A Male Perspective On Blended Family Life

I recently asked Ryan if he would be willing to be interviewed for a blog post on blended families. I thought it would be interesting and insightful to have a guy’s perspective on a touchy subject. 

He and I have noticed a trend throughout the years.  If I write on being a mom to children who I did not birth, write honestly about the difficulties that I’ve encountered and my feelings towards it all, I often receive backlash with one or two people going so far as to call me an evil step mother.  But – if Ryan, a man, writes almost verbatim what I say, he is heralded as a hero towards four, fatherless children. I’m not sure why there is so much hatred towards mothers – particularly mothers who raise motherless children, but it is the reality of the situation most of the time – men are given far more grace than women are when it comes to blended families. Maybe it goes all the way back to the garden of Eden and Satan’s attack on Eve but that’s a different post.

Our family is currently five years into a blended family dynamic, and we are in no way experts, but we do live this reality day in and day out.  We don’t get breaks when the kids go to the other parent every other week or whatever it may be.  We have all eight kids all the time so perhaps we have an insight or two that might be helpful.

Alrighty… Here goes:

What is the most difficult aspect as a husband being a part of a blended family? 

Initially, making an effort to let you run a household the way you wanted to and not how I was used to having it run.  I had all of these preconceived ideas about how a house should be run without realizing you were a new woman, with her own thoughts and ideas, and I needed to respect that. Today, five years in, we are in a much better space. I let you do your thing.

What have you found to be the best way to handle this difficulty? 

Give you some space and lots of communication

What is the most difficult aspect as a Dad in a blended family?  

Hmmm I think the mom part is way more difficult than the dad part. As a dad, you want to have a connection with the new kids but it’s like when you have a new bio kid, it’s just your new kid. I guess it’s harder to give love to my bio kids the same way they were used to before the blended family because it might come across the wrong way to the new kids and my time is so much more limited with 8 kids.

And positive way of handling this

Do your best to love them all the same – even if the feelings are different. The kids shouldn’t feel the difference if at all possible. 

Are there different feelings towards your adopted children and bio kids? 

Yeah, there has to be. The hardest part is admitting it. Of course I have more of an instinctual connection to blood  children I’ve known since birth. It’s human nature. As time goes on my bonds grow deeper with my adopted children. 

What have you discovered to be an effective discipline method for the kids across the board

Structure. 

How do you prioritize your time among so many kids, obligations? Wife? 

Holy crap. You can quote me on that if you want… I think when I get a chance to have one on one time with any of them I do my best to give them one on one attention- teach them something, make a connection. 

How did having a baby together change the family dynamics? For better or worse? 

It’s hard.  We all love Annabelle. We felt like she would eliminate all divisions but she really didn’t. There’s still a division. Now it seems to be the kids and us with the baby because she gets a lot of our attention being a baby. It definitely created a special bond for us as a couple. 

Why make a difficult situation more difficult by living off the grid so to speak? 

What I see in the world is, if it’s hard – give up. Life if supposed to be a little difficult. You’re going to face adversity. It’s a training tool for us, for the kids. You don’t give up. You move forward. Goodness, Josh thinks I built this house! Our kids are learning sustainability and there’s something to those skills. Not sure they’ll use these skills someday but at least it builds confidence. 

What are the positive aspects to blended families? 

I enjoy learning about new personalities and new relationships and connecting to new people. To provide a father figure to four children who needed a dad. I work harder to be accountable. 

What, if anything, do you want people to see in our family? 

I want our kids to be respectful and to know that we are a team. We will stick up for each other. 

How do you foresee the future with a blended family?

 I see a future of not a blended family. A unified family. A successful blending. 

Word of advice for blended families who are really struggling? 

It’s gonna be hard. Find other blended families and make friends. Focus on your problems and not all of the extended families issues. Stay true to yourselves and tell everyone else to get in line. 

In one word, what makes blended hard? 

Change 

In one word, what makes blended entirely worthwhile? 

There’s not a one word answer for that. It’s not simple – there’s a future in blended, there’s hope in blended – that makes it worthwhile.  

Thanks Honey!

I’d be happy to post on other blended families and what works for them.  Drop me a line at jessplusthemess@gmail.com and we can coordinate and come up with a format.  

Just keep livin!!

Breaking Up With Father’s Day

Father’s Day ended with me in tears.

I know – not my most admirable moment.
I’ve been in a semi- fragile state of being for the past few weeks trying to hold it all together – you know, Be In Control.  It is one of my worst character traits – this need to stay in control, and God just keeps chipping away at this false perception that I’m not letting go of very easily.  

This summer has been especially difficult with all of the kids home.  Having a one-year-old is wonderful.  Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful – most of the time. She has brought such joy and light into our lives and so little sleep (as I’ve lamented about in almost every single word I’ve written since her birth).  She is also at an extremely curious stage where she gets into everything and wants to explore constantly.  I don’t necessarily trust her siblings to watch her for more than, oh let’s say, about ten minute segments of time before their limited attention spans kick in, and they just leave. I’ve also found that she is a source of constant joy and entertainment for the whole family and because she is usually found near me, on me, or beside me, this equates to the rest of the children constantly being near me, on me, or beside me because they want to be by the baby – (she’s so cute, and cuddly, and adorable – for ten minutes at least).  It’s one thing to have her and maybe one other child babbling in my ear, it’s another thing to have her and six other children babbling in my ear as I accomplish my daily tasks.   It doesn’t make for a very productive day, and more often than not, I feel really close to losing most of my sweet, little, introverted marbles.  Just explaining here. 

The other week I received first round edits for the book from my publisher.  Great!  Exciting!  Oh boy – reality…  I need to go through all of these edits, rearrange entire parts of the book, rewrite or add to other sections of the book, and correct all of my comma problems because commas are not my friends.  Surely the publisher will give me an unlimited amount of time to accomplish this task, right?  They do know I have eight children home on summer break.  Nope.  I have a deadline just like all of the people with no children because now I have an actual release date – September 29.  Yay! – shameless book plug #sunlightburningatmidnight

And then Annabelle’s first birthday and Father’s Day.  Two days that I had to get right.  Annabelle only turns one once and Ryan and the Grandpas should feel loved.  I decided, in the midst of my already overflowing mind, that it would be a great idea to have the kids make personalized t-shirts for Dad and the six Grandpas. My husband says I set myself up for failure and maybe he’s right.  I love crafting.  I love crafting alone or with the kids.  I love making homemade gifts for people, but if I’m entirely honest, this was not the time to do it with everything else looming over my head.  I wanted so badly (as do all aspiring Pinterest Moms) to give the kids a fun filled, Mom involved, “See, Mom’s happy!  She’s crafting with us” moment, and I should have simplified instead of stressing. I think as moms we often do this – stress to feel better about ourselves as mothers, and it’s insane.

The kids, the baby, the book, the deadline, the birthday, the crafts, Father’s Day, and daily life.  At this point, I would be rolling my eyes at a post like this and thinking that the author needed some Prozac. I’m not looking for pity, this is my life and usually it is a good one, but these are valley moments.   I will not only post about the blessedness of our life because that kind of writing does not resonate with me ever nor do I feel like it resonates with most people.  This can be a difficult journey with all of the factors involved, and maybe someday I’ll write about why we choose difficult in our middle of nowhere but not today.

I say all of this to preface – I have had expectations on Mother’s Day that are usually unmet and unfulfilled.  I’ve learned to lower the bar considerably.   I’ve written a few posts on this and about how ridiculous it is that Mother’s Day falls on a Sunday, a day when I (and most moms) probably feel more stressed than any other day of the week. 

I usually enter Father’s Day with even bigger expectations than I do for Mother’s Day.  Admittedly, I create this – a perception of perfection. Kids perfectly behaved so Dad can have a much needed break.  Meals perfectly made so that Dad enjoys the food.  Gifts perfectly prepared so that Dad knows how much we love him. I know how I so desperately want my day to look (which it never does) so I am going to make sure my husband gets his day even if it kills me. Perfect, perfect, perfect – Martha running around like a chicken with her head cut off, singing to the tune of insanity, as Ryan, the Ryan I know and love, would rather I order takeout, sit beside him, and pretend to watch the world’s greatest Alaskan moose hunting tournament or whatever.

Our crew is exhausting even as we do it together day by day.  It’s even more exhausting when one of us drops out of the grind to be “honored” for a special day.

And that’s when the tears start flowing.  Tears of exhaustion and tears of forgetting to leave the stress at the cross.  Tears of trying to do it all myself and stay in control.

We talked.  A lot. (Poor guy, tears and communication on Father’s Day). We decided that we’re not going to play this game anymore – this imaginary game that Hallmark created to specifically honor and appreciate Mom and Dad on one special day of the year and sets up everyone involved for unmet expectations and exhaustion (at least in our current reality).  We realize we’ve been duped because the day doesn’t really help us feel better or special. Instead, it almost makes us feel worse because one of us is “trying to relax” because that’s what we’re supposed to do while the other one is going crazy trying to make it perfect for the special parent.  Stupid.  We are letting go of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in our personal life for the time being, at least while we have young children at home because it’s just too hard.  We love each other too much to create this false sense of perfection and admiration on one day of the year.  I know he appreciates me throughout the year, and he shows this in so many little ways – like right now, he has all of the kids at the river so that I can do some writing.  I know that my kids love me too by the small gestures throughout the year: the flowers, the helpfulness, the listening (that’s a big one!)  We are forgoing the official sentiment because it’s not working for us.  We are going to appreciate the moments together and not try to fulfill the desperately impossible task of making the other one feel so special on a day entirely created to generate more money for Hallmark. 

Happy Father’s Day to all of you hardworking men who daily sacrifice for your families and Happy Father’s Day to the women behind the scenes. Pray that I can remain somewhat joyful through one more intense week, that the kids enjoy their time at summer care, and that Annabelle gives me some really good, long naps.

Just keep livin!!