Sharing Your Child // Toni Allman Part 2
The Blending Place Podcast Episode 5 Your efforts don’t go unnoticed and they probably will never be applauded and they will probably never get the
Can’t you see this is killing me?
Ronda’s first husband passed away after having six children together. When she remarried, she became a stepmom to seven more. In this episode we talk about what life was like blending a family with 13 kids. She shares how prayer, hearing His voice and acting on those promptings changed everything for them.
4:18 Different Love
6:07 Keeping the Door Open
8:44 A Desperate Prayer & Unwanted Answers
15:38 He Really Means It
16:31 Dealing With a Difficult Biological Mom
20:31 The Family Counsel
22:41 To the Children
Lindsey: I am so excited about today’s podcast guest. Rhonda is a friend of mine, someone who. Came into my life and a time when I really needed her and was the first step-mom that I was able to connect with
I realized through her how much we step moms really need each other.
We were put in a calling together that required us to spend a lot of time in the car together, driving and visiting other women in our ward. And we have huge boundaries. So these moments that we spent together in her car became a sacred space, a space where we. We’re able to connect through some of those shared experiences of step mothering.
Now while you probably won’t ever have the opportunity to join us on one of our car rides. Today is an opportunity to imagine that you’re in the car with us going for one of these drives. I’m so excited for you to be able to listen in today.
Ronda: my first husband passed away when he was only 39 years old.
I had six children ranging in age, I guess at that time it was from three to about 15 and later when I met my now husband he was from a divorce.
A very tense divorce. And he had seven children and they were roughly the same age range as my children. So our 13 children who have a 14 year span. Oh my goodness.
we never had less than five teenagers for the first nine and a half years.
We literally had two refrigerators. One was for me to know that whatever was in there, I could plan and make dinner for the family. The other refrigerator was if it’s in there and you need, and you’re hungry, help yourself.
So if there were leftovers, they went in there , we just set up things like that. As soon as they became teenagers, they were responsible for their own laundry, which was essential for me because I couldn’t keep up with there’s no way 15 people.
Lindsey: Oh, it makes me a little sick to my stomach. Just thinking about that.
Ronda: sometimes these difficult second marriage situations are golden opportunities to get a crash course.
Lindsey: A crash course. That is a very accurate description right there.
Ronda: I think that it can’t help but strengthen children for when they go out into the world and face a lot of different personalities and set up their own relationships in families that they’ve had more experience, more exposure.
His two oldest daughters thought that they could kind of make life really difficult for me and I would go away.
I think that’s very typical, especially with older kids, teenage kids, it’s like, who are you? And get out of my life. And, and, but they did it behind my husband’s back. So he wasn’t seeing any of it. He was seeing them just treating me wonderfully. And so I had to go to him and say, you know, behind your back, your daughters are not being very nice.
And he listened to me. And fortunately I had learned by that time that his kids are very, very honest. And so I said, just go ask him. And he did. And they told the truth. Yeah. We’ve been kinda mean to run and, and he just let him know. That is not acceptable. It was the clarity that no, this is how things are, we’re not going back. We’re not undoing this we’re going forward. And so we need to make it work. And then those two girls became gems.
You read about some families that truly they become like one and they’d love everybody equally. I will confess I don’t feel that way but we were unified in getting along and making things work.
I don’t think the depth of relationship ever came. It didn’t for me, I’m a little bit of a detached person anyway. And so you know, you read about, oh, you, you go through pregnancy and labor and delivery and you immediately love this new baby. That didn’t happen – that happened with me for one out of six.
So I’m not that kind of a bondi person anyway. But I don’t think that it necessarily had to be, it just had to be that we treat each other with love and respect and consideration and trying to live the gospel together. Make make it work. I don’t think we have to try to push for this equal love or whatever that feels like.
Lindsey: I think that’s a really important conversation to have, because I have talked to several stepmom’s who said, you know, I’ve struggled connecting with my stepchildren and I want to, I want to feel more connected.
I want to love them in the same way as my own child, but I just am really struggling. And maybe even having some really strong negative feelings, if there’s been some, some hurt that’s been happening. But I think what you said, first of all, just recognizing that love might not look the same for each and every one.
But you can still love and respect and work together as a unit. I think that’s a really important message for a lot of families.
I remember in one of our past conversations several years ago, when you had mentioned that your relationships with your step-children have evolved over time. And some of them have gotten stronger. Some of them maybe not as strong. How do you find peace with where the relationship is no matter what that looks like?
Ronda: I do regret that with some of my stepchildren that I didn’t reach out more after they left home. I had the mistaken notion that if they were not contacting me, they were not interested.
They live all over the world you can see on my desk here, I still keep up with birthday cards to all the children and grandchildren, regardless of relationships just making that contact.
We reach out at Christmas time to all the children. And sometimes there’s not response. And it is frustrating. I literally coming into this new calendar year, I just thought I’m done with birthday cards to some of these kids. Cause they never even respond.
But my son pointed out to me he actually keeps in touch with all of his mission companions and people that he taught on his mission and things like that. And he said, I acknowledge their birthdays on Facebook. I just acknowledge it. He said, if they reach out and respond back with something that generates more conversation, then I respond to that. But he said, I always opened the door. I always opened the door and I thought, oh, that’s right. You don’t want to close a door on a relationship that was there.
You just want to make sure that’s always open and it’s okay that it, it may just be an open door that nobody’s walking through, but at least the door is open. And I, I think that’s constant and that how heavenly father treats us that door is never, ever closed by him. He holds it open and we may go through periods where we don’t walk through, but he always keeps that door open.
I think our job is just like we do with anybody else, our neighbors and friends and everything. We try to understand where they’re coming from and meet them in their space.
Lindsey: I really love that visual of leaving the door open. That’s something that we can control, we can’t drag them through it, kicking and screaming being able to leave the door open and for them to know that it’s always open. That’s a really special thing to be able to do.
In what ways has your testimony been impacted by being a step-mom?
Ronda: I don’t know if I ever shared this with you, but I had one of the most remarkable testimony building experiences of my life through the struggles that we had with my husband’s former spouse, because after a few months we, there were still, I think for a lot of families, even though, by the time you get married, you, things are somewhat settled out.
Court case has come up again, court battles, come up again. And and sometimes visitation struggles and different things like that. And in the first part of our marriage there was so much of that. And I went to the Lord one day and just sobbing and poured out my heart and said, heavenly father, can’t you see, this is killing me?
I had such a clear answer. And the Lord said to me, then you need to change. Oh yeah, not exactly what I was expecting. Yeah. It was the right answer. I needed to change and we needed to start listening more to the promptings of the Holy Ghost about how to do things and not get caught. In that contention and fighting and this and that.
And, and some of the inspirations we received were, I mean, two of the biggest ones that, because of this experience. We knew we just needed to do one was quit fighting over the house, give it to her. And I realized now the house didn’t matter. Peace mattered. Settling matters. And that was specific inspiration to us.
I’m certainly not telling everybody go out and do this. That solves your problems, right? No, it was, that was the inspiration that we had. And later on, this was a few years down the road. We actually, and this was after my husband had a hundred percent custody. There wasn’t even any visitation going on anymore.
And we had a clear impression that we should invite his former spouse to come join us for Thanksgiving.
Lindsey: Oh Rhonda.
Ronda: Yeah, we were pretty overwhelmed by that one. It ended up being such a great blessing. It was amazing.
Lindsey: How, how was it a blessing? I mean, because with where you were saying it was a not great relationship initially, that there was a lot of conflict.nSo how was inviting her over to Thanksgiving a blessing?
Ronda: Well, it’s a little deeper story. It was because we had one of our daughters had become a little bit of strange from us. And when we made that overture, she and her mother came together and the mother actually did not interact a lot with her children. But our daughter communicated with us completely and it re-established a connection with her. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Yeah. We’re thinking it’s all about the former spouse.
Right. And it was all about our daughter. So that’s why we follow the promptings of the holy ghost. You have no idea of where that’s going to lead you. All, you know, is that when the Holy Ghost tells you to do something, it is right and it is the absolute best thing you can do. And that’s what we know.
And that is the testimony that just was so increased by that very challenging inspiration.
Lindsey: Like you said, you were probably thinking, okay, we need to, maybe there’s some forgiveness that needs to happen or whatever it was between you and her, but it was so much bigger than you and her.
Ronda: We were thinking, you know, maybe one or two of the kids needed that or something and right.
Lindsey: So how do you get to a point where you feel like you can hear the voice of the Lord when there might be some anger or a lot of anger? How do you get to that point to work through it? Where you can ask the questions and be led by him?
Ronda: Like I say, I was having kind of a breakdown in a meltdown. It’s like all our choices. In situations, we choose anger or choose to let things go. Yeah. And I think it’s just something we get better and better at. And, there is an end. This does not last forever. The kids grow up you know, visitation ends, if nothing else it ends when they’re 18. And, and I think that the better we can get through that with calm and peace and seeking the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. If you can remember to have a prayer in your heart, when you’re facing those difficult circumstances and ask the Lord to help you to have the calm that you need to get through there, that’s, what’s going to make the difference when that becomes the habit.
There can be greater, calm and peace. And I wouldn’t say that I learned it back in the heat, but there were steps that helped me to have that better now.
That one experience that I had, when the Lord told me you need to change. That was the biggest thing for me. I that in, in, in conjunction with another unrelated experience in my life really taught me the Lord’s way as best every commandment he gives us is to make our lives better.
When he tells us to love others, when he tells us to pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you, he is saying, if you want to live a happier, better life, and that might be one of the keys where you’re saying, what do I do when I’m feeling all this anger?
Well, have you ever tried praying for that person? It’s a powerful experience. And he knows that, and that’s why he tells us to do that. And so I would think, you know, this. One of the situations of my life, every situation in our lives, especially the difficult ones, help us to increase our testimony. But I think that’s how it did for me was realizing he really means everything he tells us, if you want to have a happier, easier life, do this, this, this, and this follow all these commandments because they will make your life better. All the things he tells us to do are for our good, it makes our lives better.
Lindsey: Even though it might require some pain, like you’re the one that needs to change. Talk about needing to be incredibly humble instead of walking away and being like, oh no, that’s not, my problem, it’s not me.
Ronda: I realized I’m the problem. I am my own problem. If I let myself become angry, instead of being calm, rational, praying for her, doing those things.
And I think that’s how it has to be. I think the other thing, Lindsey, when we talk about a difficult former spouse, I realized something more recently in my life than I did at the time I was experiencing it.
We need to put ourselves in their shoes and really look at what is this like for them? Because when I, when I married my second husband, he had come from a situation where, you know, his wife threw him out. He was not the one who made a decision to end that marriage.
So I naively thought, well, then she’s not going to resent me because she doesn’t want him. So why does she care if I marry him? I didn’t realize until more recently, it wasn’t about the fact that I married him. It was about the fact that all of a sudden, I am a major influence in her children’s lives.
And so I look back now and realize her actions were not irrational. They were not just crazy anger and or greed, or just to spite you or anything else. It was, I am a mother and you are, you have taken my children away, even if it’s part-time.
I walk in and I’m a stranger. And now all of a sudden I’m talking about taking care of her kids. Cause my husband did have custody, but he had the major custody. She had visitation still. But that wasn’t lost on her that whoever this weird lady is that just stepped into her life is going to be taken care of her children. And I think we have to give a little bit more understanding and space to that.
Lindsey: I think that that’s probably something all of us step-mom’s could do a little bit better. I know that’s something I personally could definitely improve because our experiences our own right. We’re seeing things from our side and, and maybe we tell our own story about the behavior of the, of the ex spouse, but I love what you said of trying to place ourselves in their shoes and seeing things more often from their perspective, because as a step-mom, we’re working hard, we’re working really hard taking care of these kids and sacrificing so much and loving them so much and providing for them and watching them and all the things that a mom does.
Ronda: And we’re expecting gratitude from the biological mother bird dead head. There’s not going to be gratitude there. It’s anger. It’s even if it maybe even especially if you’re doing a wonderful job. If those kids start leaning towards you more than her, how painful it must be. I wish I had thought more about that at the time. It didn’t make sense to me. I just thought she was irrational.
No matter how bad you think the relationship may be between your children and their biological parent,
You’re not doing your children a favor by being angry or disrespectful or talking bad about their biological parent. No matter how bad you think the relationship may be between your children and their biological parent, you are not building a relationship with that child with that kind of conversation, because there is a deep part of them that still is forever attached. If they need to spill their emotions about something that, you know, happened at visitation or whatever, or that happened when they were younger and that’s frustrating to them and they’re trying to work through it. Yeah. You can listen, but you don’t want to jump on the bandwagon with that.
Lindsey: That’s a good reminder. Is there any other advice that you’ve been thinking about?
Ronda: Elder Ballard has talked so much about the counseling system. Oh, my goodness. If we would have had that kind of instruction, when we started this blended family, it would have made all the difference in the world. We needed to have opened much more up to letting the kids figure out solutions and not us coming in with the solutions. We tried to solve too many things and should have let them figure it out.
Lindsey: It’s always easier looking back, right? The shouda, coulda, woulda. But I feel like, and even with that council, I feel like that’s something we could do better at. I think putting it in our kids’ hands, obviously with direction and guidance, but helping them to work through those things. Gosh, that’s empowering. And I think it helps them want to follow through when they’ve been a part of the process. And listening to their ideas. I’m sure that on many of the things that we tried to work out, the kids would have had better ideas than we did.
So often we have in our mind, this is the way that it’s going to work. This is the best way, but giving them a voice and letting them have a say that really, like you said, I’ve got a lot of times our kids have better ideas. Right?
Ronda: Right. I think they were seeing all the issues that they were dealing with and they could have vocalized those and come together to workup more ideas. You get people together and you start sharing ideas. You’re going to come up with something better than anybody did by themselves. I mean, that’s how we run a business, right? Nobody wants to work in a business where the boss makes all the rules because his rules are dumb.
He didn’t see all the issues. And he only has his perspective and then say, right, you need all those perspectives. You need the five-year-old’s perspective and the 15 year old and you need them all.
Lindsey: Trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and then having the flexibility to be able to adjust and recognizing, oh, maybe this wasn’t the best idea after all and doing things differently.
Lindsey: I guess we’re about ready to wrap up Rhonda. What would you like your children and stepchildren to know?
Ronda: The gospel is true. God lives. There’s always a place to go, no matter what your challenges are. W we all have different challenges. The Lord is there to teach us and help us through those. And we gain strength from that, that you just would never want to give up what you gained from those. It’s not automatic. It doesn’t happen just by going through hard things. A lot of people go through hard things, but turning to the Lord, it becomes life changing and that they can learn that same thing, whatever their challenges.
Lindsey: I’m so thankful for you and for your willingness to share these experiences and your bravery, and being able to say things how they are, you know, I think so often we try to maybe sugar coat, some of the things. But I, I love your honesty and the difficulties and in the feelings that can be wrapped around and this messiness of blending a family, that’s also a beautiful and wonderful experience, but those challenges, like the advice you were giving, you know, your children and stepchildren, that those challenges really can bring us to Christ.
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