Year One

This is the third in a series, so if you missed them you can read the first one here and the second one here.

We ended the last post with saying our “I do’s” and wedding cake (of course). I think I forgot to mention the importance of my wedding dress. I was honored to be able to wear my mom’s wedding dress – the wedding dress that she made back in 1971!! I added a purple sash to honor DJ’s mom, who had passed away earlier that year. I also had a picture of Ivie holding my hand wrapped around my flowers. We felt it was important to incorporate her memory in our special day as well. 

2 Became 8…instantly!

We didn’t have a honeymoon immediately (it was later in the month), but instead went home, ate dinner with extended family, and started a new nighttime routine of putting six kiddos to bed. We got up the next morning and we all got ready for church, as a new family of eight. Boy, was that something new for this introverted mom of two… We chose to do our wedding weekend this way for several reasons. We wanted the kids to be a part of our wedding, an active part not just superficial. We wanted them to know and feel that they are now one big family, for better or worse. While our marriage does come ahead of the children (because that’s how we believe God intended for marriages to work), DJ only gets so much time with his children, and that’s not something I would ever ask him to sacrifice. In this instance, it was more important for our children to see us coming together as a family than for us to take a honeymoon the same weekend as our wedding. 

Do you remember that I went for a long run on my wedding day? Yeah….that was because I was running a half marathon the weekend following the wedding. We got a mini-honeymoon that weekend as we went to Georgetown SC for the Bridge to Bridge run. DJ made funny signs for me (from cardboard he got at a gas station, haha), and even jogged along with me for a short distance – in flip flops!! Seeing his face gave me the encouragement I needed to finish strong. See, I had “run” this race the year before, but had been struggling with plantar fasciitis, and it wasn’t my best performance. As it turned out, I actually placed in my age group, but we didn’t stay for the awards because I really didn’t think there was any reason too. I had been able to train for this race in large part because of DJ. He encouraged me, watched my kids so I could go out for my training runs, and was just a great support all around. This was an indication of how he would be (and continues to be) as a husband – encouraging, supportive, willing to step in to help wherever he can so that we meet whatever our goals are, both personal and as a couple and family. 

We went on an actual honeymoon at the end of the month, to Edisto Beach. We explored plantations, beaches, historic areas of Charleston, and went outlet mall shopping (of course!). It was awesome to just be able to slow down for a few days after the whirlwind of wedding planning. 

The Roller Coaster – Kiddie Version

Those first few months were kind of like riding the kids roller coasters…just kind of bobbing along on gently rolling hills. Most things were going well – the kids were getting along, no major fights, DJ and I weren’t disagreeing on much, if anything. We settled into our new routines. My kids were finishing out the school year at their old school, so that meant I was spending quite a bit of time in the car. I don’t regret that though; I think it helped them by keeping some amount of our old routine and not having them transition to a new house, new parental figure, and a new school and new friends all at one time. 

We had a little bit of drama that first Christmas. The kids weren’t used to seeing each other for more than a couple of days at a time, so to all of a sudden be together for a week was definitely a new experience for them. This is probably when we started seeing more of the “that’s my shirt” “that’s my toy” type of behavior. We talked with the kids, listened to their feelings, and did our best to help them understand that this was a transition for all of us. All I can say is to do your best to show everyone grace, yourself included. Transitions can be difficult and it takes time for everyone to adjust. After Christmas, things settled back into our new normal routine…

Until all hell broke loose…

I guess it all started changing around spring break. Our kids have different school schedules, so even though we both had our kids for their respective spring breaks, they weren’t at the same time. I took my kids on a bit of a road trip, visiting family and making a stop at my alma mater on the way home. DJ took his kids to the beach for a few days. I think this was good though – the kids were able to get a little one on one time with their mom/dad. 

Then summer came, and boy was that different. My kids were still at their old school for summer camp, because there was a two week gap between when their old school let out and when the local summer programs were starting. Again, I think this was good – it gave them time to just hang out with their buddies. DJ’s kids went back and forth, alternating weeks, and his aunt watched them at our house. I think it was good for the kids to spend the day apart…because boy were there some attitudes in the evenings! It was difficult, but we understood that DJ’s kids probably weren’t happy about having to share their daddy when they’d never had to do that in previous summers. When he was home from work in previous summers, he was all theirs. Now, they were having to share him with his wife and two more kids. Tack on some differences of opinion with parenting decisions with their mother, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I think it was harder for DJ’s kids because they just aren’t with us as often. They don’t get as much time to bond with me or my kids. We try our best to be understanding of the situation they are in, but we are human too, and it can be challenging for everyone. Thankfully, it’s not always difficult. We had a lot of fun that first summer too. 🙂

One thing that went well that first summer was our first official family vacation. We all went to the beach for a week. We had a lot of fun with the various activities at the park we were staying at, and just relaxing and playing together on the beach. It was a bit crazy for me, being in a smaller house with all six kids…my nerves were shot!! I was glad we took two vehicles! 🙂 But I was able to still have “me” time, as I was training for a marathon at the time, so I would go out for morning runs by myself. DJ did his best to get some quality one-on-one time with each of the kids. Lots of memories were made during that trip and it was important that we all did something together as a new blended family. 

Since then, the roller coaster seems to have gone from the kiddie version to the extreme thriller rides at Carowinds. Some weekends will be great. Others are hellacious. But as we heard in the Session 3 Blending Families video, “without conflict, there can be no growth.” I guess it’s good that we’ve moved past the “I don’t want to hurt your feelings so I’m just not going to say anything” stage. It seems as though everyone is comfortable enough to show their true selves, even though that means we don’t all get along all the time. Even DJ and I – we don’t always agree, but we work things out, we resolve disagreements, and we are setting the example for our children.

Yes, the kids argue and fight (usually over stupid stuff). We are doing our best to teach them conflict management – how to fight fair, and to understand that words can hurt. The boys especially are having to learn when to walk away from an argument, and how to come back later when cooler heads prevail to actually resolve the issue. We are having to learn when to step in, and when to let them work things out on their own. The behaviors they are exhibiting are completely normal. They are having to adjust just as much as we are. It’s certainly made more difficult when one set of children are only with us ~30% of the time. That is an unfortunate part of a blended family after divorce.

Some of the most common phrases we hear are:

“I’m not picking up his stuff.” 

“That’s my ____!” (shirt, toy, book, etc)

“Why don’t THEY have to do ____?”

“He’s saying mean things.”

“Why do THEY always get the nice stuff?”

Oh that last one really rubs me the wrong way. Not because it’s not true, but because it makes me feel unappreciated. We heard this several times, especially around Christmas/birthday time. Never mind that I used to completely go overboard for my children for Christmas, in an attempt to “make up” for the fact that they’re in a single-parent household. Never mind that my kids were somewhat disappointed (or maybe just surprised, even though I’d given them fair warning) that their Christmas gift pile was down to 3 gifts (which has always been DJ’s rule for his kids at Christmas). This was a change for them. And we all know how important Christmas gifts are to 6 and 9 year old kids… But they handled it better than I expected. We had obviously had to make budget changes after getting married. That first Christmas, I was shocked by what I perceived as ungratefulness. But, we also tried to be understanding of the fact that his kids had basically opened up their gifts and their mom’s house, were only able to play with them for a brief while, and then had to come to our house. Everyone’s gifts that first year were similar, but they definitely were not cool electronics or anything like that. Our second Christmas was a bit different, but that’s a story for another blog… 😉

I guess I’m saying all this to tell you to strap on your seatbelt and hold on. Maybe your first year will be smooth sailing, or maybe it’ll be wicked drops of a roller coaster followed by hairpin turns. Ours was probably somewhere in the middle. This second year is similar, but I feel like we’re are better equipped to handle it. It’s important during this first year to establish family rules, relational boundaries, a cohesive and consistent parenting plan for your household, and to set the tone and direction for your new blended family. The better prepared you are to handle the ups and downs of blended family life, the easier it will be. Expect some amazing highs, but expect some dark lows and learn to just ride the ride, whichever direction it’s taking you. Be committed to standing strong together as a couple through both the good and the bad. That’s what marriage is about – being committed and staying committed to each other. DJ has helped me to become a better mom (and stepmom), and hopefully I’ve helped him become a better dad too. Acknowledge each other’s strengths and learn from each other. Where one person might be weak, help them to grow. Work together; you are on the same team after all. 😉 

Enjoy the ride.