Blended family: love and stew

What I want you to know about what love looks like in our blended family.

Heather Fowee


It gets really old when I try to explain that we are a blended family and we get the sympathetic head-tilt (the bless-your-heart look).  Or I say I have to take a call from my ex-husband and the other mom rolls her eyes, as if she assumes it’s a dreaded task and a given that I have contempt for him.  I do not. At all. He’s getting married soon, to a wonderful woman who loves my children. And honestly, I really do not like the term ‘blended.’  Blenders spin really fast and chew things up.  That’s how I FEEL sometimes, but not how I would prefer to describe my eclectic crew.  Combining households takes a lot of time, energy, love and attention.  It’s more like a stew.  But telling a new friend that we are a stew of a family would just be weird.  I am already a little strange, so I try not to fly the freak flag too early to prospective friends in case they are keepers.  For the sake of this story, I will call us a mixed family. 

To say that we are simply a ‘mixed’ family would be an understatement. I have 2 biological daughters, we are in the process of adopting my cousin, and my husband has a biological daughter. That would be FOUR GIRLS between the ages of 8 and 12.  You can gasp, it’s ok.  Also, we have three different last names among six people.  It can get confusing, especially at the school or the doctor’s office.  At times, people respond as if single-unit families are the norm and we are some rare specimen.  Hello, McFly! It goes like this with my step-daughter: “we just need your permission to do such-n-such.”  I say, “Ok. But I will need to check it out with her mother and my husband.” {looks confused} “Soooo, you’re not her real mom?” Big sigh.  No, I’m not her REAL mom.  Can we move on now?  I have a taxi service to run, ya know!  Speaking of which, the *most* fun comes in trying to keep a calendar of where everyone is going to be and when and with whom and how are they getting home.  The daughter we are adopting still visits her great-grandmother and grandmother on certain weekends.  Did you do the math? That’s THREE other families to keep track of and consider and care about.

Here is how we do love in our super mixed, crazy, wonderful, silly home.  And I say ‘do love’ because I believe it is an act of the will.  You do not have to feel love to act loving.   

  1. We have hills that we die on: Faith, grace, responsibility and the concept that we are a TEAM, not six individuals all fighting for their own rights. 

* Our faith in God and His ability to redeem drives our belief that this family will keep sailing, even through the rough waves. 

* We practice giving and receiving grace often.  If there is no grace- for sisters, former spouses, step-parenting- then we’re all working for love by trying to be good enough.  Aren’t we all tired of that hamster wheel?  When the girls start arguing, we ask, “which one of you will give grace and serve your sister and who’s going to receive?”  It still counts if they roll their eyes and do it, right?

* We believe that everyone in our home is responsible for their words and actions and is responsible to other family members to love and support them. I don’t get to blame you and you don’t get to blame me.  No one is a victim here. 

* A team is a community with the same vision.  We believe deeply that we are a family on a mission to show Jesus’ love, light and kindness to each other and the world, and to be brave.  It also works when the tween yells, “Yeah, but it’s not MY towel” and I get to respond, “Take one for the team, honey. Pick it up anyway.”  {insert child muttering}

  1. We are very careful not to accept others’ labels: Our girls do not come from a broken family.  Technically, since we are all a little kooky, we are all broken.  And that is OK.  But to say to a tender-hearted child that their family is broken is cruel.  A marriage broke, not the family.  I was a family with my three girls as a single mom.  And now we are a giant, extended family with three other families.       
  2. You are allowed to have your feelings.  They belong to you and you get to own them.  They may look ugly but, please honey, HAVE THEM.  I would rather deal with your crazy, confused fits now than deal with a 16-year old who has repressed her feelings for years.  The really magical thing about feelings: they aren’t good or bad, they just ARE, and they may change.      
  3. We respect and honor the other families.  You do not have to like them or your sisters, but a code of baseline respect is in place at all times.  Without that code, no relationship can ever grow.  I do not adhere to the belief that people have to earn my respect.  Are we so callous that every human, every child of God, does not deserve respect? One human to another.  One stumbling, broken, doing-the-best-we-can human to another soul also doing the best they can with what they have.
  4.  I pursued a genuine friendship with my step-daughter’s mother.  I did not do so well in the beginning.  She was not a fan of mine at the time (“I was SURE I did not want to like you”) and I reacted defensively.  A few years ago I realized that I will have to spend a lifetime with the other families: birthdays, graduations, weddings, babies, etc.  It serves my children for their parents to be united in co-parenting and supporting for the rest of their lives.  So, I started to show her how much I cared.  I treated her just like I would a new friend, with all the vulnerability that comes with that.  Let me tell you, it was HARD.  I was so afraid she would judge me or use information against me at some time.  She didn’t trust me for a while, but I kept trying and she kept trying.  Now, we have a dear friendship.  She comes to my porch and we talk about life and laugh.  I’ve babysat her son and she gives my oldest homework advice and makeup tips.  We check on each other when one household is having a rough week.  When she leaves my house, we hug and I say ‘love ya’ and she says ‘talk to you soon!’  It is a beautiful, lovely friendship that I am so grateful for.  My husband thinks it is a little odd that we’re THAT close.  He gets really nervous when he’s left us alone and comes back to find us laughing.  Great fun!  
  5. Our marriage comes first.  We crazy love our girls and would step in front of a bus for any of them.  But if the marriage is not cared for, the stew gets cold and rots and nobody wants to eat it and it will be thrown out.  So, we stir and watch the heat and add seasoning as needed.    
  6. We tell the (age-appropriate) truth. Always.  These kids have questions and they want to be answered!  The world is already confusing and then you throw in the fact that a little soul wonders why her dad never married her mom or why her mom is in prison, well that is tough.  And we tell the truth.  If you have a need, then speak your truth.  ‘Ask for what you need’ is one of our favorite mantras.  And the great lesson is that you may not get it, but you ASKED.  Awesome!

That is our story.  It is not available to every mixed family.  People are hurt and broken and act crazy or cannot move on or go to jail or abuse themselves or others.  We are grateful for our mixed up family.  It is an awesome privilege and responsibility.  Some days we are weak or angry or exhausted.  That is ok because we are brave.  We keep sailing and I wish the same for you.


Coffee-drinking Astronaut

Hey Tribe! I’m back. I have missed you so.  I’m giving away my Keurig coffee maker! Read on and you could be a winner!

So, I switched back to my regular ole coffee maker a few months back. True, it takes FOREVER now and much more effort.  Ok, it’s like 5 minutes and a few steps, but that’s a big deal when you’re standing in your robe with your eyes closed wondering what to make for breakfast.  First world problems, right?!  Knowing that I’m a teensy bit whiny in the mornings, you might wonder why I would switch from my super fast and cool Keurig.  It started bothering me to see all those little plastics cups being thrown in the garbage, especially when I’m anal about recycling.  I thought about dumping the coffee grinds and rinsing out the cups for recycling. Then I remembered that I have four kids and that is just not going to happen.  My conclusion was to make one little change.  That small act has a tiny impact on me, but a HUGE impact on the Earth (we are KILLING our precious home….plastic bags, styrofoam, water bottles).  And the cups are more expensive.  Win-win.

Recently, I read a book called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.  It has made a huge impact on me and my family.  The Hatmakers took seven months to drastically pare down seven areas of excess (clothes, possessions, waste, food, spending, media and stress).  My previous decision on the coffee maker switch was spot-on!  I felt good about that and thought of ways we could do more.  What’s the point in reading something inspiring if you don’t ACT on it?  Just one small act is a start.  

Here’s my start: the Keurig is just sitting there and that’s wasteful.  It’s really bugging me!  I want it out of here and I want it to find a nice home.  It’s barely used (we bought it new after the fire) and is the bigger, fancy one.  My husband goes the no-crumbs route when he buys things for me.  Winner winner chicken dinner!  Lucky me.  Yes, I did ask his blessing to give it away.  Of course, he said yes because he just rolls like that.  

If you would like to adopt my Keurig all you have to do is execute a random act of kindness and then post to this blog or reply on the Facebook link about the experience (not because we like bragging because pride is yucky, but to give hope to other readers).  Do you see what I did there?  I also incorporated the ‘stress’ factor from the book.  Who can feel stress when they are GIVING love, money, time, or energy to a deserving stranger?  Um, no one!  Last week, a friend was visiting on my porch, she got chilly, and I ran to get her a sweater.  My favorite sweater.  She hugged it and said how good it felt.  DING…you know that feeling when you’re about to give a present and you’re giddy?  I got that feeling and knew it belonged to her!  I had to practically make her take it (we strong women can be like that sometimes), bless her heart.  She thanked ME and I was the one who was truly thankful that she received it!  I mean, I love this chic to the ends of the earth, so to part with a material object in her honor was a duh, no-brainer.  I have experienced this myself, as a receiver, and it was like the sun shined on me when I needed it most.  It makes a difference!  People, things are getting scary up in this crib (America) and we have got to come back with love and kindness as the tools of peace.  

In one week I will put everyone’s name (within 45 minutes of us) in a hat and let one of my kids draw a winner.  I will literally draw it out of my cowboy hat. If you are the winner, I will even deliver it to you!  True, for delivery purposes, the winner will come from the greater Cincinnati area.  Don’t hate, remember: I have four kids and a job people.  But PLEASE, I beg of you, play anyway!  Go change the world, be nice and then tell us about it.  Share the challenge with your friends.  It will be awesome!  I promise.

Houston, we are Go For Launch…. 



I share a journal with my two cousins, Michelle and Andi. The most recent topic was talk about a time you had to wait for something and what that time was like.  Great question!  I know, it was my idea….that I totally bogarted from some journaling website.  Below is my waiting story.

I’m in a time of waiting right now, actually.  I believe that 12 years ago, the time after my miscarriages, was epic (growth) and equally excruciating.  But I’ll stick to what’s going on right now, knowing that it will be cathartic.

Currently, I’m waiting to have a career. I mean, I have a part-time j-o-b during the school year, but you know, like a grown-up career.   I graduated Integrative Nutrition’s health coaching program and the “graduate” program, Immersion, and was so excited to jump into life as a health coach with a full-time practice.  Educating people about food and ingredients, teaching them to love themselves through awareness and being a change-agent in the healthcare crisis is crazy cool!  I wanted to be doing workshops, seeing clients and consulting.  BIG Dreams and a Busy schedule, is what I saw.

Then, the weight and responsibility of a new marriage, adoption of my cousin, a bonus daughter from my husband, and transition of my two older girls, crashed into me.  The challenges we have had to face in the last 20 months, within the family and with the outside world, have been unbearable at times.  I’m telling you, we could not even make up some of this crap!  In the midst of the realization of what was ahead for James (huzbind) and I, the process of creating a healthy family, I saw that I had to be the glue here. HERE- at home, literally.  These four girls needed me- physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  There would be no full-time health coaching practice until they were all “safe.”

What that’s looked like for me is a lot of prayer and grace and sacrifice and gratefulness.

I pray through the times when I get resentful or sad (this is an honorable and lonely job).  I pray when I know one of the girls is in pain. I pray in thankfulness when I watch the Spirit slowly redeem their hurt.  I pray when I’ve screwed up any hopes of receiving a trophy for Mother of the Year, begging God to erase the stupid thing I said from their precious little heart. I pray for help for James. I pray in awe.  I pray just to breathe, some days.

I give and receive grace as often as I can. Some days that’s not much, either.  The six of us are just doing the best we can and that is GOOD ENOUGH. It’s enough. Grace applied swiftly and aggressively can cover a multitude of sins.  For real.

I sacrifice grownup lunches, girlfriend time and dressing nice for work.  I sacrifice vacations and nice cars. A few of my precious lady bugs need some tools and therapy is expensive (and worth it).

But mostly, I’m grateful.  I am grateful that I have James as a teammate.  What we’ve endured, and will continue to work through, takes a hell of a strong love….and commitment and passion to the cause.  We have that.  Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty, like the really ugly Cry Face during a good sob, and that’s ok.  Usually though, we have a crazy fierce united front. Bam! Yes, I am grateful for James.  Geez, I love that man.

I’m grateful that God entrusted the lives of four girls to me.  They all needed different kinds of mothering, two born of my womb and two born from my heart.   I gladly stepped up to the plate (shaking and not sure if I could hold the weight of the bat). I’m lucky they’re mine and get to witness their journey as sisters.  I always wanted a sister.  It blows my mind how God does that thing of kind of giving you what your heart desires but in a totally different and more beautiful way than you could have imagined.

I’m grateful that James and I are pioneers to our church and community of what a super-blended family can look like.  Depending on the day, we can look like a mess or like cohesion or like beauty.  It looks REAL. We don’t use the word “normal” in our house….because we’re not! No other family situation looks strange to my girls- doesn’t matter if a friend is raised by their Grandma or two moms or two dads or both parents. They’re like, ‘um, ok, whatever. Want to make duct tape purses?”  They just accept it. Cool. Very cool.

I’m grateful for LOVE.  It’s hits a home run, every time. EVERY time. Love on the hard days is why we’re all still alive (imagine a 14-hr summer day with all the kids & James is traveling).  Oh, and Kocanut Joe’s froyo helps too. Yum!  I digress….anyhoo….Loving or being loved when you’re in the swamp of life is like what the Beatles sang of: Here comes the sun. Yeah, it’s like that.  Sun!

And so, I will wait….and watch Ellen.