’m home, I want them to experience a normal life, disregarding what I do for a living or what Lauren does for a living.” (Lauren, also 28, advocates for orphaned children around the world through the charity organization Love One International.)
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Spending time in nature is one key to that simplicity, Thomas Rhett says. “That’s how I bonded with my dad — and I still have that bond with him,” he shares.
Father and son bought a farm together outside Nashville a few years ago and the family gathers there for holidays, and to go fishing and hike the trails.
“Willa Gray and Ada are outside children. There really is something special when you connect your kids with nature,” explains Thomas Rhett. “It teaches them a sense of just how big the world is and how beautiful the world is.”
The singer wants his daughters to grow up to love where they’re from — and to know they’re supported in becoming whomever they want to be.
“I hope God has given me all the right tools to raise Willa Gray to know that no matter where she comes from, she is our child, and that we want her to express her diversity,” Thomas Rhett says. “She’s from Tennessee and she’s from Uganda and I want her to be proud of that.”
“I hope that we can raise both of our children to be super proud of who they are and where they come from — and that they know me and Lauren love them beyond anything else that exists in this world. I hope we can just raise good, kind kids.”
For more from Thomas Rhett, Jay DeMarcus and other country dads, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.