Big family

In June 2018, I went from being the mom of an only child to the parent of three kids — my son and my husband’s two daughters.

I knew early into the relationship with my husband that not only was he the right one, but that his girls were the right ones, too. I had a deep love for all of them. What I didn’t have a clue about was how hard all of this would be for me to adapt to. While we have been incredibly fortunate — the kids have all bonded beautifully — there’s no “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Whole New Family.”

As I reflect on the chaos, challenges and beauty of the last year, I can honestly say that having three kids in the house has changed me for the better. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Messes don’t matter as much

Last year, a request to pull out every pillow, blanket, sheet and couch cushion in the house to make a basement-filled fort would have been met with, “Can you please find something else to do?” Or, at the very least, it would’ve included a requirement that everything had to be picked up by Monday.

Currently, my basement has been overtaken by a fort/stage that has been home to a minimum of three weekend productions. It very likely will not come down until Christmas. In fact, I’m now the one saying, “Why don’t you leave it up for a while?” Giving the kids space to exercise their imagination is far more important than having a picked-up basement.

Kids quarrel

Parents with multiple kids probably already know this, but having only one child previously, this was new for me. (Additionally, I only have one sister, and we’re almost seven years apart, so we didn’t have anything to fight about growing up.)

At first, the bickering really got to me. I didn’t understand it. I wanted it to be over immediately and felt the need to solve every battle. After seeking some sound advice from friends who had multiple kids from the beginning, I have learned that this is normal and an important part of problem-solving and bonding.

Now, I wait a little longer. I might offer a “Hey, are we all being nice?” warning and step in only when it sounds like they need someone to help mediate. I didn’t believe this would work, but it’s been amazing to see the kids find ways to work out challenges themselves and learn to identify when they need a parent’s help.

Bonus: In an effort to help the kids identify and talk about their feelings, I find myself doing that more, too. When appropriate, this sometimes results in an admission and an apology to them. “I’m sorry I was crabby with you just then; I misunderstood what you were doing. I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, too.”

There’s no such thing as a set schedule

“No day is predictable, no schedule is set in stone, the week will change — and that’s OK.” This has become my daily mantra. While I can’t honestly say that I love this new reality — I’m a big fan of a set schedule — I acknowledge that this is the new world in which our family lives. I’m doing what I can to set an example that we can roll with the frequent changes in our lives — big and small.

Hearts grow when people are added to a family — no matter how they are added. This was an ideal I hoped was real before marrying my husband and gaining two wonderful stepdaughters. Fortunately, it’s now something I can say I believe and have experienced.

It’s the biggest and most important thing that has changed me over the last year, and I love our loud, chaotic, messy blended family more every day.

Jessica Janssen Wolford is a mom and stepmom raising three kiddos with her husband, Eric, in Elkhorn. You can read more about her experiences on her blog, “A Step in the Right Direction.” You can also follow her on Twitter @jessljwolford.

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