1. I was just curious how you have/will approach the idea of the kids calling Steve "dad". Adding a "step parent" to the mix when parents divorce is so much different than when a parent dies. I know you did not get married to Steve to replace your husband or the kids father. If they call Jeremy dad and Steve by his name, will that make Steve feel less connected to them? Or if they choose to call Steve "dad" will you feel like you are breaking the connection between them and Jeremy?
What do Steve's kids call you and what do your kids call him?
What do Steve's daughters call you? What do your children call Steve?
What are the children going to call both of you? Since you both are now step parents will they call you mom and dad or will you be known by something else?
I'm not sure what verbal stage Carter is at, but does he/will he naturally call Steve "Dad"?
Vee: This was a very popular subject – and rightfully so. This has been a very sensitive topic for Steve and I to weed through together. We made sure that the kids knew that they could call us whatever they felt comfortable calling us, there was no pressure to call us ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ if that felt forced or awkward. And since Steve’s girls already knew me as Vee and my kids call Steve by name, it of course is a hard habit to break. But we also knew that eventually down the road, we’d want to blend our family as one and be “mom and dad.” This first involved some grieving on my part. While I am thrilled that my children have such a wonderful man in their life that will be a positive influence, it is really hard to associate someone else as father to them – and another realization that Jeremy is never coming back. But I feel like, at least for Faith and Caleb, the transition is not too difficult: they called Jeremy “daddy” because they were so young, and therefore we say ‘daddy’ for Jeremy and ‘dad’ for Steve. In theory, this gave my heart peace but it is still strange sometimes to actually say it. For Carter, it was much more emotional for me to think about because he understands so little. I know that Steve will be the only dad he knows and Steve loves him like his own, so it’s only appropriate (and heartwarming) for him to call Steve dada – which he now does. But I grieved heavily over the fact that he never got to call Jeremy that. Like so many other things on this journey, it’s bittersweet.
Next is actually implementing this concept. Steve and I started out with just trying it out ourselves by collectively saying things like “kids, say thanks to Dad for making your sandwiches.” Or “Say goodnight to Mom.” After that didn’t feel funny anymore, we started referring to each other as that in front of the kids. It’s just now starting to feel more comfortable in our family. It stills feels weird in the presence of people who knew Jeremy as Dad, I think because I know it’s an area that other people haven’t grieved yet either. But I will never forget the first time Zada called me Mom at Caleb’s t-ball game a few weeks ago. I could tell she was trying it out to see how comfortable it felt. I tried not to react and just answered like I normally would, but I’m pretty sure my heart almost burst open it was so full and I had a smile on from ear to ear that I just couldn’t take off. Right now, they call us both, Mom, Dad, Steve, Vee – it’s crazy and odd, like us – but over time I think it will start to feel more comfortable for everyone.
Steve: As Vee said, this is a process and one that Vee and I have talked through extensively. We want the whole family to feel like a family – and that includes the language we use – Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, etc. Vee and I both decided that we did not like the terms “step-mom” or “step-dad” because of the negative connotations that come along with those words, so, as Vee shared, we have slowly used the words “Mom” and “Dad” around the kids. But we have also been very conscious of using inclusive words such as “ our children” rather than “my girls” or “your kids.” We want them to know that we love them all equally and treat them all as our children. This new language has been a change for us and so we can only anticipate it will be a change for the kids too – but that is ok! However, in the past week or two we have noticed that the kids are getting more comfortable using the terms “Mom” or “Dad” with us.
For Father’s Day, Vee and the kids made me special a special craft with all their handprints and wished me a Happy Father’s Day – all but Faith. She couldn’t say it to me, but she wrote it out on a piece of paper. It was ok, and I completely understand. She misses her daddy and even though Faith and I have a really good relationship, this transition is still very new for her. However, this past week Vee and I took the kids camping and one night, after we went swimming, Faith came up to me and said, “Hey dad, can you help me hang up my swimming suit?” It was as if time froze – my heart nearly beat out of my chest and my eyes welled up with tears. I couldn’t jump up fast enough to help her, give her a hug, and tell Vee just as soon as I could. Since then she has called me dad a couple of times, and while I am so grateful that she feels comfortable calling me dad, I am even more grateful to know that she has had two dad’s who love her more than anything! Although Faith, Caleb, and Carter will, overtime, call me dad – they will always know that they have two dad’s who care about them. I don’t ever refer to Jeremy as anything but their daddy and I try to give them every opportunity to talk about Jeremy, reflect on their memories of him, and learn more about him through others who knew him on different levels.
2. Do you think that you will have any more children?
I am curious are there going to be any little ones that join your family in the future?
Do you two plan on having a baby together?
Vee: In short, no. I was done having children at 2, haha! I am so grateful for our big funky family, but as of right now, we don’t even have a seat in our van for another person! We don’t have the space or the finances or the sanity to have another child. We both agree that we would love to experience having a baby together to redeem our last pregnancies and go through that as a couple, but we don’t love the idea of having 6 kids. I’ve always wanted to adopt and perhaps someday down the road if we’re in a place where we feel like we could, we haven’t shut that door yet. But right now…I’m pretty tired. J
Steve: WERE PREGNANT!!!!
3. How is the blending of families going for the kids? Do the kids share rooms?
How are your kids adjusting? Are they sharing rooms and adjusting like other siblings do?
I know what life is like in a blended family ... just curious how it's going for y'all?? I hope it's going well!
Vee: This has been a common question among my friends and people at church lately. My honest response is that our family has come together in a way that only God could bring together. Other than the fact that our girls actually LOOK like they’re related – they also act like it! They bicker and fight sometimes, but they love each other. Faith and Reagan are pretty attached to each other and seem lost without one another any more. It’s so heart warming to watch them love each other and look out for each other and play together. I think the most rewarding thing to watch is how they benefit each other by being together. Most unexpectedly, Zada and Caleb and they way they play. Zada being the oldest, acting like a 40 year old who worries about everything, it’s amazing to see the kid that Caleb brings out in her. I’ve heard her laugh more, get emotional a lot less, and even act tough for Caleb, because she loves that he acts wimpier than she at some things (he pretends to be scared of the vacuum just to play with her). I love the way they talk about their new brothers and sisters – it’s very sweet and just feels right. I know it’s not always easy, but it is always a blessing.
Right now, Zada has her own room because she is the oldest and she is also the most anal about keeping things neat and tidy – unlike Faith and Reagan, who are sharing a pig sty together, and they LOVE it. And the boys are sharing a room….sorta. Both of their beds are in the same room, but Caleb likes to sleep on the floor in Faith and Reagan’s room. They’re all pretty happy with the arrangement, and it feels like it’s always been that way.
Steve: The transition for the kids has been honestly much easier than I had anticipated! There are small squabbles from time to time, and like most siblings we have to remind them to be patient with one another, share, and figure out how to work things out between them all. It has been very interesting to watch them find their new roles in our family. As Vee shared, Reagan and Faith are almost inseparable – they share a room and enjoy just playing with each other. Reagan is use to being the youngest and is enjoying her attempts at being an older sibling (although we have to remind her regularly not to be so bossy) while Faith, who was the oldest, is now learning a new role too. While it’s tricky, Vee and I already see how tight their bond is and feel like not only will they be great sisters, but life-long friends. Zada, our oldest, floats in between playing with Caleb and loving on Carter. While Caleb seems to bring out the kid in Zada (which is a good thing because she sometimes acts like 40 year old woman) Carter see’s her as his biggest ally and protection from the other kids.
To help the transition into “our family” instead of “my family and your family” we have established new rules, incorporated family meetings, and made sure, above all else, that the kids understand that Vee and I are a team and we make all our decisions together. Vee and I have been very aware that in our new family we need to make sure that we are on the same page and that the kids know that they cant play two sides of the fence.
While we know that things wont always be easy – we truly feel God’s presence and peace as we have moved our family forward together!
4. Do your kids still visit Jeremy's family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.)
Vee: Of course! Jeremy’s family is stuck with us – they have loved us without condition and they are and ALWAYS will be family. In fact, we are in Canada now, celebrating Dad's 56th birthday. I try to make it a point to see them once a month, and if that’s not possible, at least every other month. When we travel up to visit Jeremy’s parents or siblings, we also try to see as many other extended family members as possible. But, it’s just as difficult as trying to get together with all of our other family members (my parents and Steve’s parents), so it’s never nearly as much time together as we’d like.
Steve: I am SO glad I get to talk about this subject, mostly because I thought that there might be several questions related to how I got along with Jeremy’s family or how we have navigated these waters, but was surprised to see that there was really only one question about Jeremy’s family and it was on whether or not the kids get to see Jeremy’s family.
First, let me talk just for a minute about Jeremy’s family. From day one I have been completely blown-away and humbled by the way that they have taken me in! I can only imagine how incredibly tough it has been for them to lose a son, brother, grandson, nephew, uncle, etc., and would have understood if they remained at an arms distance from “the new guy” who was dating the woman that their son was married to, or marrying the woman that their son was married to, or who was helping raise the children that their son once raised. Contemplating my first visit to Canada I knew that just my presence alone would be a reminder that Jeremy was no longer there – and to be honest, I felt sick about it! I knew I needed to go, I wanted to go, but at the same right I almost couldn’t bare the thought of what I would say or how would I act. I remember battling in my head “Should I hold Vee’s hand when we are there or would they be offended by that?” or “Should I sit by her on the couch or not? I want them to know I really care for her, but I don’t want to upset them!” But honestly, the moment they greeted me all my anxiety went away.
I will never forget talking with Byron (Jeremy’s dad) on top of a blustery hill as we took the kids sledding on my first trip to Canada. His grace and acceptance of me was something that I hope to imitate to others. I remember Byron telling me that all he wanted was for Vee to be happy and well taken care of and for the kids to have the same, and he could see that I did those things.
Because I respected Jeremy’s family and knew how important they were to Vee and the kids I wanted to get their blessing before I asked Vee to marry me. I remember Skyping with Byron and Arlene and talking to them about my love not only for Vee, but also for Faith, Caleb, and Carter as well. I shared with them that I never wanted to be the replacement for Jeremy but wanted to join their family as my own unique person. I remember wanting to share more with them, but before I could utter out much anything else they were letting me know how much they appreciated me and how they felt grateful that I was in Vee and the kids lives (I know, I was BLOWN-AWAY!). These weren’t just words though! Arlene and April agreed to be a part of the walk where I would ask Vee to marry me, April, Melanie, and Bethany all stood up with Vee on our wedding day in support of our new journey together, and Byron (along with Brian, Vee’s dad) walked Vee down the aisle to me.
It has been humbling for me for sure. While I know that my presence is a constant reminder of Jeremy’s death and I know that their grief, just like Vee’s, will be a life-long journey, I am amazed at the way they have extended their hand of love and support to me.
Although life is busy and I don’t always get to talk to them as much as I would like, I always enjoy texting back and forth with Byron about how he is doing or how his job is going, or getting Facebook messages from Arlene or April asking how I am doing or sending words of encouragement, or joking with Kirk like somehow we have been friends since high school (since that is where our maturity level is at sometimes J). Needless to say, we are family – it is not a matter of “letting the kids visit Jeremy’s family” they are OUR family and we enjoy each moment that we get to spend with them.
Next up is Part 4: Grief-related questions
P.S. We are NOT pregnant, but Steve does think he's pretty funny. :)