Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Blended Trials: Missing Kids

When I first got remarried and we blended the family I was pretty excited. I thought I was going to be the best mom to these kids, even my step kids, and we were going to have loads of fun together and our lives were going to be awesome and we were going to be one big happy family.

Then parent-time happened.

For those of you not familiar with parent time, that's what used to be called "visitation". Parent-time is how you divide up time with the kids.

Both Justin and I are the "custodial" parents. That means that the kids live with us for most of the year. Their other parents are the "non-custodial" parent, and the kids spend time with them at pre-arranged days and times. However, we are both pretty flexible with our kids' other parents and they get to see their other parents as much as the other parent is able.

The first time our kids went with other parents at different times it was killer for me. I wanted to have all six kids all the time, and if we weren't going to have some, I wanted them all to be with their other parent. Surprise, surprise, both of the other parents' schedules don't match up exactly, so sometimes we have one set of kids, sometimes we have the other set. That was really hard for me at first. I thought my family was being torn apart and we were always going to be broken.

News flash - we will always be "broken" in this life, because that is the condition of mortality. Brokenness. However, that doesn't mean bad. I just had to learn how to live with this new condition. Like an amputee learning to live without a leg.

Parent-time makes planning family activities tricky. We try not to plan big family things when we know only one set of kids will be there, because we don't want the other set of kids to feel left out. But sometimes life happens, and we take what we can get.

At the end of the school year we wanted to have a big Summer Kickoff party with all our friends and their kids. We planned several weeks in advance and made sure a lot of our friends could come.

Then the long awaited Saturday came... and we had one kid.

One, out of six! Long story, but it involved military schedules and sick kids.

It was a little tragic at first, but we got over it and had a blast with all our friends and their families. And Ryan got to be the "only child" for a day, which was probably pretty awesome for him. He was the youngest before the blended of the family, and now he is one of two middle kids. So one-on-one time with Ryan is scarce, and him having the opportunity to play with friends, sans siblings, is even more rare. I'm pretty sure he really enjoyed it.

What is best for me is not always best for the kids. This was hard for me to learn, because, as I said before, I want all the kids all the time. My ideal life would be one where I never have to share my children with anyone on the whole planet. I am really selfish with my kids. I adore each and every one of them (and "my kids" includes my step kids as well - I don't think of them as step kids, I think of them as "my kids", just like I think of my students at school as "my kids").

However, just because I want to monopolize my children's time does not mean that is what they want. Those kids are half of their other parent, and they want to spend time with their other parent as well. Of course, for the kids I know that their ideal is to have both biological parents with them all the time. And boy do I wish I could make that happen for them. After all, selfishness aside, I really do just want my kids to be happy.

So I have to think about the kids, and I do. I am trying to really be selfless and make sure I put their needs first above my own. It's a different kind of selflessness for me, and a way I am not accustomed to being selfless. When I want to have them so I can do something fun with them, or read with them, or play with them, or take them to a museum or a park or the pool, I have to remember that they might like to just be with their other parent, or do that fun thing with their other parent - and that is okay.

Lest you think our blended family is always awesome, here you can see. It is most definitely not. But we make it work because we don't really want to sulk all the time about how awful our situation is. We just make the best out of it and do the best we can.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blended Trials: Feelings and Validation

Our 10 year old, Cory, is one of the most sensitive kids you will ever meet. He has the biggest heart, and thinks more about other people than he does about himself. He loves like you will never experience in your life if you don't know him. His wife is going to be one lucky lady.

When I share these stories about trials of blending a family it's so that you know that we are normal. We are not some fantastic, perfect family. Our blended family journey is just what it should be.

A few months ago, Cory was having a hard time. We had him seeing a therapist for a while (at his request), and then he decided he didn't want to see the therapist anymore. Cory told Justin, "I want you to be my therapist." We were actually thrilled about this, because we would rather have our kids talk to us than some stranger.

During one of his "sessions" with his dad (Justin and Cory lying on the couch together - no client on the couch, shrink in a chair with this therapist!) Cory admitted to Justin that he never wanted us to get married. I wasn't around during this conversation, but Justin told me about it later. 

The next day we went out to eat as a family and Cory asked me if Justin had told me about what he said. I confirmed that Justin and I had talked about it and I said, "Cory, I understand why you would feel that way, and I am totally okay with you feeling that way. In fact, you could have told me that to my face and I would still be okay with it." I wanted Cory to know that I understand how he's feeling, and I am not offended that he doesn't want me to marry his dad. I didn't take it personally. Cory always wanted his mom and dad to get back together, and I know that me marrying his dad completely trashed that dream. That can be devastating for a kid.

When dealing with kids in blended a family, don't take anything personally, and be your kids' best therapist. We don't allow name calling or yelling or hitting or saying mean things to people, but calmly saying something like, "I never wanted you and my dad to get married" isn't dangerous to anyone. It's a true admission of feelings, and a very mature thing to do. We definitely praise those kinds of things coming from our kids. As your child's therapist your number one responsibility is to listen. Kids who are dealing with things like divorce and remarriage are going to have a lot of confusing things going on in their heads. Listen. Resist the urge to correct, lecture, or respond in any way other than validation. Afterwards your child might be open to some advice or counsel, but give it carefully, and stop if things start going awry.

When a child misbehaves due to strong emotions, validate the emotion, then deal with the behavior. When our kids have outbursts of anger or emotion, we try to validate the emotion, then deal with the behavior. "You must really miss your mom. But it's not appropriate to throw a fit and scream and kick." We are starting to get a lot more calm, although emotional, responses from our kids. Tear-filled statements such as "I wish I could go to my mom's house" and "Sometimes it's hard to have so many brothers and sisters" are becoming at least as common as the tantrums, fights, and melt downs.

Pride is the step-parent's enemy. Well, pride is everyone's enemy. But it is especially detrimental in blended families. If you want to have a good relationship with a step child the best way to do it is to throw your pride right out the window. When Justin gets home from work, Joseline and Vincente barely glance up from what they are doing to say hi, while Cory and Ryan (and sometimes Bailey) run to meet him from wherever they are in the house. Justin does a really good job of not taking that personally, even though I know it hurts him. And the kids are learning to be at least cordial and greeting people when they come home. It's easy to take everything personally and think that your step kids hate you, or at the very least, don't care for you. But it takes time to build relationships, and the more you let your pride get in the way of that, the worse it will be for your relationships.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


An old friend messaged me on Facebook after my first couple of blog posts saying that he loved my posts and thanking me for telling my story. I wrote him back and said that I had been nervous to share my story because of how I would be perceived. The friend wrote back and said, "I think you're helping to change 'perceptions' and that's a good thing".

So what was I so worried about?

I was worried about being judged. Which is ironic, because ordinarily I don't give a rat's patootie about what other people think of me. I do what I feel is the right thing, and if I find out later that it isn't the right thing I will be incredibly apologetic. But while I'm doing what I think is right I find no reason to apologize.

Divorce and remarriage was entirely different for me. I worried what people would think of me when they found out I was getting divorced. I am usually free to explain myself, but with my divorce I knew there was no way I could accurately explain myself without causing inexplicable harm to both my former spouse and my children, which is something I could never do. You will never know, dear reader, what I went through in my divorce, because I will never tell you.

When I got remarried so soon after I was divorced (we got married less than 30 days after my divorce was final - but Utah has a 90 day waiting period for divorce, so we had filed for divorce longer than that) I was worried that people would judge me. When I married a red head (my youngest baby, born about 4 months before we filed for divorce, is a red head) I was worried what people might say.

I was worried what people would think of me getting married to someone I hadn't known for very long.

I was worried people would think I was somehow a less faithful Latter-Day Saint for being divorced. There is a part of the movie 17 Miracles that makes me gush tears every time. A mother of two small children is leaving England to emigrate to America to join with the Saints. She receives a blessing in which she is counseled about leaving a spouse. Whether truth or fiction it always touches me and I identify with her character at that moment.

I don't want to make it seem like divorce is a good thing. It isn't. Whenever some trial comes up that is directly related to divorce or indirectly related to divorce through remarriage and our blended family, Justin and I say to each other "Divorce sucks." Because it does.

Divorce is like cutting off your leg. Sometimes amputation is necessary to save the rest of your body, or to keep an infection from spreading. But you would never think of amputating your leg without first trying every thing imaginable to keep it. Amputation should be an absolute last resort, and it should be more desirable than keeping the leg. For example, if you break your leg, you aren't going to cut it off. You'll have a doctor set the bone, put it in a cast, and wait for it to heal. Sure, it may take a long time, and your leg may never work exactly the same, but you will still have your leg. Sometimes you may not have a choice in whether to amputate or not. Maybe your leg gets caught in heavy machinery or someone maliciously cuts your leg off. Whatever the situation, it is always better to have your leg if you can keep it.

Please do not take any part of this blog to be an endorsement of divorce. I don't want to give you the impression that you should get divorced because my happy remarried life looks better than your crappy marriage. If you want to know specifics, or if you feel like you need to talk about divorce or your marriage, feel free to email me. I am not a therapist, and most likely I will encourage you to see a marriage therapist - either with your spouse or by yourself. But if you just need some friendly advice, or even just a listening ear, please reach out.

If you have lost your leg already, please have hope. You can still live a full life as an amputee! And that is the true purpose of me sharing our story with the world - I hope that you can see that, although divorce and remarriage and blended families are not the ideal, your life can be full and amazing anyway!

Are you going through divorce, remarriage, or learning how to blend a family? What questions do you have? Have you been there, done that? What advice do you have for the Andrewleys?

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Summer Bucket List

We didn't want to go back to school in the summer thinking "What did we do with all that time off school and work?" So we made a summer bucket list to give us a little direction for the summer and some inspiration for those days when the kids say "I'm bored!"

I honestly haven't heard many complaints of boredom this summer, for which I give credit to our bucket list. We have really been packing our days with summer fun.

And lots and lots of Legos.

What summer memories are you making?

A Thousand Words #1

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Big Families Make Me Crazy - and ultra organized

Our new and improved "mud room" (aka, hall in the basement)
We built the shelves out of left over sub-flooring and laminate
panels from our kitchen remodel. Waste not, want not!
A month or so after we got married I started seeing a therapist. To be completely honest I was planning on doing that after I got divorced, but then I started working, and being a single working mom kept me really busy. Then I got married, and things got even busier with the new kids.

But then everything got overwhelming, and I didn't know how to talk to my spouse yet, so I figured it was get to a therapist or my would-be happy beginning would become a tragic ending.

Anyone who knows me probably knows that I am a little neurotic, slightly OCD, and live for my routines. I get crankier than my kids when they don't go to bed at bedtime, and it's even worse if our bedtime routine isn't followed perfectly.

Because my divorce, adjusting to working, getting married, and blending three new kids (we have all six kids full time) all happened within such a short amount of time, my routines went out the window, my house was a disaster (oh, and we tore apart the kitchen at about this same time), and my anxiety level was about as high as I could manage.

So I went to a therapist and she helped me with a lot of stuff (therapy tidbits deserve their own posts too, so I won't go into detail there). She helped me figure out that I didn't have to go crazy just because there are half a dozen kids in my house all needing my attention, 160 kids at school all needing my attention, and one awesome man who really deserves my attention but doesn't get enough of it.

She reminded me weekly of what my dad had been trying to tell me from the beginning: It takes time.

Yes, I know it takes time, but I needed coping mechanisms to keep my sanity in the meantime. And that's what therapy got me.

And so in the meantime, while I was waiting for everything I had no control over to work itself out, I got busy with the things I did have control over. A big thing for me is organization. I have OCD tendencies, which I think actually serves me well with a big family.

So the chore charts got revamped:

 Red means stop, green means go (of course). Each kid has daily chores which are divided up. We've got things like empty trash cans, sort laundry, harvest produce, sweep, vacuum, wipe bathroom counters, etc. Then we have "area" chores. Each kid is assigned an area of the house to keep clean. Living room/upstairs hall, kitchen/dining area, bathrooms, downstairs hall, playroom, etc. They aren't allowed to just move things from one area to another. Anything in their area must be put away. We have signs all over the house that say, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." (I told you I was a little OCD...)

Justin came up with the red/green idea. If their chores are all on green, they are good to "go" - play outside, play with friends, have screen time, etc. If the chores are on red, they have to "stop" and do chores. It's pretty fantastic!

The wheel is our "after dinner chores" - really it's after meal chores in the summer. But during the school year we don't really do clean up after breakfast and lunch, because lunch is at school, and we run out the door after breakfast. We turn it one turn every day, so kids keep a chore all day long during the summer. This one makes after dinner clean up a snap. On days when the kids are focused we can get even the biggest dinner cleaned up in under 10 minutes! There is definitely power in numbers!

Next the Weekly Calendar and Menu. This definitely needs to be "prettified", but it gets the job done. It hangs on the side of the fridge so anyone can see what is going on that day and what the meals are for the week.

 This is probably my favorite chart. I love that the kids can start getting any meal ready without me having to really tell them what to do. We usually put what veggie/side dish is being served, too. So the kids could pull out meat to defrost, start water to boil for pasta, or whatever needs to be done. It's also nice for the kids to be able to see what we're going to be doing that week. The whole schedule for the week is on there, including Dad's work schedule.

Can't forget FHE. Here is our Family Home Evening Chart. Each family member has a little wooden guy (Seth's is the one that isn't decorated yet). The cups are Lesson, Talent, Activity, Treat, Hymn, Conduct, Scripture, and Prayer. It's easy for the kids to rotate, and they enjoy painting their guy. We plan on updating our guys (if desired) each year in the fall. Spiderman is Cory. Ha ha. He's so awesome!

Last but definitely not least, my new laundry room! Justin built shelves for me that fit these baskets from IKEA. Each child has a basket and when I empty laundry from the dryer I just fold it into the basket of the owner (Vince and Ryan share clothes, so I just divide theirs up between their two baskets). The clothing stays there until they do their "Put Away Laundry" chore (a daily chore - check for clean laundry!). This is easy for me, because my responsibility ends the moment the clothes are in those baskets! If kids are running low on clothes I can usually tell they haven't been doing their laundry chore, but it's easy for them to run to the laundry room and get clothes from their basket.

Justin also put the old cabinets from our kitchen in the laundry room, and now I have storage! I love storage spaces.

I am loving being ultra-organized. It did take time, but the kids have learned the routines and now they know what to expect. Even this week after a week of camping and the 4th of July holiday the kids got right back into the routine with relatively little complaining or dragging-of-feet.

So it paid off to be a little OCD?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Family in a Blender

With Peter Pan at Hale Center Theater Orem's production
From Right: Ryan, Vince, Cory, Joseline
(Bailey was standing with me and grandma RaNae, and
Seth was with his dad)
I'm sure the next question on your mind is the blending of the family. How do the kids get along? How do the kids get along with the step parents?

I would be lying if I said there was no conflict and we got along swimmingly. What non-blended family gets along without any conflict? There is always conflict. How you deal with that conflict demonstrates what kind of family you are. We try to deal with conflict between children as if the children are all full-blood siblings. There's no other way to do it, in my opinion. The kids are kids, no matter who their parents are, and they are siblings - whether biological or step.

We spend a lot of time talking about how families help us grow - so even if there is something we don't like about one of our family members, we can use that relationship to help us learn and grow rather than resent our family member because of it. We can also try to help the sibling who has a less-than-desirable behavior or personality trait learn how to overcome their weakness, without name calling, belittling, or being hard on the person. These are qualities I would teach my children even if they weren't step-siblings, so I don't see the relationship thing as much different than in a family with no blending.

We try to do a lot of things "together" so there isn't the "us against them" mentality. We also try to stress that our family is the Andrews/Rowley family, not just the "Andrews" family so that the Rowley kids don't feel pushed out of their own family. I try to remind all of the kids that even though my last name is Andrews now, I am still a Rowley because I will always be Vince and Joseline and Seth's mom. That is the only thing I worry about with the blended family - a division along "family" lines. But I think we're doing a pretty good job of creating an Andrews/Rowley family mentality, and so far there hasn't been much of that division.

Plus, look at these selfies the kids took with my phone when I wasn't looking! Those kids definitely get along!


Monday, July 7, 2014

the second part of the beginning

So after that first date with my (now) husband, I went on another date with the other guy. The one with the cool gospel discussions. We took our kids out to Trafalga, and the biggest thing that struck me was the kind of father he was. Not a bad father, but a little distant. I was positive that wasn't what I was looking for. I actually ended up texting Justin at one point during the "date" when my date was with his daughter in another part of the park and I was with mine on a different ride. Turns out Justin texted me back also on a date with another girl!

The Mid-Singles stake was hosting a fireside on media the next day, and I had already decided that I would go. I asked Justin if he wanted to come with me. He said he did, and so he picked me up Sunday evening and we went to the fireside. We sat and talked after the fireside until they started folding up the chairs and basically kicked us out.

Later that evening I was preparing some materials for my class the next day and I was making a PowerPoint presentation. It had been a while since I had messed around with the program, and I was stuck trying to figure out how to animate something. I texted Justin to see if he could tell me how to do it. As I was waiting for him to respond I figured it out. Long story short, he ended up over at my house that evening and helped me with my lesson for the next day.

By the time he went home we had decided that we want to date each other exclusively. We had plans to do Family Home Evening at the park the next day with the kids, and after that spent every single day together. After school I would pack up the kids and head to his house, or he would pick up his kids after work and bring them over to my house and we would do homework and dinner together every single night. That Thursday night we went to the temple together and we looked at each other and knew that we were going to get married.

As we were making plans to get married we thought about a good date. Because I am a school teacher we wanted to get married maybe on a Thursday evening or Friday morning so we could have a few days of honeymooning before going back to work. First, we prayed about it, and I got the distinct impression that we should pick a day and ask Heavenly Father about it. We looked at a holiday weekend in January and took the date to Heavenly Father. I didn't feel great about it, but I also didn't feel bad about it, so we proceeded with plans. Shortly after making that decision I felt an urgency. I kept feeling like we needed to move the marriage date closer. Honestly, we both wanted to skip the ceremony and just head down to the county office and have a judge marry us. But for the sake of the kids we decided a small ceremony would be appropriate.
Eventually we decided to get married the day before Thanksgiving to maximize our honeymoon time. Everything fell into place. We asked my bishop to marry us and had Justin's bishop and the Stake President there as witnesses. It was a small ceremony, just us and the kids, our bishops and the Stake President, and their wives. Justin's parents had planned to be out of town, and my parents lived too far away to get here for  last minute wedding. We plan on doing a big celebration when we get sealed in a year. That is more important to us than a wedding anyway!

Well, that basically sums up our "story". I want to write more about life since then, and I will later. But now you have the very beginning.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

the first of many more

I'm not entirely sure how to begin. You know, they say it's best to start at the beginning, but at this point in my life there are so many. Beginnings, that is.

So if you want to read the real beginning, you'll have to go back to our Rowleypoly blog. This is the beginning of the Andrewleys (Andrews/Rowleys). I can't just call us the "Andrews" because Vince, Joseline, and Seth are members of our family, and they are Rowleys. And the idea of hyphenating my last name has never appealed to me. Plus, I am now an Andrews rather than a Rowley. But my kids are, and the best way I could think of meshing the family name without hyphenating is Andrewleys. It's got kind of a crazy sound to it, which is perfect, because crazy definitely describes our family.

The year 2013 was a pretty big year for me. I had a baby, then I got divorced, and because of that I had to go back to work. That story is pretty miraculous in itself, and it deserves its own post, and so it shall get one.

Toward the end of September I was freshly divorced and received some counsel that I would get married again. Well, I wasn't even close to being ready to get married, and I was 100% sure that if I was going to get married again I would have to know the guy really really well, and have known him for several years. I also knew that if I was going to get married again I would certainly want to get married before I was past child bearing years, because I have always wanted a large family. After Joseline I thought I wasn't going to be able to have any more kids and my heart was broken. Then after Seth I got divorced, and I was completely devastated. I wanted a house full of kids!

Not really wanting to think about marriage, but being pragmatic, as always, I started thinking about my options. If I didn't have kids I would just go back to a Young Single Adult ward. After all, I was just barely 27. But with kids, being in a YSA ward would seem kind of weird... plus I didn't want to date a bunch of kids fresh off their missions. I wanted a guy with some life experience. Someone whose testimony had withstood trials, someone who was dedicated to the gospel through thick and thin. After a while I came to the conclusion that I was probably looking for a single dad. Either divorced or widowed.

Well, there is no "Single Parents' Ward" (although that might be a good idea! Ha ha), so I went to the only other place I knew of to meet a bunch of single people with kids. The internet. It's not as scary as it maybe once was, and I signed up for a popular LDS dating website. Within a few days I had a date set up with a single dad of 3 young kids, about the same ages as my kids. He was a little older, but after chatting a few times I felt like he fit the basic requirements - he had seen a lot of life and was true to the faith in spite of (or maybe because of) all the experiences he'd had. We seemed to have a lot in common, so I felt good about a date. He ended up being a lot more ready to jump into a relationship than I was. I wanted to meet lots of different guys, date around, and in a few years make a decision. I didn't stop seeing him, but I did continue to talk to other guys on the phone, via email and text, and eventually set up a few more dates.

The next guy I went out with was a single dad of only one kid, he had been divorced for a long time, but we enjoyed talking about the gospel and having some deep doctrinal discussions. He seemed like a really good guy, and I enjoyed spending time with him. He wasn't forward about being romantic, just friendly and we had a good time together.

Then I talked to Justin on the phone - same story, single dad who had seen life and was dedicated to the gospel in the face of anything, we had a lot in common - so we made a date. In the process of making our date we discovered that we lived about 2 minutes from each other, that our Stake President (who played a huge role in my starting to date) had been his bishop when he went on his mission. Of course, we hadn't met, but it felt like we had.

I had season tickets to the Utah Symphony and Opera still, and the next event was the Utah Opera's production of Salome. I asked him to go and he said yes. The next evening was the opera and he showed up on my doorstep. First impression at the doorstep was fantastic. He even brought me some charming flowers. If I remember (and I might not remember correctly) it was a combination of daisies and lilies. He had told me he was kind of old fashioned.

Then we walked out to his car. I almost turned around and went back inside. Okay, that's not entirely true, but my opinion of him went down just a hair. His car was a shiny red Dodge Charger with 22" rims and dark tinted windows, black leather interior, and a spoiler. I was certain I was not going to like this guy. Too concerned with image. I was shocked by the irony of his music choice. When I got in the car he was listening to Seminary video soundtracks. It almost balanced out the car.

The evening was fun. We had fun chatting about the opera, and I realized that despite his lack of exposure to classical music he caught on quick and was pretty intelligent. I like intelligent. My season tickets entitled me to after parties with the musicians, but we ended up being early to the after party and decided to take a stroll. We walked around the corner and passed The Melting Pot. I told him how my sister had gone there once and raved about it. He asked if I had been, I said no, and he said, "Let's go!" So in we went and we spent nearly 3 hours eating delicious food and having the best conversation of my life. I can't even entirely remember what we talked about, I just remember feeling comfortable and at home.

On the way to the symphony we kept trying to figure out if we knew each other from somewhere. We eventually decided that we couldn't have met before, even though we felt as if we had.

After our fantastic evening out I came home on cloud nine. I'd had a pretty good time with the other guys I had dated, but something felt different about Justin. I felt like I knew him already, even though I didn't know him, and I was euphoric. I hadn't felt that way in a long time.

(to be continued...)