This is a continuation of the interview with Jeff Hill on how he and his wife, Tammy, blended their two families. Part 1 is here.
Q. What did/do Tammy’s kids call you?
We made sure that we didn’t insist on anything. Some would call me Jeff. The period of time has come now that all of the children call me “Dad,” and all of the children call Tammy, “Mom.” All of them.
There is a cute story about my son, Seth, the youngest one. He had always called Tammy, “Tammy.” Tammy is very good about teaching our kids about intimacy. And so she said one day, “Jeff, what have you taught him?” And I said, “I haven’t taught him anything!” And she said, “Well, don’t you think it’s about time we talk to him?” She has a real nice, warm, wonderful way about teaching about the sacred things of intimacy, that is really quite tender. So we set up a time with Seth, I think he was ten, and sent all the other kids away so we had an hour just with him. We talked all about this and it was really a sweet thing. Well, just a few weeks later they had the maturation talk that they have in 5th grade. So all the boys were there, and Tammy went with Seth. Tammy said the instructor did a great job, but a lot of the boys were just really immature, awkward, embarrassed, and saying crazy things – you know how boys can be. As Tammy and Seth were leaving, Seth took her hand, and said, “Mom (and that was the first time he had ever called her mom), thanks for talking to me. I would have been so embarrassed if you hadn’t talked to me about those things. Don’t you think those boys were so immature!” It was a really cute thing.
Another funny story. We were sitting down one day and Tammy was talking with the kids, and it was her daughter’s birthday. So Tammy talked about the day her daughter was born, and going to the hospital and all the things that happened on the day she was born. And then she came to her other son, and talked about all the things that had happened the day he was born. And then she came to my youngest son and she said, “I’m so embarrassed, I just can’t remember the day I gave birth to you!”
That was kind of an indication we had gotten to the point where we just felt like one family.
Q. What are little things you and Tammy do for each other that nurture your marriage?
The kids were kind of uncomfortable about us expressing physical affection so one ritual we established early on was to make-out every day, in the mud room, when I came home from work. It strengthened us. It didn’t take much time, but it really connected us and helped us to be strong for the kids. Tammy would always say, “If we hold on to each other, the kids will eventually hold on to us.” So we tried to do that.
One thing I really like that Tammy does for me, is that I just lay down in her lap and she takes that lavender essential oil and rubs it all over my face. I breathe it in and it is so relaxing. It doesn’t take long either, just two or three minutes, but I totally relax and then I can fall asleep.
Both Tammy and I realize that you never know how long you have with the people you love. We both regret, a little bit, the fact that we didn’t take more opportunities to be alone on 2nd or 3rd honeymoons with our first spouses. So we have been very good about making time to be alone, just for us. I think I added it up the other day, and in the eight years we have been married, there have been over 40 times we have gone overnight alone without any kids.
I also think we try and serve each other. Tammy had always wanted to be a marriage and family therapist. So one thing that has really brought us closer together is her being able to go and do that. I had to be more involved at home in order for that to happen. She would be in class Friday nights and Saturdays, and I would be in charge at home. It actually helped me get closer to all the kids, especially her kids. They were closer to me because she was gone and they had to depend on me. And that was really helpful.
Tammy works two days a week, along with teaching at a university, and being home with the kids. She is in high demand and usually has 10-12 clients on Tuesdays. Can you imagine doing therapy with 10-12 couples in one day? One little thing I do for her, is that when she comes home, I have everything spotless. (She loves a clean, orderly home.) And then I have a bath for her so that she can just come home and get in the bath and tell me all about her day. That is fun.
Q. If you were talking to someone who was going through this process of blending families, but in a particularly hard part of this process, what advice would you give them?
It’s probably going to get more rough. You have to realize it’s a long-term process. One of the wonderful things about blended families is that they challenge you to be a better person. You have to be humble, patient, long-suffering, gentle, all of those good things. If you’re going to be successful at blended families, you’re forced to be that way. And so you can look at the experience as a growing experience – even though it’s difficult and even though it’s not comfortable. Blending families is never comfortable. It is if you stick with it. It is worth it.
Q. When you’re married, you have companionship with somebody. For you and Tammy, as you had both dealt with the death of a spouse and trying to be single parents, what was it like missing that companionship and then having companionship back again in your life?
It was total heaven. When I was going through Juanita’s death I thought, “How can I ever love someone else?” And then it really took me totally by surprise the intensity of the feelings I had for Tammy. They are very real. At first I thought they weren’t real, so I kind of had to put things on hold for awhile, because I thought, “This is too good to be true. It’s too good to last. I must be infatuated or something.”
Tammy received some advice from her father the night before we were married. He said, in essence, “Remember now is now and then was then. And don’t try and bring the two together. Just try to live this new life.” We’ve tried to do that – tried to set a boundary. We’re living this life. We don’t live in the past. We honor the past. We do some things to remember Mark on his birthday, we have his favorite meal; and on Juanita’s birthday, everybody gets a half gallon of ice cream and we read and eat ice cream, because that is what Juanita used to do. Two to three days a year we remember and honor them, but most of the time we are living this new life.
I think that is the key, that you don’t go back to how things were before, or try to go back. Just appreciate the goodness of today instead of trying to long for something in the past. It’s also really easy to idolize someone from the past that you have no contact with their humanness in the present moment. You can just remember the good things. It’s really better not to try and compare the two lives. Just live the life that you’re given. It’s a great life.
Q. What resources are available for blended families?
– National Stepfamily Resource Center — Clearinghouse of information, resources, and support for stepfamily members. Topics include counseling, finances, co-parenting, co-grandparenting, and more.
– Step-parenting and Blended Family Advice – Concise suggestions for improving relationships in blended families.
– Real Families, Real Answers – a 13-week “reality” show produced by the BYU School of Family Life providing practical, science-based advice for strengthening families. Shown regularly on BYUtv.
Life Tips from Professor Hill
1. Life is hard, but you can do hard things.
2. When life doesn’t go as planned, don’t get frustrated…make the best of it.
3. T.T.T. = Things Take Time
7 Tips for Successfully Parenting Stepchildren
- Negotiate clear boundaries.
- Express honest affection and praise. Frequently say things that are specific, true, and positive.
- Show interest in their lives and don’t play favorites. Be there – for games, recitals, parent-teacher conferences, etc
- Acknowledge and mourn losses – negative feelings are perfectly normal.
- Have fun! Find things to do with your stepchild that they enjoy!
- Leave disciplining to the biological parent. Side with your spouse.
- Don’t fight in front of the children. Model commitment to marriage.
This interview was taken from Nurturing Marriage.