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!!

Nasty Pumpkins and Nasty People

We’ve had family in town over the past few days and honestly, my body has not moved from the couch very often as the first trimester icks have kicked in big time.  Ryan wrote this a few weeks ago and has graciously allowed me to use it today. I also love a sneak peek into his brain, I hope you do too. 

 Halloween has come and gone and cavities are being created from all of our children’s hard earned loot. Halloween is often a favorite of most children and candy is the #1 reason. For me, I hated dressing up but was happy to do whatever it took to collect sweets that were rare around my house as a child. The ritual of carving pumpkins was also part of my childhood and though I am not a big fan of it today, it has become a tradition of my children as well. The joy I had creating masterpiece scary faces as a child has been masked in adulthood with the daunting task of digging out ewey, gooey, cold pumpkin flesh so my children can do their best to fashion the same artful creations of their own. I don’t remember the mess that was left behind and the worst part of all as I found out last Halloween is they don’t last long. In Michigan last year, Jess took on the carving of pumpkins just a week or two before the big day. The result of 6 masterfully whittled orange designs quickly became slimy, moldy, stinky piles of mush within days. I as dad and the one unwilling to help with the carving, received the honor of disposing of the heaps. Rather than delicately gathering them into bags and throwing them in the trash, I lazily took a shovel and scraped them off the porch into the mulch slightly hidden by our bushes. As I was sitting in church today, for whatever reason, I remembered that day vividly as our preacher reminded us to reach out to the lost and plant seeds however we can. Jess and I agree that we should meet fellow sinners where they are and both abide by the quote “hate the sin but love the sinner.” I am guilty of avoiding people who don’t smell pleasant or look different or any number of reasons that don’t fit the “norm” in my eyes. They are just like the rotten pumpkins at times and it’s not fair that I think that way but it is human. But is it Christian? It is one thing to be turned off by someone’s presence, location or circumstances, but it is another to avoid that person because of it. Their sin just like mine is that ewey, gooey, cold flesh that our past is made up of. God can make beautiful creations out of our messy centers and nobody is excluded. As we prepared for our move to Tennessee, I was doing some much needed cleanup in our yard when I realized there was what seemed to be the largest weed I had ever seen that started in our bushes and stretched over the sidewalk and into the other side of our front porch. Not exactly what a potential buyer would appreciate in their future home. As I followed the vine from one end to the other, I realized it was a pumpkin vine and had several small green buds about to become next year’s lot of Halloween treats. Now, all I did was scrape it into the mulch and never thought of it again, a stinky heap of moldy mush. That mess produced several new pumpkins with no nurturing or attention but without knowing, I surrounded that pumpkin seed near plants that I did water and nurture. I planted a seed and didn’t even know it and even better, that seed produced several other pumpkins which in turn would produce even more the following year. That’s a long story for such a simple lesson, plant seeds every chance you get and let God do the rest. Who knows, maybe some simple yet kind act could produce a huge crop that you had very little to do with. That’s my 2 cents…

Just keep livin!!

Insensitive Mating Rituals of Beanweevils and Husbands

This is a continuation of the previous post, Birds, Bees and Babies in Mommy’s Tummy…..

 

The next day, the day after we told the kids our exciting news about the pregnancy,  I walked down to the bus stop to retrieve Caleb, a little more tired than usual being newly pregnant and waited for him to bounce off the bus.  He arrived right on time, and we promptly began the return walk home and that’s when he abruptly turned to me and said

“Mom, were you awake or asleep when Dad did that thing to you?”

MY MIND WENT BLANK AND MY MOUTH WENT MUTE AND MY HEART PUMPED OUT MILLIONS OF GALLONS OF BLOOD IN ABOUT 5 MINUTES.   

I had absolutely nothing, not one of those super sharp come backs I’ve so proudly bragged about, NOTHING but bright redness blasting across every cell structure in my face. I muttered and stuttered and JUST ABOUT DIED.  

“Ummmm, what do you mean?”  I asked as innocently as I could muster, pretending like I had no idea that he was comparing our baby making session to some sort of bean weevil mating session he had most likely witnessed on Animal Planet or one of those other stupid shows his father lets him watch involving unique mating rituals of just about every walking creature in the universe including the elusive and odd bug, the bean weevil, who severely damages the female’s reproductive system upon successful insemination, thus coining the term, “traumatic insemination.”

“MOM, awake or asleep?  It’s not a hard question.” He asked again, this time getting annoyed with my obvious avoidance.

My brilliant reply, “What does your book say?”  

Great plan, project blame onto the book, the book should have covered that and if it didn’t, well, that’s not MY fault, that’s the book’s fault.  
The book in question is called It’s NOT The Stork! 

itsnotthestork

a descriptive, informative manual about a boy’s changing body, also loosely covering the birds and the bees.  
We thrust this book at them with the admonishment of “Come talk to us if you have any questions…”  Probably not one of our finest parenting moments.   

“Mom, it doesn’t say. I’m just wondering, were you awake or did Dad sneakily do it?”

OH MY WORD, I DON’T HAVE EVEN A REMOTE CONCEPT OF HOW TO DO THIS WITH MY TEN YEAR OLD SON…..

“Awake” I muttered hoping to slam the door completely shut for any further advancements in the conversation, the most mortifying conversation I’ve ever had in my life.  

This child had absolutely no comprehension of how his mother could be a willing participant in THAT ACT his book talked about.  I suppose he must have a very prudish version of his mother in his mind.
We continued our walk, talking about a plethora of other topics, his question having been answered and as we neared the house, I suddenly had a burst of energy and bounded up the steps, bursting into the office where my husband sat plugging away at numbers for his new project,

“Honey, I gasped, you are not going to believe what Caleb said to me…..”  

I retold the story to Ryan who in turn burst out laughing, an embarrassed type of laugh as he realized that his son viewed him as some sort of primal predator type of human being who totally took advantage of his mate in a weakened state of sleep and impregnated her against her will.  HILARIOUS.

I think that’s all I have to say about that…..

Just keep livin!!

Bible Camp,Packing, and Happy, Crappy Father’s Day!

The last few days have been pretty exciting – we finally signed official papers of ownership for our new house in Tennessee! Let the chaos begin! So far I’ve packed three boxes.

boxes

It hasn’t sunk in that we are ACTUALLY moving; I’m still waiting for the big ah ha moment. Hopefully it doesn’t procrastinate too much longer. I’m 90% excited, 10% nervous but that could easily change as reality hits me upside the head while packing with 7 little ones underfoot.

The kids had vacation Bible school every night this past week, aka vacation blissfulness for the parents. Ryan brought them at 6:30, returned home, and he and I would sit in peaceful silence until 8:20. Well, sometimes we would go for a walk, but mostly we sat, enjoying the sounds of absolutely nothing for two hours. Here’s a sampling of the bounty we are now proud owners of due to a week spent at church. Most of this, in all likelihood, will start to slowly and unexplainably disappear as we begin to pack.

vacationbible

Saturday night was date night which we always enjoy immensely but this week was particularly exciting sharing it with one of my oldest (not literally) and dearest friends from childhood, Lisa and her husband Justin. Lisa and I met about 23 years ago and have kept in touch ever since. She has an amazing heart and a kind spirit, and I am blessed to call her one of my closest friends. Before ending the night they promised to visit us in our new homeland, and we’re secretly hoping they love it so much they want to move as well, hint, hint…

004

Sunday was Father’s Day and we had every intention in the world of making it to church to celebrate although that in and of itself can often be a very tedious task. I laid out all of the kids church clothes the night before, bought donuts for an easy breakfast and purchased a honey baked ham for lunch. I snuck out of bed early without waking Ryan, displaying his Father’s Day card on top of the bathroom sink to surprise him, went downstairs, made myself a cup of coffee (it may be Fathers Day but some things still don’t change!) and then made him a cup as well. I was in a cheerful mood, having slept well and asked Mabel to go downstairs and let Luke out of his bed. He has a huge, 6 foot tall, padded bed (similar to a baby crib) that opens in the corner to allow him to gain access in and out. She obeyed, running down to “free” him for breakfast and two seconds later Tate came running up the stairs, out of breath, barely gasping out the words..

“Mom, Luke is covered head to toe in poop and he’s crawling all over the basement!”

“WHAT!” I exclaimed in horror, eyes bulging out of my head, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME???”

Any cheerful disposition was pretty much down the drain at that point, being exchanged with some choice words bordering on profanity forming in my mind.

I raced downstairs to discover that yes, indeed, Luke was covered in excrement and bonus, he was naked. This is his new “thing” and we don’t know what to do about it.  When he gets bored, he takes his clothes off and apparently he didn’t want to wear his pajamas that morning and apparently he was even more sick of wearing his dirty diaper and decided to take matters literally into his own hands. He undressed, took off his two diapers, and in the process made a huge mess all over his bed, his walls, his floor and the basement. No picture for this one… use your imagination, it wasn’t pretty.

My happy demeanor was completely gone. I wasn’t exactly “giving thanks in all circumstances” as Paul admonished the Thessalonians to do around 2000 years ago as I scooped him up, placing him ever so gently into the bathtub, and then proceeded to fill a big bucket with lots of soapy water, scrubbed down the bed with one hand, large cup of coffee in the other hand. I felt angry tears forming, out of pure frustration at how difficult it can be to raise a severely handicapped 8 year old, especially while two curious three year olds look on commenting about how “stinky” it is, and suddenly, my hero stepped into the room.

“What happened honey?” he asked.

My husband, my calm in the face of some serious crap, my much more patient half on his special day, Father’s Day, offering assistance.

“You clean Luke, I’ll get the bed” he offered with a smile.

“But it’s Father’s Fay” I protested, “You shouldn’t have to clean up poop on Father’s Day!”

“It’s just another day” he replied with a smirk.

Tate then piped in his delightful commentary for our conversation with the addition of “This is probably the worst Father’s Day ever, huh dad?”

His father did not reply. Ryan’s a good man like that, he just does what needs to be done without making a big deal out of it. I am a blessed woman to have him in my life, our kids are blessed to have him in their lives, and Luke is blessed to have a father, an adopted father, who without batting an eye, or puking up his dinner from the day before, cleaned up piles of poop on Father’s Day. Yup, we have a keeper over here at our house.

We did not make it to church, the mess taking most of the morning to adequately clean up.

The rest of the day was a little less eventful, church on tv, honey baked ham for lunch and a wonderful Father’s Day grill out for the amazing man in our life. Burgers, homemade potato chips, watermelon, and my world famous (well, Ronne famous) peanut butter sheet cake with homemade chocolate icing. This is seriously tasty and seriously easy to make.  

cake

 

Recipe for Cake
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla.
 
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium pot, stir together butter, water, and peanut butter until it comes to a boil.  REMOVE from heat. In a separate bowl, mix together sugars, flour, salt, and baking soda.  Add it to peanut butter mixture.  Beat the eggs slightly, add to the mix, add the vanilla and the buttermilk.  Pour onto a greased sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes. 
 
Chocolate frosting 
1/2 cup butter
3 TB cocoa
5 TB milk
16 ounces powered sugar.
 
Melt the first three ingredients in a pot over medium heat.  Remove from heat and beat in sugar.  Spread on warm cake.  DELICIOUSNESS!
 

Finally, three of the kids left for their first week long stay at Bible camp! We had some excited campers who are going to have a blast!
campJust keep livin!!