Interview with Wendy Rhein by The Next Family
The Next Family is pleased to welcome one of our newer writers, Wendy Rhein. Wendy’s heartfelt stories of being a single mom raising two little ones, in a home that includes her own mother, often come with an added bonus: a recipe for one of her favorite meals. Please feel to ask Wendy more in the comments section.
TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF?
I’ve been blogging for TNF for just a few months and I have loved it. The experience of writing in itself is cathartic, but moreso it is the opportunity to share my family and our experiences with others that I know are living in similar situations. I hope they find some solace and some humor and a compatriot in the struggles of the sandwich generation in my blogs.
TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?
In many, many ways my family is the same as others. Two busy and precocious kids, a working parent, urban living. I’m a room mom in the first grade, we go to birthday parties at those inflatable bouncey houses, lead the Cub Scout den, struggle to find a trusted child care provider, change diapers and grocery shop at 9pm on a Saturday night. Other people live like that, right? We are different for as many reasons as we are the same: we are a multi-racial family with one parent and one grandparent. I am one of thousands of 40-ish adults who has combined households with aging parents who have some capacity to help with the kids but who need some help of their own as well. We are three generations in a three bedroom apartment and we have our share of culture and generational fissures and fractures.
TNF: Did your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and your lifestyle.
Acceptance is interesting because it isn’t like they really had a choice. I know I shocked a few people by becoming a single mother by choice, and then when I wanted to have a second child and told members of my family, mainly by phone, I was often greeted with an initial silence. There were a lot of questions and concerns, some more delicately posed than others. One relative did say to me, when discussing having a second child, “can’t you just get married first this time?” I had to laugh because the comment really was meant with love, even though it came across with some desperation. I explained that my family was about much more than a husband, it was about raising children, being a mother, and that I didn’t want to marry someone just for the sake of having a piece of paper and a sperm donor. I have more respect for marriage than that. It was never brought up again. The core people in my life supported me, helped me think through the issues and challenges, and held my hand when Sam’s adoption challenge was going on. They have always validated my family as a unit regardless of its composition.
TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?
The juggle, the dance of balancing work, a family and a life. It has always been about priorities, which sadly means that I come last most of the time. I fully admit that I have taken jobs that required less travel and therefore offered less advancement in order to be home for dinner with my boys every night. I will surely miss out financially in the long run but I don’t regret my choices. A job is a job, but my kids will only be young for a short time. My mother will only be with us for a few more years. I sleep less than I used to. I cook a lot over the weekends and then prepare the next day’s dinner after putting the kids to bed. I pack lunches and backpacks the night before. I have let go of the idea of a clean house every day. I haven’t bought new clothes for myself in a couple of years – why bother when they are going to get sidewalk chalk or drool all over them? But even with the madness of managing working and this home life I have found that I thrive under pressure, and that I need mini pick-me-ups, which for me often happen in the silence of a 20-minute car ride on the way to work or in a early morning phone call to a friend, or in the daily texts and emails with my sister. I am vowing in the coming year to be better about caring for myself and carving out a few more hours a week for me.
TNF: What lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents should unlearn?
There are many lessons that kids today (those KIDS today!) should learn. I fear that the art of imagination and the art of play are getting lost in video games and on-demand television. I want my sons to be able to make a playdate out of anything around them – a stick, a bag of balls, a card board box. I want them to have that freedom to invent and create. As a parent I have to carve out that time deliberately for free-minded playing, away from screens. I also think they need to learn independence and responsibility. That not every task you are asked to do around the house is rewarded with money or a toy or an excursion – some things we do just because we are part of a family and everyone in the family does their share to keep the family moving forward. Granted those things need to be age-appropriate, but if my 2-year-old can take his dishes to the sink after each meal, a 12-year-old can, too. One of the biggest challenges for me as a parent, is letting go of control. My family works for me, and works for my kids and mother, partially because I am a list-making fiend who has her finger on the pulse of household activities and needs. I need to learn to let go more, to let them explore and try and be kids as much and as long as they can be. As parents we also need to stop comparing to other families and to other lifestyles and recognize that our families and lives don’t have to be perfect, and don’t have to be what others are or have, in order to be just right for us.
TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?
Words of wisdom – if you want to be a parent, be a parent. Be a parent with all your soul and never apologize for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, coupled or single, have all the money or all the answers, if you know in your core that you want to raise kids then make it happen. I was blessed to have one child biologically and one child through adoption. I would do both again in a heartbeat, and just might some day. Don’t let others talk you out of what you need in your life to feel complete just because it may make them uncomfortable.
Thank you, Wendy, for sharing with us. We look forward to learning more about you and your family…and what you’re makin’ for dinner!