Nothing is more challenging than parenting. But nothing is more scary as a parent than taking on the ultimate challenge of a blended family. How did we do it? Let me back up.
After I left Tokyo post-earthquake and started a new life in Portland, I worked my butt off to create a beautiful life as a solo parent to my little girl.
Managing the chaos of life doesn’t come naturally to me (I’m more at home in an ivory tower contemplating life), so it took some DOING to figure out how to wrangle parenthood, running a business, keeping my creative spark alive, and oh yeah maintaining a sense of myself as a whole, fulfilled, adult woman in the midst of all that.
But somehow, I DID IT!!!
It felt like a miracle!
In fact, I was so amazed by my good fortune that I took what I had learned and starting teaching it to other women.
Every single one of my programs came from something I’d learned myself the hard way: Practical Magic for Secret Mystics (aka how to navigate the world when you’re super sensitive), The EFBA Toolkit (how to do really hard things with grace and grit), and The Queen Sweep (how to run your home, calendar, money, and to-do lists).
Every time I ran one of these programs, there would always be someone who would say, “Yeah, but these things only work for you because you only have one kid!!! I can’t possibly [set boundaries/ go after my dreams/ have a beautiful home] because I have a spouse and all these kids.”
It made me want to pull my hair out. Lots of women with spouses and kids have used these same tools and concepts and were getting amazing results. So it couldn’t be that! Not possible.
…Except…in my secret heart of hearts…I wondered. Could that be true?
Well, folks, I’ve run a highly scientific experiment this past year, called falling in love and starting a new blended family with my beloved.
In other words, I went from being a solo mom to one kid– to being a married mom of FIVE. I even got a minivan in the package.
Pretty much overnight!
And not only did the things I learned (and teach) stand me in good stead– I’ve found that as the matriarch of a blended family, I depend on them MORE THAN EVER.
Blending families has been amazing, overwhelming, messy, beautiful, and wonderful. I’m nine months in with my beautiful new blended family, and of course we’re still figuring it out all– we’ll always be figuring it all out– but here’s what I’ve learned from these intense three trimesters.
5 things I learned about how to love your new blended family!
1. You can grow big enough to do ANYthing.
I remember contemplating having a baby and considering how much effort it took to get myself out the door every morning– shower, hair, teeth, makeup, hot beverage, laptop, umbrella, phone, keys, wallet– and just thinking that it was literally physically IMPOSSIBLE that I would also be able to add a baby, diapers, breast pump, wipes, extra clothes, spit-up cloths, stroller, etc to this process.
In fact, IT IS impossible.
And yet I did it. People do it all the time.
And in the same way, when I contemplated the sheer physical effort involved in keeping 5 kids clothed, fed, clean, etc– not to mention happy and loved– it seemed impossible. But we can grow to do things that astound us, and I have learned to manage the seemingly impossible task of doing just that.
2. The Queen Sweep systems are EVEN MORE IMPORTANT now.
Without systems, though, we’d be SUNK. The sheer quantity of THINGS that move through our household is unreal. Paper, mail, bills, permission slips, gloves, shoes– lordy the shoes– not to mention the laundry!! One day’s worth of meals involves more plates, cups, cutlery, and food than we used in a WEEK in my old life. No joke.
Keeping track of doctors’ appointments, swimming lessons, chiropractors, glasses, and dental appointments for seven people is a mighty feat of organization and attention to detail (neither of which I nor my beloved husband have, at all).
And yet somehow it all works. Bills get paid, appointments get made, backpacks get put away, and every night before we go to bed the house is always tidy.
The reason is SYSTEMS. The inbox, the family outbox, the spot for keys, the budgeting and automated financial systems we have set up (if you’re curious about this, watch your inbox on MONDAY for an exciting announcement!!), the shoe locker, the 80-20 spots– all these are CRUCIAL to life running smoothly. (Oh and hey, if you want less chaos and more beauty in your life RIGHT now, start here.)
3. Without boundaries, we’d just be human soup– bitter, resentful, frazzled human soup.
I had oodles of quiet solitude in my own life. It was such a big part of life, in fact, that I totally took it for granted. Now, I have to be really firm (bordering on heartless) to get hours of solitude.
It’s important that I carve out this time for myself, because as an introvert, it’s literally my fuel.
Without it, I get cranky and weepy and sharp and my attention span shortens from its usual 30 seconds to THREE seconds. In other words, I’m my worst self. So the best way I can love my family is to sometimes remove myself from them.
THIS IS HARD. It goes against all our female programming about how a good wife, mother, and friend behaves. But if you try to be The Angel In The House, you might just end up as miserable as Virginia Woolf.
Time for yourself– whether that’s solitude or yoga or time to paint or the in-depth conversations you crave– is not frivolous. It’s an essential nutrient for your family’s health.
4. Our blended family thrives on routine.
If you have little ones, like I do, this is patently apparent every time we try to let the toddlers go without naps and instead of it being “a special treat” they dissolve into tiny temper tantrum tornadoes of misery and despair and rage and disaster.
But the fact is, even big kids (even the biggest kids, the adults) do better when we know what to expect.
Bedtime is at this time. Food stays at the table. Backpacks and lunch bags have to get emptied before you can go play. Yes, you have to make your bed before school– AGAIN. Just like yesterday and the day before.
The kids HATE this, of course. They rail against the horrible injustice and act shocked– SHOCKED, I say!!!– when we have the same expectations today that we did yesterday. But even though they grumble, it makes them feel safe. You can tell because when we vary the routines, they get anxious and grouchy and fall apart.
Nick and I need the routine, too– it guarantees us some quiet hours together before bed, and avoids the panic in the morning of not knowing where backpacks and lunch boxes and shoes are. We’re all just little toddlers at heart, and when we get tired, hungry, or feel out of control, none of us are at our best.
5. But sometimes? You just have to embrace the beautiful mess of your new blended family.
Everything I just said above is true. And it’s how things function 90% of the time.
But even with that strong foundation in place, life is still WAY more loud, chaotic, messy, sticky, joyful, damp, bouncy, whiny, funny, and glorious than before.
I’ve had to learn the dance of when to corral all that, and when to let go and embrace it.
Impromptu dance parties; family pizza night when everyone gets covered in sauce; the day at the river when we all got filthy muddy; these are some of our VERY best family memories.
Some of the best moments are also the messiest. So it’s a dance. If we lived in that mess ALL the time, it would just feel slippery and itchy and panicky. But when we bust out of all our routines, systems, and boundaries and dance– SO HARD!!!– to Macklemore, there’s a liquid joy that rises up in my heart and it’s the very best feeling in the world.
Here’s what I know most of all.
You’re a cathedral. You have room in you for ALL of it.
So thanks, kiddos, for making my heart bigger than I ever imagined it could be. I love you all so much. (But I’ll still make you keep your food at the table, no matter how unfair you think that is.) And thanks, Nick, for being beyond amazing and making all these gorgeous kids for us to love.
And thanks to you, dear reader, for being a part of this rich juicy starry messy life. May your hearts grow a few sizes this week.
All right, now I want to hear from YOU. What makes your family life RUN? Come join the conversation over on my Facebook page!