‘One day, a handsome teacher messaged me. The word ‘widower’ glared up at me. To be honest, I was scared.’: Mom shares journey blending families, ‘This is what faith looks like’

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“6 years ago, in the quiet that parents only experience in the dead of the night, I was sitting alone in my outdated but cozy apartment bedroom. I was a newly-single mom of a busy 1-year-old. I did not take the late evening stillness for granted, though some days I would have preferred sleep. You see, after having what started as the best and then ended as the worst year of my life, I was seriously struggling with insomnia. I’ve always had a naturally sunny, look-on-the-bright-side attitude though, and by this point, I had decided to view my inability to sleep as a blessing. I used the hours in the middle of the night to recharge, pray, and connect with friends on the other side of the globe (after all, it was daytime there).

Courtesy of Britt Marques

That night, though, the silence didn’t feel restful, and I didn’t feel very optimistic. I felt hurt. I was confused. Alone. I was anxious about the future. Surrounded by piles of toddler clothing and board books, sometime between my midnight mind-racing and morning, I heard a voice speak some of the most valuable words of my entire life: ‘I have a beautiful plan for you and for Z.’

Courtesy of Britt Marques

Short and sweet, but powerful words that audibly pierced the noiseless room. I shook myself. I looked around. I stood up and then sat back down to convince myself I was awake. It was real, I wasn’t dreaming. I was sleep-deprived, but I wasn’t crazy. The voice played over and over in my head, as a peace I can’t explain settled over my restless soul. ‘I have a beautiful plan for you.’ I knew then we were going to be alright. Even better than that, I knew if we just kept walking forward, we would end up somewhere beautiful. I thought, ‘This is what faith really feels like.’

Courtesy of Britt Marques

But, one day, when a handsome teacher and father to two young children sent me a message, I felt myself digging my feet into the ground for the first time since my revelation. The word ‘widower‘ glared up at me from his introduction, and I was filled with emotion. I was heartbroken for him and his children, overwhelmed with how to respond, and to be honest—scared of what engaging with him would mean for my already bruised heart. Over the following weeks, my initial feelings of hesitation faded, and I began to see this was exactly the road I was supposed to travel down. It wasn’t what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t as simple, or as easy, as I had hoped, but it was right. I can’t explain when or how, but at some point in those early days together, I knew this man and his children were special. I hadn’t found them by accident.

Jessica Maher Photography
Jessica Maher Photography

Some thousands of steps later in our journey, we were married and life was no longer lonely, or anywhere near quiet. Three kids, ages 6 and under, filled our home with all manner of sounds. There were still piles of toddler clothes and board books, just a lot more of them! We changed diapers, washed countless dishes, and stayed up too late— simply so we could relish in the conversation of another adult. We were in love, and we were partners.

Jeanne Phinney Photography
Jeanne Phinney Photography

With each new step as a family, we were also forced to face our past traumas, and confront our selfishness. We had hard conversation after hard conversation while trying to get on the same page. The beauty in my new life story was going to have to bloom out of new growth… and growing is no easy task. Growing meant accepting our path as a family was going to take me further and further away from everything that was familiar to me. It meant grieving and learning while scrambling to navigate our new normal. It meant trying, even when I didn’t know how. It meant leaning on the One who had made that middle of the night promise to me years ago, even when I had doubts.

Courtesy of Britt Marques
Courtesy of Britt Marques

We were growing in more ways than one. We had a baby girl, built a house, and filled up our schedules- but I was still looking for a shortcut through the trees on our path to blending families. I longed for a break from the hard work of growing, and for us to be able to find a place of peace to build on. What we needed most was time. And in March of 2020, in the most unexpected and blessing-in-disguise kind of way, we were given it. We were all stuck at home together for the foreseeable future. All of the sudden, we had time to build our family’s foundation without the busyness of daily life. Time to stop and face what was working for us, and what wasn’t. Time to ask ourselves what WE wanted for OUR family— our new family. Time to finish hard conversations that had been started a million times, but were interrupted. Time to voice our needs and pay closer attention to our children.

Courtesy of Britt Marques

We stopped fighting for a version of normal that was never meant to exist for us, and started embracing a future built in light of each of our strengths and weaknesses. We started trusting great things were going to happen. We stopped stressing over logistics, and started pouring energy into the things that excited us. We used the extra time at home to create memories. The first item of business was to plan a spring break we could all enjoy. We decorated our house from top to bottom with forest and camping decor. We used tree branches, fake plants, rocks, lanterns, and anything else we could find. There had never been so much dirt in our house! We brought the tent inside, and my husband and I were the silliest fake camp counselors we could be for the next 5 days.

Courtesy of Britt Marques

We (virtually) visited national parks, made s’mores on the stove, staged bear sightings, and pretended we were canoeing in our dining room. Amidst all of the fun of our make-believe trip, the connections between us all grew stronger. Each of us stepped out of our normal and laid down our expectations. We tried on a new role and were able to see each other from a different point of view. When we were ‘camp counselors,’ and our cute clan of kids were ‘campers,’ the pressures we had been putting on ourselves lifted. And we loved every minute of it. Our pretend week away at camp opened the door for us to throw away other expectations we had been putting on ourselves since our wedding.

Courtesy of Britt Marques
Courtesy of Britt Marques

‘What if we start homeschooling?’ I asked my husband one day. And my wheels kept turning. What if our family wasn’t meant to fit into the mold we were trying to put it in?  What if we were meant to pursue a simpler life together?

After living for the little glimpses of beauty in our story, with a lot of hard work in between, I could see it. I could SEE the promised, beautiful plan. It was finally becoming clearer. The direction I had been hoping for wasn’t a direction at all, it was the freedom to explore any and all directions. It wasn’t a path or a trail, but a sun-drenched, clover-filled meadow we were meant to delight in as a family. It had been there all along, I just needed to give myself permission to experience it. Permission to say YES. Yes to whatever creative, messy, unique life was in store for us.

I no longer wanted our family to fit into a picture drawn by someone else. More importantly, I no longer wanted us to fit into a picture I had drawn up in a former life. I wanted to embrace and explore whatever crazy possibilities were out there for us.

Courtesy of Britt Marques

This mindset shift helped us start blending our lives from a place of peace. We now say YES to growing together. Our pieced-together classroom houses conversations about our feelings, faith, strengths, and weaknesses. Four different ages and three sets of parents mean nothing to the kids when we are learning about life in faraway countries or under the sea. We say YES to reaching out for help. We have unashamedly connected with counselors and support groups for guidance on our journey. We say YES to defining our own roles. We are continually letting go of the expectations that came from our old normal, and from the normal we had growing up. We divide up chores, errands, and daily tasks in whatever way works best for us in that season.

Courtesy of Britt Marques

We say YES to trying new things. Whether that’s homeschooling, horseback riding, or bringing home a puppy, we aren’t afraid of taking on new adventures with our kids. We say YES to our individual callings. We are blending our lives, while still celebrating our separate passions. Our children are all gifted in their own ways, and each personality brings a different light to our home. They cheer for my husband as he pursues his master’s degree, and rally behind me as I work to send money to single moms. We take each kid on their own dates and give them opportunities to explore their interests. And we say YES to self-care. We work better as a team when all of our needs are met. This means that oftentimes my to-do list includes taking a hot bath, alone. It means equipping our children with self-care tools that work for them. It means we plan workout times, rounds of golf, and lazy afternoons into our schedule.

Courtesy of Britt Marques
Courtesy of Britt Marques

While in the thick of blending two families, it often feels like time is not on your side. It feels like time has already passed by, long before your story started- with first weddings, first babies, and first milestones. Our blended family story fully became our own, though, once we paused our busy lives and harnessed the time we needed to create our foundation. Our dreams. Our vision.

I look back to 6 years ago, and to the single mom who desperately needed to hear that there was beauty ahead in her story. The hope those words gave was powerful beyond measure, and I no longer think they were only meant for me and my first baby. They are for all of my children. For my husband. For my loved ones and their families. And for you. Learning to trust, have faith, and blaze our own trail, has led us to a freedom I hope so many others can find, too.”

Ana Ohlandt Photography
Jeanne Phinney Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Britt Marques from Lake Stevens, WA. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about blended families here:

‘When it comes to the size of our family, we’re always laughed at. What they don’t know is we love our chaos!’: Mom of 6 shares journey as blended family, ‘We were made for this’

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‘I discovered a hidden credit card and cellphone. My whole world crumbled beneath me. My ‘normal’ family didn’t exist anymore.’: Mom of blended family shares love story, ‘I got my happy ending’

‘She’s just my stepmom.’ I wasn’t on the daycare list. To this day, I’m left off emails because I’m not a ‘primary’ parent.’: Woman navigates blended family life, ‘I’m more than JUST a stepmom’

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