I’m in a Blender

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Anyone that says blending two families into one is easy, is pulling your leg. It’s actually pulling your heart strings. It feels like I’M IN A BLENDER.

A little background… I never expected to be blending families. Probably nobody does. But in 2008 the unexpected happened… my husband passed away in July. All of a sudden I was a widow with 6 children. Some of my kids were in the same school class with kids who had lost their mom in May. In the fall they all came up with a great idea- lets get together with the other family who knows what we are going through- the loss of a parent! In December Matt and I met and decided to get together with both families. We all had a blast and started getting together often. Matt became my new best friend! It was the perfect scenario when Matt and I fell in love months later. We thought putting our two families together would be just about as easy as it could get. Our kids got along great and we all looked forward to becoming one BIG family.

090909 was the big wedding day and everything was so beautiful. The kids were our groomsmen and bridesmaids. For months we met with a dance teacher and we did a family dance at the wedding. So fun! We felt like this was a match made in heaven. I still believe that! Our wedding day was the best day of my life. I was so happy. I was excited to be mom to all 9 kids and I knew my kids were so lucky to have this amazing new dad.

pick a seat not a side

I have no experience in blending two families, neither does Matt. So to put it bluntly, we had no idea what we were in for.

TURN THE POWER ON THE BLENDER!

First of all, moving two families into one home was the funniest thing ever. We had more furniture than we knew what to do with. We had more of EVERYTHING than we knew what to do with! Such as 18 curling irons, 2 kitchen tables, 4 sets of dinnerware and silverware, 1000 glasses, pots and pans galore, 6 TV’s, clothes to fit an army, 9 shovels, 5 couches, 3 fridges, 3 bunk beds, 12 bikes and on and on. We still have no idea what to do with some of this stuff. To me this was an organizing nightmare and I LOVE to be organized. Now I just love the IDEA of being organized… some day.

Matt and I grew up in the same neighborhood. Our backgrounds are very similar with conservative parents who taught us to work hard, have integrity and church standards. Now Matt and I lived only one mile apart when our spouses died, so I bet Matt and I raise our kids the same as each other?! Well we did teach them the same standards as we were raised with, but when you live together you start to realize how different things can really be. Not that one was better than the other, but different.

Matt based his family on communication. They talked openly about everything. His oldest was 13. They didn’t have rules- just talked about each thing as it came up- like what time to be home and what made sense that day. Both parents worked long hours. They loved to eat dinner out and have that time together after picking up the kids from the babysitter each night. Weekends were just for family. All of Matt’s kids were into competitive soccer, so that’s what they lived- soccer and sports. They had the latest, greatest of everything. They were not home very much– this means their house didn’t get very dirty and when it did they all pitched in to help get it picked up.

Alright- a mile across town, my family was run differently. We had 6 kids with the oldest being 19 years old. I worked from home so I could be a stay at home mom. Jay had gone back to school so was home a lot. He was in charge and we ran our home like the Army. Everyone knew the exact rules and there was no need to talk about them- you just obey and there are no questions. I don’t think my kids ever came home one minute past midnight/curfew. Saturday jobs took a few hours for each person, but they knew it was part of the drill and just did it before they even thought about leaving for the day. They also had a 5:30 job each day so the home was tidy before dinner. They were not allowed to watch TV, except our movies. Our home was extremely organized and labeled- everything had a specific place. We could not afford to eat out and only did this on date nights- which meant the kids rarely ate at a restaurant. When they were 15 years old they got a job and paid for their own things. My kids are book worms, musical and artsy and much of my time was spent taking them to piano, dance, violin or art class.

Do you think mixing these two families would have any problems?! I didn’t think my way was too different from anyone else, until I moved in with Matt… Yep, different.

I really liked the way he ran his home. It was different, but good. I liked the feeling of the family as a TEAM. Matt liked how organized my home was. So could we mix (BLEND) the two to get one HAPPY home?

Lets start with my communication tool box- nope, there weren’t a lot of skills inside. I thought if I said it, that was it. I am also an extreme peacemaker- so I would do whatever I needed to keep the peace. Raise that white flag! Matt is a pro-communicator and mediator. Thank goodness he is also the most patient man, next to my dad, that I have ever met. He is a YES Man and says yes to anything possible.

Lets go over one other thing before we put all of us in the blender… the emotions of 11 people who have all lost a loved one in the past year or so are on HIGH.  I have to give all of the kids a LOT of credit. They all had lost a parent and were asked to get used to another parent, new siblings, pets, neighborhood and some a new school. (At least there were 5 of them so they didn’t feel alone!). This was a trying time with a lot of change and adapting. So if I look at this from the kids side- it was an equal emotional roller coaster. Also remember we have 5 girls living in our home and 2 boys here. I know– lets hear it for the BOYS! (I think they’ll be really great husbands because they’ve seen it ALL!)

blending families

TURN THE BLENDER ON LOW:

The first year we all tried to be super nice and easy to live with. The kids had it figured out, Matt and I were clueless! They got a lot the first few years! We had family meetings often where we discussed what was going on and if there were any problems and the schedule. Matt and I talked for hours and hours every single day. Matt had quit his job before we were married to be Mr. Mom because his kids were his number one priority. My job was easy and I only worked about 10 hours a week. So this gave us tons of time to figure this out. I don’t know how we would have done it if we both were working full time. We all traveled a lot and got tons of FAMILY time.

Matt talked his kids through messes and I helped mine. They didn’t have too many blow-ups, we were just tip toeing through the tulips. Our estate planner suggested we don’t mix finances the first year. (It may have been wise to do this for longer.)

The first of my expectations I thought would go one way and they went the other: I thought his kids would call me MOM and mine would call him DAD. Nope- didn’t happen. I think that alone makes a “family” feel weird. I’m in a home and some people are calling me MARCIE and others are calling me MOM.

Our first fight was if the kids could have TV’s in their room. I said “HOLY CRAP NO!” Matt said, “My kids have their own TV’s that they got for their birthdays, I’m not taking away their present.” Same with computers. Well we compromised. The kids shared rooms so my kids thought they hit the jackpot- TV’s for all! We did keep the younger kids TV out in the common area most of the time and the older kids kept theirs.

Eating… Fixing dinner for an army is crazy, but so is paying $8 for chicken strips for 7 kids. Matt’s kids thought it was dumb they had to eat at home most of the time. We traveled a lot so we ate out then. My kids were used to eating at home and loved the chance we got to eat at restaurants. Matt laughed his head off when my kids continued to ask, “What’s Panda? Sbarro? Bonsai? Food Court?”

TURN THE BLENDER ON MEDIUM

“Saturday jobs? Are you kidding me?” Said Matt and his kids! I replied, “Who cleans the house and when?” The first year we tried my Saturday lists as I was refining my skills as the wicked stepmother. The next year we compromised and made the lists half the size. Matt is now a super hero. Then later changed again and they could do it anytime that weekend. Then they could do it anytime they wanted. Then they all learned how to procrastinate! We lived in a disaster area. My “Nordstrom clean” has been gone for years. I’m adjusting because I’m tired. Now I don’t go downstairs or upstairs unless there is blood.

Team… My kids didn’t like the “team” concept. They were used to doing things on their own- like art and music. They didn’t understand the support of the other kids and resented it. I liked it and we tried to push it for years. We had all 5 girls in soccer and the boys in football and wrestling which taught Matt and I how to divide and conquer. We are professional taxi drivers now. Most of my kids have wandered back to art or music and that’s ok. I still really like the life lessons you learn from being on a team. It teaches loyalty and looking out for each other- what our family desperately needs.

Communication… My kids were not pro on communication skills since I had not taught them very well. When Matt would say, lets just talk about what feels good that day they wouldn’t. So it looked like Matt’s kids got whatever they wanted because they would talk to Matt about it, then come up together with a plan. Mine would just not talk, so not get anything they wanted. Such as CURFEW- Matt said just keep in touch throughout the night and let me know where you are and who you are with and come home at a decent hour. I said, WHAT? A decent hour to a 15 year old can not be 1am! We did come to a compromise in that the kids came up with their own curfew- what time they thought was appropriate for them to be home and then they had to stick to that unless they talked to him about a different time. My kids just told Matt they would be home by then so they didn’t have to talk. But then they would feel bad that other kids came home later. I thought his kids argued with me, but realized they were just communicating the way they were taught.

TURN THE BLENDER ON HIGH

The division of the families seems to get bigger each year instead of the gap getting closer. It’s still very emotional. I wish we had done more early on in the game, but we tried to just sit back and watch and hope things would settle down. The older the child, the more he wanted it to be the way it used to be. I had two older kids who had moved out of my home before we were married, so they have never lived with us and have never felt like this is home. It meant they didn’t have the advantage of getting to know the siblings and Matt from a family environment. It’s one more weird thing to throw in the mix of blending all 9 kids into one BIG family.

With so many people wanting our time and attention, Matt and I often feel depleted and spread very thin. We are trying to learn that we still have to make time for ourselves and time for each other. Matt and I feel lucky that we do not have any X’s to deal with, but that also means we don’t have every other weekend off! This is a FULL TIME show. We probably should have done a reality show- it would be very entertaining.

We are given so much emotional energy each day. If we use it up before 7am dealing with crying and ‘she took my shirt’, then the rest of the day is going to be tough. We have all learned through death that we have to let little things go. Except to a 6 year old who knows those are her markers and nobody else can touch them.

One fun thing we do is the family matching game. When people meet us, we ask them to guess which kids were born to what parent- 3 children with Matt and 6 with me. Because we all look alike, nobody has ever gotten it right! We also have Melissa who is adopted and bi-racial- which family adopted her?

TURN THE BLENDER ON PULSE (What my heart has learned):

I’m grateful to have the experience of blending families. I had no idea what truly goes on! It makes me less judgmental, more compassionate and is soul stretching. I can see that people and families are very diverse- even in the same community. I have learned to better communicate my feelings. I’m glad I opened my heart to love more people. Hearts are funny that way- you can always fit in one more to love. I love all 9 of my kids. They are all so different, but HEY- different is good! I am absolutely crazy about my husband. I love him more each day and I know that miracles happen. We have been through many struggles the past 5 years and have stuck with it. I love that I get to live a life that sometimes feels completely opposite of my “previous” life. It’s like I’ve lived a couple of different lives. Just some of the same people keep showing up and want to be fed.

As you can see we have thrown all kinds of things in the blender, but the final result is something awesome and enjoyed by all!

Has blending been hard?  YES!

Has it been worth it? Definitely.  I mean look at all of those smiles!

 In July of 2008 the unimaginable happened. My husband passed away at age 40, and I became a single mom of 6 kids. Two of my daughters were in class at school with kids from a family that had lost their mom in May. All four kids came up with a brilliant idea and decided we should get together as families because we were going through the same thing. If there is such a thing as “family dating”, we did it- all 11 of us for months.  Today I am happier than I have ever been. Matt and I have 9 children all together. With this large blended family brings more experiences, challenges, and mouth dropping moments!

Now that I am healing, I have come back to personal blogging and writing openly about my past, my now and the future I want to create. Some people say I have lived a hard life, but I say it’s a life full of experience and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. Others have asked me why I am writing it now and the answer is I feel compelled to do so. I agree- it would be easier to just march forward, but in the past are my lessons that I don’t ever want to forget. My hope is that my thoughts will give confidence to others knowing their trials can have a positive outcome, even though it may not feel like it at the time.

I am grateful for life-changing, profound experiences of loss, love and light.

 

Stand up and Live

spouse committed suicide 2008

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