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Episode 13: Blended Family Survival

Listen to Episode 13 of Sheepdog Financial HERE!

Intro:                    Welcome to Sheepdog Financial, you will get answers to your financial questions. Learn to plan for your financial future and have the type of life that people dream of brought to you by Trisuli Financial Advising, a fiduciary financial advisor practice focus on military members and their finances. Your host of Sheepdog financial is Scott Vance.

Scott:                   Today on Sheepdog financial podcasts, we have Todd Gangle on the show. Todd is an expert in and also was a member of a blended family. Todd gives some good advice on how to handle the complexities around a blended family, especially as it relates to family issues. Welcome Todd.

Todd:                    Thank you, Scott. I appreciate it.

Scott:                   So we're gonna talk a little bit about blended families. What I wanted to start off with your background and how you got into blended families.

Todd:                    Well, I got there by no choice of my own. So it was, you know, 20 years ago if you said, Hey Todd, you know you're going to get married and then your wife's going to walk out on you and then you're gonna get remarried and you're going to have six kids. I would've said, yeah, well maybe not, but that is kind of the story. I was enlisted in the air force for about eight years doing avionics on C130s and then I became a chaplain after I started going to seminary, which was then 1994.

Scott:                   Oh wow.

Todd:                    Yeah. During that time though, my first wife chose to not be married any longer and she left and I was the single parent with four children that were very young. They were one, three, five and seven years old. The youngest two were girls, the oldest two were boys and that's when I lost my hair. I did this single parent thing for about four years and then I met a wonderful lady named Tammy and we had actually known each other the entire time. At the time I was doing a couple of different jobs to make ends meet. One was working for the army as a program integrator on some missile programs. And the other job was being a Sunday school pastor at the church we were at and also a Bible teacher for the high school. And Tammy son was actually in my class when we started dating. So that made life interesting. But I hate Tammy the entire four years. It's just for some reason at year four it just kinda clicked and we kind of liked each other. I said, Hmm, you know, maybe we ought to, maybe we on a date. So we did and, and ended up getting married in 2004 and she had two kids. She had a boy and a girl. And so we literally became the Brady Bunch. We had three boys, they were 14, 12 and 10 and we had three girls that were eight, seven and five. So that was a, that was a busy time. Yeah. I'll tell you what, we looked for Alice. We wanted a maid so we couldn't find one and it would have helped. We had the dog and everything. We just didn't have Alice.

Scott:                   There's probably some listener that don't even know who Alice is.

Todd:                    Probably. Yeah. Well, so for those who aren't my age in the Brady Bunch, they had a made name Alice that does all the cooking and cleaning. And I'll tell you what Tammy would love that six kids can make quite a mess. But we were, we were really blessed with our kids. They were really good kids. They, they actually all went to the same school together .So it was funny to see. Yeah. When we announced the kids, Hey, you know, we're going to get married, the girls went, Oh, it's going to be like a big slumber party. And I went, you have probably not sure enough, after about the first two weeks that it came in and they were like, we don't want to be in the same room anymore. Uh, so you didn't hit the reality pretty quickly in a step-family. But yeah, 2006 week, uh, actually one of our kids, our youngest son came up and said, Hey, you know what? Our family's kinda just weird. We kind of just make this work. We ought to tell other people about it. And Tammy and I looked at each other and thought, yeah, you know, maybe we should, maybe we should try to do that. Um, we had met Ron Deal about three months before we got married and that's a whole other story in itself. We followed him around for the first two years. Scott, I mean, and for those who don't know, Ron Deal l is the author of many, many, many great, great books. Uh, they're like the Bible for stepfamilies. Uh, he wrote the Smart Step Family, then he wrote the Smart Stepdad and then he wrote the Smart Stepmom with Laura Pepperbridge, who is a fantastic lady. Now he's written a financial, a step-family book, which you probably are familiar with. Um, he just put that out with two other gentlemen whose name's escaping me right now.

Scott:                   I'll link to it in the show notes for listeners so they can see, find it real easy.

Todd:                    That would be awesome. I'd appreciate it. But anyhow, we had met Ron and, and honestly for the first two years, if he was within 200 miles Tammy and I, were there, to the point that Ron thought we were stalking him cause we would always show up and we'd always stop. And he'd started, you know, the second time he's like, Oh that's cool. They came back to hear more the third or fourth time he was like, Oh, okay, this is getting creepy. And when we finally, uh, really got to know Ron, I helped him with some website stuff and, and he and I would just talk from time to time and finally admitted one day again. And he actually shared when he joined Family Life, which is the ministry of Dennis Rainey up in Little Rock, Arkansas. When he joined them, they gave him in his, I guess it was like his first two years, a chance to get up in front of all of Family Life and just say what he does. He actually gave a speech called for, from Stalker to Sidekick. And it was about Tammy and I following him around the country and now working with him.

Scott:                   You're immortalized.

Todd:                    Yeah, as a stalker. And that wasn't, but uh, so we did it. We did a, a seminar with our kids with five of our six kids all the way until they went to college. It was called Step-Family 911. And we would go around the country and we would talk to parents about how to make step family work. And then our kids would get up there and they would talk to the parents and the kids who were there about what that looked like as a kid. And Scott, it was amazing. Tammy and I'd get up there and it was like deer in the headlights, man. We wouldn't get questions. We would get nothing. Our kids would get up there and every hand in the place would shoot up. You know, it was crazy. I look at Tammy's don't even know why we talk. We should just put the kids up there full time. Uh, but anyhow, that was, that's kind of our story. The kids all are grown now. They're, some are still in college, most aren't. They've all moved on a couple, well, two of them followed me in the military. One went in the Army and the other one in the Air Force. I tried to talk to the Army guy out of it. It didn't work, but he is no longer in the Army and now tells me he wished you would've gone in the Air Force. Something about making the same pay sleeping at a swamp and his brother, like sleeping in a bed and air conditioning. So when that, when the kids all grew up and left, we uh, really did some deep praying about, you know, Lord, what do we do now? We really like doing these seminars and we enjoy working with Ron and some of the other families that Ron called and said, Hey, would you and Tammy consider reaching military stepfamilies there's no one doing it. And they're everywhere. And we thought, Hey, that we can do, you know, Tammy wasn't actually ever with me when I was military, but may having been military for about 14 and a half years, I thought, you know, my heart was still very much in the military. I was actually deployed for Desert Shield, Desert Storm on a dot. Iran, Saudi Arabia, the wonderful Pete right after Saddam invaded. He had made an August 2nd, I think we landed August 12th didn't even know who the guy was. But anyhow, spent time over there and my heart's always been with military. So now getting a chance to do step family ministry and to talk to chaplains and to talk to judge advocates and to talk to step families has been fantastic.

Scott:                   Especially as the military seems to have. And I'm not 100% sure, but a higher, it seems to have a higher rate of divorces and those blended families.

Todd:                    Yeah, the, the rate is through the roof. There's, there's been a couple of chaplains we've spoken to where I said, you know, we've, we've tried to do some statistical research into, you know, what is the percentage? We know what it is out here. It's a little over 50% out. You know the civilian world, how, how bad is it in the military, and I've literally spoken to chaplains that said, Todd, honestly, I've never counseled a couple that wasn't a step family. There's unfortunately no statistics. No one's ever done the research because you know by the time you would publish it, some of those people would have either transitioned into civilian life or it just changes. It changes so much, but, but we feel like a fairly reasonable statistic is about 67 to 70% somewhere around there. It was pretty comfortable. That was unfortunately, that's out of the 2010 demographics study that the military did. Called Family Life, Family Life Military study. I think something like that.

Scott:                   Yeah, that matches up kind of with my anecdotal observations that I would imagine 70% would be a very conservative number.

Todd:                    It's pretty conservative. We just did a family symposium. At a base recently and they offered during that family symposium, there was two different one hour segments where you could either talk about addictions, you could talk about autism, you could talk about uh, deployments or you could talk about stepfamilies. And it was amazing the response we got on the step-family side.

Scott:                   I think probably more than anything else, even deployments, Steph family thing probably has a much bigger effect on the overall family. It's kind of a permanent thing. Where's the deployment? You're gone for a year, you come home.

Todd:                    And you know what's funny about that, Scott is stepfamilies tend to do deployments better as far as not the whole deployment, but the reintegration at the end. You know how weird that can be sometimes when yeah, you've been gone at six months. If your air force or a year if you're anybody else or even longer and all of a sudden you step back in and your spouse has been used to making all the decisions and doing all the discipline and you've got to kind of just slow your roll and don't come in there with both guns blazing and think "I can just take back over where I left" cause it's going to be bad to the kids most that parents had been single parents before.

Scott:                   Right.

Todd:                    And so to us to go back into that role is kinda like no big deal. Been there, done that and to come out of that role is really not a big deal because I've been there and done that too. So we tend to do the reintegration and transition part pretty well. The problem comes in with the legal aspects of deployment and what a step parent can and can't really do legally.

Scott:                   Since we're talking. a little bit about legal. Why don't we get a definition of, I mean we all kind of know we could smell it. See it. Is there an official definition of what a blended family is?

Todd:                    Well, let me give you Ron's definition cause it's, it's pretty much the one I've always used. A Stepfamily really t's a, it's a family in which at least one of the adult spouses has children from a prior relationship. Now, today, that doesn't have to mean marriage today. That could mean cohabitation. A lot of that in the military, but you run into the exact same problems of a kid who is biologically not yours, that eventually is going to come and say, you ain't my mom. You ain't my dad. You know, and pull those kinds of things you're dealing with, whether you're married or not, you're still dealing with an ex somewhere and they may or may not have been married to that. The one thing most people don't know is there's not just one type of step-family. There's actually nine different types of stepfamilies, which is what makes it so difficult when you're talking to set families and by nine different types. I mean the stepfamilies can come from either death or divorce. Those are the two things that most families are born from, so some kind of trauma, but within there you may have, I may be a widower and my spouse may be divorced. We may both be divorced. That's number two. I may have never been married. She may have been divorced. That's number three. I may be divorced, she may have never been married. That's number four and so on and so forth that you get to all these iterations. With the final iteration being, neither one of us was ever married, but we just formed a stet family and the way that happens is because you've got teen pregnancy and you've got people that are having children now out of wedlock and then they're getting married and all of a sudden they find themselves in a stepfamily situation.

Scott:                   But no matter the way you got there, everybody's kind of in the same boat at that point.

Todd:                    Yeah, to an extent. Again, if you're fighting goes to the marriage past, it's a lot different when you're finding someone who's no longer able to speak for themselves. And you know when someone passes, all the bad things go away. So now you're not only finding the ghost of someone's past, but you're finding the perfect ghost from someone's past. I would almost rather have that ex out in the world still making mistakes. Then find someone who has become perfect.

Scott:                   Can't really say anything bad that people that have passed

Todd:                    You can't. And it's, and you know the one thing we teach really right up front is you shouldn't say anything bad to begin with. That's just not our place. Right? Our place should be to bring healing and to fill the spots in that kid's lives that are void. Hey, if the other parent isn't doing certain things, if they can't go to the baseball games or the football games, I can go and, and is trying to find out where can I fit in. You know, there's kids have a lot of needs. I don't have to try to build a the father need. That's already filled. Maybe I filled a confidant and and football coach need. There's a lot of needs you can build

Scott:                   Just finding where you fit in. That's a good point. I even think about that. Probably the first year as a blended family is probably the most stressful. What kind of tips can you give around once the excitement wears off and everybody's together, like you said before, where I think you said your daughters after the first two weeks sleep in and they in reality hit.

Todd:                    That was with step-family Scott. It's instantaneous. It's not like you know there's a slow buildup and you know there's a, there's a couple of factors working against you in both sides, but let's start with some, some quick tips. First of all, being in a stepfamily is a lot like a PCS. It is what you make of it. If you go into a PCS thinking, man, this is going to stink. This is going to be the world's worst PCS. It's going to stink, can be the world's worst PCS. You know you can go to the worst place in the world and you can go to Mynock, North Dakota or there's literally tunnels because it's no so much. But if you have the right mind frame and you think of it optimistically, it's going to be a wide deployment. It might, our deployment PCs, it may not be the best thing other than like going to Eglin Air Force Base where you're at the beach every day but, but it is what you make of it, right? And and step family life is a lot like that. If you walk in thinking, well I love this person but if it doesn't work out, I'm just going to get divorced again, that is the wrong mindset. It is not only damaging you, it is incredibly damaging to your kids because your kids are experiencing a huge loss and if you keep reinflating the same loss, you are damaging those kids and their future ability to ever have a relationship. Tammy had both, were only divorced one time, but even so, our kids did not date until they got into college. They were so cautious about boyfriends or friends in general because of the trust scars they had when they only saw the divorce. They didn't go through it like Tammy and I did. So big tip is this, don't get kids involved unless you know this is going to be something that is permanent. A lot of people are like, well, I'm going to throw my boyfriend in with the kids. Don't do that. Do not do that. Those kids have lost enough. They do not need to see a revolving door and you know some people aren't going to date the first person to marry him. You might date two or three people. It's just not a good idea. I realized there is, well the sooner the kids get involved, the more familiar they'll be. That's true and that's the problem. The more familiar they are. If the person leaves, the worst is so tip. Don't get the kids involved with every person you date. Wait until you think it's permanent and then get the kids involved. Second thing. We found that once you get married, it is really important to learn the personalities that you have in your house. We had everything from highly introverted to highly extroverted and those people you have to deal with in a completely different way. Great example. When someone's highly introverted and they've been in a crowded situation, like a school, a high school, when they come home, their energy level is like in the negative category and they need to go get by themselves and recharge and then they're ready to come out and deal with the world again. If you're a step parent and you have a kid that is your stepchild that comes home from school, doesn't say anything to you, walks to their room and shuts the door and doesn't come out for two hours. Eventually you're going to think, I don't think this kid likes me. It would really help if you went out okay. That gets introverted. Being in high school really stinkds too much drama. It sucks the energy out of them. They're just recharging. It's not a big deal, so personalities is really big. Understanding that all the kids saw you go through a divorce or they experienced the death of a parent and being aware of those losses and how those kids perceived those losses. You know, perceptions are like belly buttons. Everyone's got one and they might not look alike. I may think, well everyone's got an innie cause I've got an innie but maybe not. Maybe some people got an outie, maybe some people got left, I don't know. But the bottom line is everyone's got a perception and the way those kids perceived that loss really how they perceive the next person that walks into that role. If they perceive the loss as the, you know, my mom slash dad rejected me, then the next person that walks in and uses anything that sounds like the term mom, guess what they're going to get. So you gotta really stay flexible and you got to have pick scan. I put it this way, there was a book written a few years back by James Dobson called Parenting Isn't for Cowards. I took that a step further instead of parenting isn't for cowards, then step parenting is for the Avengers. You've got to have really thick skin and put on your Cape every day and just take it. Sometimes. Those would be the biggest tips I think for first year marriage.

Scott:                   Keeping it in perspective, realizing you gotta take it for the kids in my observations of people that have gotten divorced, sometimes they seem to lose that perspective and it ends up making the whole situation a lot worse.

Todd:                    You're right, Scott, and there's a balance and that's really difficult. I think when we did our seminars, the second session of our seminar was dedicated to making your marriage your first priority and if I got hate mail, that's where I'd get hate mail. People would say, Oh, blood's thicker than water. I'm not ever putting anyone in front of my kids again. That didn't go well the first time, so forth and so on, and they're right, it didn't. And the last thing you want to do is introduce more laws to your kids. But what we would tell people is we're not saying it's either your spouse or your kids or either your boyfriend slash girlfriend or your kids. What we're saying is it's both. And you have to have that mentality that that spouse and either that marriage or that relationship you have to give time to and you have to set your priority there so that your kids look at you and go, when I get married, the example you gave me the first time really stinks because y'all were yelling and screaming and y'all didn't make it. So my idea of marriage right now stinks. So I'm going to watch y'all and I'm going to see how you do it this time. So this time you're mentality. You have to really change it and think if I walked into my kids' house and their spouse was trading in the way, I'm treating my current spouse, would I love that person or would I kicked them out of their own house. What would I do? Cause you're modeling for your kids what they're going to look at the future and go, that's what a healthy marriage looks like. So our goal is, yes, I want to have time with my kids. Yes, they're a priority. But I also want to realize that the best thing I can do for those kids is model a healthy relationship/marriage. So that what they're seeing this time is right. So that when they grow up, they have a much better chance of having the right type of relationship and marriage.

Scott:                   Yeah, the emotional side is such a big thing. Getting the modeling that relationship to get your kids to where they can get to and look at that in a positive light. And, and I'm sure there's some legal questions that come along and I know you're not a lawyer. Uh, I just as a note, I have a lawyer coming on in a couple episodes to talk about some of the real legal specific items around stepchildren and custody issues and stuff like that. But what has been your experience as far as the legal side of all this?

Todd:                    So the legal side plays a big role. I mean, I've seen everything in seminars. We've had people come and say, well, you know, I'm a step parent and, and my spouse's divorce decree says that no one else can discipline a child as far as like physically discipline a child. And then in our world today, I understand that.You don't know who your spouse may marry. You don't know what their discipline styles going to be like. You don't know if they have anger issues from the past and they're going to take it out of the kids you don't know. So I can understand doing those kinds of things, but it really ties the hands of a step parent. Um, there's a lot of legal issues that come in with step families. When is visitation? What does visitation look like? There's all sorts of visitation schedules. There's the normal, which is every other weekend plus a month in the summer. And then holidays are split. If you did Christmas with your dad last year, you do Christmas with your mom this year. You did spring break with mom last year, you'd be spring break with dad this year. You have to follow that and you have to be okay with that. And, and your life literally revolves around two pieces of paper. You sit there and think, okay, we want to plan a family vacation. All right, get your divorce decree out. Okay, I'm getting mine out. When do we have the kids together? And it's kinda crazy. Um, especially, you know, in most situations it's very unusual for Tammy and I, we both had full custody, so that made our life a lot easier when planning. But most couples don't have that. Most couples, one may have full custody, one may have a joint custody where they're doing the one weekend a month. And so you're literally planning your life on a weekend going, okay, we want to do something as a step family. We got one weekend, we gotta make it count and buddy that weekend, everyone just wears out. That's, that's probably the biggest legal question we get. That and you know, questions on adoption. If the other parent is a deadbeat dad or a deadbeat mom and they're not meeting their legal obligations, what do I have to do to adopt these kids? Can I adopt these kids? And then when you bring the military into it, that opens up a huge can of legal questions. Probably the greatest of which is what are the legal rights of a step parent. And to be honest, us, that question we could go on for an hour by itself, but the bottom line is a step parent has no legal authority where custody is concerned, a step parent is created in a completely different court. Then the custody issue, custody issue as a family court, everything else is either probate quarter or whatever other court it is. Custody cannot be transferred by anything other than adoption. So if I'm a step parent, I legally cannot sign surgical consent forms for my stepchild. I can't really sign for field trip permission forms for my stepchild and have it legally stick. Uh, those are things that I just can't do because I have no legal authority because those are custody issues. I have to have custody to be able to grant someone medical privileges and I don't have it.

Scott:                   I can see how those documents could either be helpful or hurtful depending on the whole dynamic of the divorced couple, if that makes sense. I can see how they could be used as a weapon in the, in the continuing battle between the two of them or some people that would naturally work together. What kind of follow the framework and make it work, if that makes sense.

Todd:                    It does. Scott, and think of this now, you know, let's take this into the, the reality of the military today, which is the operational tempo in the military is insane and we're constantly deploying. Some people are deploying two or three times in their first, uh, first four years. That's unheard of. Now take that into a step family. What if, what if the step parent is the non military spouse? So they're being left constantly with kids that biologically are not theirs and they have no legal authority. And remember this, now here's where it gets into a gray area. Most people, when they deployed the Jag's going to say, give your spouse a medical power of attorney and a general power of attorney, right? Those are the two things we give everybody. That's great for you know, Joe or Jane spouse who was married to their high school sweetheart and never gotten divorced, works wonderful. They can do whatever they want with their own biological kids, but when you're talking John or or Jane step-parent, remember custody is non-transferable. That power of attorney doesn't mean anything. That power of attorney came out of a probate court. Family court has custody legally. Those don't really hold weight where you're dealing with that families. So there it, it brings up a whole nother ball of wax. There's been so many recorded cases where a biological parent deploys and the other biological parent takes advantage of that deployment to go and have custody overturned based on the grounds of the step parent has no legal authority and it's been happening time and time and time again to the point where now they're creating laws that cover parents do deploy, uniform deployed parents and spouse pack basically is one of those, I got the name completely wrong, but that's one of those new laws that they're using to basically give step-parents more authority for when a biological spouse deploys.

Scott:                   Yeah. That's why here we are, what, 18 years until the war. I'm just starting to iron that stuff out.

Todd:                    Right. And, and to get that right, it's the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act is what it's called. Okay.

Scott:                   And yeah, I'll link to that in the show notes as well.

Todd:                    Thank you sir. You know, grandparents, they're kind of the, the biggest loser sometimes in, in this divorce situation because number one, it was no fault of their own. And number two, the end up losing a relationship sometimes with great kids who they may have been helping to raise, but like that step parent, they really don't have legal grounds to stand on, to go and try and get visitation. Some have tried, many have failed. Uh, it, it's just a sad fact that a lot of times when there is a contested divorce, one spouse and that spouses parents tend to lose.

Scott:                   That's the noncustodial parent. Am I understanding that correctly?

Todd:                    Correct. Yeah.

Scott:                   Yeah. So I guess when you are the noncustodial side, it's probably best to keep up a good relationship with that custodial parent to hopefully convince them to be friendly in those meetup.

Todd:                    Yeah. You know, we try and we tried to mediate some of those situations and you know, w what what we do in that situation is we tell them, listen, the marriage is over. So those issues that were marital issues, let's make those off limits because that's done. That was settled in a divorce court or in your divorce papers that's over, but you still have kids and those kids can either suffer an additional loss by you taking the grandparents out of their lives or you could leave that Lincoln place and make that a place, a healing. I don't mind kids in the four years that I was a single parent, grandma's house and granddad's house was kind of their safe place where they could go and they could download and they weren't worried that they were going to hurt my feelings by saying certain things, you know, no one gets left or walked out on and just goes, Oh well I didn't really love them. It's no big deal. And you're emotionally okay. I was pretty much an emotional wreck for a year. And it's hard when you've got four little kids that are that age, you know, three, five and seven and you're emotionally need to be there for them andI couldn't, it was all I could do to kind of keep myself together. And the kids saw that. And I know my oldest son, when he went into sixth grade, he wrote this poem and he didn't give it to me. He gave it to his grandma and grandma sent it to me. And it was very interesting because he talked about how I keep myself very busy and he wondered what I was thinking and he wondered if I was okay. And I thought, well that's, that's pretty deep inside from sixth grade kid to see that, that was trying to stay busy basically to keep himself from, you know, falling apart in front of the kids. So the grandparents was, that was their safe house, you know, that's where they went and downloaded.

Scott:                   Yeah, sure. I, you know, keeping that, I guess going back to what we said earlier, keeping this perspective, like you talked about the marriage issues are done and with divorce are done and then you're going on, you're moving on from there and keeping perspective on those kids to hopefully facilitate their relationship with both sets of grandparents and extended families. Probably what gets them to where they need to be.

Todd:                    It is and, and you know, you've got a financial show here and I don't, my parents helped out when I was a single parent financially and, and continue to this day to help out financially. Um, with the kids. They send them care packages in college, they send care packages wherever they are. They're always there for Christmas and birthdays. My ex, her parents, it was no fault of their own anything that happened. And they lived in Texas. I remember in those four years, I've tried to take the kids out there at least once every year just so they could maintain that relationship. And, and you know, later on down the road when the kids got old enough, they all shared it and said, you know, that meant a lot that they didn't lose their Gran and Laddy in the process because it would have just been another loss. So, and financially it was, it was very good for everybody, uh, to stay close to each other and know that we could bless them with visitation and they saw us in need. They would always bless us.

Scott:                   Yeah. It's the takes a what, a town to raise a child. Is that what they say? Yeah. Got to get those right words.

Todd:                    That's what base housing it's a village raising a kid.

Scott:                   Oh yeah. Yeah. We were out in Kansas, my son, we were on post and it was like a little posse of six, seven, eight year olds roaming around.

Todd:                    Oh yeah.

Scott:                   Those were the good times. Uh, so for the blended, so for the custodial parent as they're trying to merge families, have you seen any good tips or tax, the tax is probably the wrong word to use, but um, you know, ways to integrate that family, whether maybe events or something like that or hopefully foster that new family coming together.

Todd:                    I think the best way is just to realize up front, uh, which is something, Tammy, I didn't realize it's important to realize that trust takes time to develop. It's not overnight and it sure isn't you and your significant other standing in front of a chaplain or a pastor or a judge and saying, I do. And she says, I do. And your kids are looking and go, well we don't. And um, it sure isn't that. Your wedding day, a lot of families would go, well, our wedding days when we came at family and my answer is no, it's not. You became a family when the slowest kid said, okay, I accept you. That may be five years later, it may be 10 years later. It may never happen. The bottom line is integration is really not up to you. It's really up to those kids. Ron says it this way, he says you blend at the right of your slowest child. And that is so true. Uh, that's why step families are different given different ages of kids. Our kids were really young and so we had a lot of time to develop new traditions and I have a lot of time with my step kids to just develop a relationship before they went to college or wherever they were going to go. And so in that case, you have a much greater probability of really becoming a whatever you want to call family, right? If your kids are older, if you marrying someone and they got a 16 and 17 year old teenager, you may never become what you want to be, which is like some kind of nuclear like family because those kids may go, you know what? I'm trying to figure out who I am as an adult. I ain't got time for you. So it's great that mom or dad loves you, but I don't really care. I'm going to college in a year, I'm going to college in two years. Don't bother me. And so you may have a great marriage, but as far as having a family that looks anything, like what your goal might or might not be, that's different. So I say the key to transition is don't go into it with the goal of we're going to be a family in quotations. Family's different to everyone, right? Go into it with a goal of we're going to be whatever we decide to be. You know, we may be the Brady bunch, we may be the Partridge family. I mean, who knows what we're going to end up being. But the bottom line is you got to just understand that I'm here in this family and I want to help to raise these kids. That doesn't mean that I jump in and start disciplining day one. What we did is we set our kids down and we basically said, Hey, what do you need us to be? I mean, you got a mom and Hey, y'all got a dad, so you don't need that. That's all. So what else do you need? And as the kids went through different ages, they needed different things and we kind of had to morph into those different things. And I think what's really cool today, looking back on it, is our kids have really kind of become seamless in that they don't treat each other as if they weren't born together. Our kids actually have a Facebook page that Tammy and I aren't allowed to be on. And so my step kids last name, is Wheeless and my kid's last name is Dangle. And so they took the two names and combined them and they called themselves the Whangles. And so there's a Whangle Facebook page and it's the kids only and they plan Christmases and Father's Days and Mother's Days. And if the kids have something they're getting rid of, they share it with their brothers and sisters and see if they want it. And I just think that's cool. You know, is that a regular family? No, probably not. But it's ours and it works.

Scott:                   It's taken, taken what comes in and making the best of what you've got. Yeah, it makes total sense.

Todd:                    Whatever the kids throw you next, curve ball or a slider. You better be ready to hit one or the other.

Scott:                   Thinking more of the kids, did you see any tips for easing that transition? We talked a little bit so far and I guess this would be age dependent as well. I guess I would assume you'd want to make sure that you don't obviously speak bad of the, maybe the noncustodial parent or things like that. Anything that you've seen there?

Todd:                    Yeah, definitely. Like we had some basic rules in our house and rule number one was we don't talk about the other spouse. What really got interesting is when we started doing seminars and the kids were getting up and talking and a lot of times they would get questions and some of the questions were, well, where's your mom? Or where's your dad or what caused the divorce? And in those situations we just told the kid, uh, you know, our kids hate talking about the other spouse without their permission is a no no. They're not here to defend themselves. So we're just very politely say, Hey, you know what, they're not here. And that's really personal and we all talk about it. So you know, number one, don't, don't talk bad about the other spouse. Number two, don't put the kids in the middle. In other words, if your kids are going to visit and you haven't received your child support, that is not the time to grab the kids and go, Hey, tell your dad if you didn't send the child support, you know I'm going to send Guido after him or whatever. The kids have enough guilty feelings. They have enough on their mind. I mean, imagine this. Let's say you're going to play basketball. All right? One weekend you have to play on one court and on that court, the regular rules of basketball apply, but the following weekend you have to trade courts and Oh by the way, on this next court, double dribble gives the other thing free points and traveling is four steps without dribbling, not one, and you can't just take two steps and shoot. You can take six steps and shoot. That's my call. That's confusing, right? But that's what our kids dealt with week in and week out. They'd go, okay, wait, I'm at mom's house. Okay at mom's, I can eat what I want and I can stay up as late as I want, but I can't do friends. And then 48 hours later, they're back at my house. Oh gosh, we're at dad's house. Okay. I think my bedtime's eight o'clock here and I can't use the computer but an hour. And I mean that's crazy. And we just expect these kids to, to make this transition. So that's really difficult for the kids. So Don't talk bad. That's a no go. Don't put the kids in the middle. That's not a, and number three goes to that. Realize that the kids are struggling to make that transition. We would always get a question, Hey man, the first 24 hours after my kids come home, it's just like, look out. It's a free for all. And I'm like, yeah, they're trying to figure out where they are. Great idea. Don't take the kids home when you transition. Have your spouse or someone drop them off at like, I don't know, Dairy Queen. Get the kids in ice cream cone. Let them go play on the playground and you put them in their car and go, Hey guys, now back at Dad's, let's go over this, go over what they're expected to do and take them home and you won't have that problem anymore. So those would be my three pieces of advice for for good transitions.

Scott:                   I guess that would be a situation where two agreeable, separated parents could come together and maybe create joint rules so they're not flipping back and forth. And of course that would depend on the relationship of the separated parents to do that.

Todd:                    Yeah, I will tell you this, we have done step family ministry for over 16 years and we've had about four of those. So...

Scott:                   I can see that they are few and far between.

Todd:                    I'm telling you this and it's proven time and time over studies. The healthiest kids come from homes where mom and dad put the marriage behind them and co-parent in a healthy way.

Scott:                   I could definitely see that.

Todd:                    And hey, let me give you a great link. Tammy Daughtry. She has a ministry called Two Hearts, One Home and it's all about co-parenting and that's, that's the best stuff out there for parents.

Scott:                   I'll add that into the show notes.

Todd:                    Thank you sir.

Scott:                   What about finances because I imagine a lot of finances are going to be spelled out in that divorce decree, but I'm sure there's some wiggle room within those rules. And I know the military, one of the big things we always talked about was the benefits to health care or the, you know, housing allowance, stuff like that. So, um, speak a little bit to that.

Todd:                    Sure. So finances in a step family. That was probably the second biggest question we get asked to deal with. You know, do we do joint bank account or do we keep our finances separate? Um, most people entering, remember step families formed from death or divorce. Neither one of those is a real fun event. And so people come in wounded, we called them scars. You know, a scar is just a really sensitive area that shows you had a trauma inflicted there. At some point it'll stay sensitive for years. In some cases where someone, let's say was dominated in the area of finances, like they were given a weekly allowance and you know, berated if they went over their allowance, they're going to come into that step family with some major financial scars and if the other person isn't open and willing to say, well I'm going to give you some freedom cause I realize that's a scar, but we're gonna have to work on that. That can cause all sorts of issues. A lot of times step families are very unwilling to jump back into a joint bank account. A lot of times it's not necessarily a full trust issue. Scott. A lot of times it can be, I want to secretly do stuff for my kids and I don't want you to know it. It just depends on a lot of it's due to the divorce. If the kids suffered a lot in the divorce and that parents like me, when I saw my kids frowning, man, I went straight to ToysRUs.

Scott:                   Yeah.

Todd:                    That was my emotional go by, Hey, let's go to toys R us and gets you girls, a new stuffed animal or a Barbie. Hey, you're smiling. You must be okay. Now. Doesn't work by the way, but it will. It won't make you broke real fast like I found out. But a lot of, a lot of step families also start with a lot of debt because either the divorce caused it, I was paying a lot of alimony or I'm paying a lot of child support and you know, maybe I'm married, someone who works, maybe I'm married, someone who doesn't either case financially I'm not doing too well. I know when we got married, I came in with a lot more debt than, than Tammy. Tammy's fantastic and Tammy can take $10 and turn it into a thousand. I can take $10 and turn it into a one second break. Thank the Lord for Tammy. But financially, most people like discipline, they have two different styles and it's a matter of integrating those two different styles into a cohesive budget. Or if budget is a bad word because someone was dominated financially in the some kind of plan that allows that person to stretch when they can and also feel freedom. And that depends, you know, what do you do? Tammy was getting child support. I wasn't, what do you do with that child support legally it goes to her two kids, it doesn't go to mine. And you know, we looked at it exactly like that legally that goes to her two kids. And how do we integrate that into the budget? Tammy's Ex and I get along fantastic. He's a, he's a good man. He really is. And so we were able to work through a lot of things like that and just be really honest and open and say, Hey, how do you feel about this or that? Same thing happens at Christmas, let's say a one spouse, their ex is much better off than the other. So maybe you know, your kids go and they get some coloring books and some dollar general kind of toys, right? And the other kids go and they're getting PlayStations and cameras and bicycles and they all come back together at home and they look, and I mean, how as a parent does your heart not go God, you know, how do I make this fair? And early on financially, Tammy and I had to come to the realization that we can only control fair inside our own house. It's difficult. I mean I can tell you I'm tearing up thinking about it. That was probably one of the biggest struggles is to see one ex spouse struggling financially. And when we could, we'd help, you know, and, and the kids were, thank the lord, our kids were such a blessing that they would share their Christmas stuff with each other. And those who've got bigger gifts would always come home and say, Hey, y'all are welcome to, to play with these things you don't have to, to ask or anything that I, that meant the world. Cause financially you're not usually on the same, on the same stage with each other. And that goes again, you know, it's all that legal question that you're gonna deal with it. I think I'll, I want to hear that cause that's going to be fantastic to hear. They have, uh, other ideas on finances and how to deal with that in a step family.

Scott:                   The divorce decree and the was a child support agreement is probably where all that needs to be spelled out in detail. Just, I know from my own practice of doing taxes, sometimes I read through those things and they're very broad and that spells trouble when you have, it works, it works fine when it's good, but when things go bad, a broad brush stroke like that can make the situation a lot harder to get one parent thinks they're owed or whatever the situation calls for.

Todd:                    Financially in a step family again, this goes back to the custody issue, right? And step parents have no legal authority. If you do not have a will and you're in a step family, you're gonna start world war three if you both pass away at the same time. And Tammy and I, we traveled together most of the time. Very seldom do I travel when Tammy's not with me, on that airplane because of that. Because there would be a greater chance of, if something happens on travel, it's going to happen to both of us. You've got to make sure that in the will you say that all of Todd's life insurance is to be split six ways. All of Tammy's life insurance is to be split six ways. If you do not, then legally what the state will do is say, okay, Tammy, your life insurance goes to these two kids and Todd your life insurance goes to these four and as in most cases, the sole provider, whoever is, is working outside the house is going to have more life insurance and it's going to be highly unfair. So wills are very important that step families get those done so that legally you are dividing your assets fairly among all the kids and not just to your biological.

Scott:                   Yeah, and I have a, actually another episode coming up with a state attorney who talk about wills, and that was one of the, in our pre-meeting we were discussing was the blended families and how that's all handled and, and the pitfalls within that. That's one of the things you mentioned.

Todd:                    Right.

Scott:                   That gets pretty sticky as far as making sure stuff gets put out fairly. As we were getting ready to close out here, what's your final piece of advice could you give to blended families?

Todd:                    Great piece of advice came from Ron. First time Tammy and I heard Ron, we were three weeks from getting married and we were, we were stressed out. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into. Me and my prideful self said, man, I've been an Air Force Chaplain. I've been counseling for years. We've got this, I know how to do this. It's no big deal and I couldn't have been more wrong. We'd go to see Ron Dale's seminar and it was like Ron had read our minds and basically said, Hey, that list you have Dangle. That's the worst I've ever seen in my life. And we went out and talked to them at the end of the seminar and we kind of showed him what we were planning on doing. And Ron in his very gracious way, basically said, that is definitely the worst idea I've ever heard and you will probably end up divorced. But he didn't use the D word. He just said, probably not a good idea. Why don't y'all think about doing this? We were thinking we would move into my house and her kids were just having no problem. And my kids would give up their rooms gracefully because that's the way the Brady Bunch did it.

Scott:                   Oooo.

Todd:                    Yeah, yeah. You, you didn't even do it and you're going Ahhh!. So literally in three weeks we sold both of our houses and bought a third and planned a wedding and got married. We got married, we went on a 24 hour honeymoon and we walked into a house with six kids staring at us going, okay, how are we gonna make this work? And it was off to the races. That's, that's difficult. That's difficult. But the best piece of advice is this. Do not microwave. You're step family and by that what I mean is when you walk in after your 24 hour, 48 hour honeymoon, if you're really lucky, don't walk in there and go, okay, by golly, I'm your dad and you're going to treat me like a dad and I'm going to start disciplining from day one. That's microwaving your family and I don't know if you've ever seen an egg and a microwave, but the pressure builds up. Eventually it explodes. That's what's going to happen with your step-kids. It's a much better idea. Just like Ron teaches in his book, the Smart Step Family, is such a better idea to use a crockpot mentality. Put everything in the crockpot and guess what? Two hours later you can't eat it and everything's still looks like it's individual. There's carrots look like carrots and meatloaf looks like meatloaf, pot roast looks like pot roast or potatoes look like potatoes, but give it seven or eight hours and all those flavors blend together and you end up with a really good meal, but it's low heat and a lot of time. Same thing in a step-family. The best piece of advice is walk in with the mentality that it's going to take awhile. By the ways, seven to nine years just to get comfortable with each other. Seven to nine years. It's a lot of time. Be ready to put the time in. Put the thick skin on. Remember, if parenting isn't for cowards, step parenting is for the Avengers. Get up and play Captain America every morning. And if the kids every once in a while push back, take a couple of steps back with them and say, okay, I'm good. I know you've lost things. What do you need me to be today and move forward? And you'll find that on the other end you'll come out and whatever your family blends like is what it will be, but the kids will be happier for it.

Scott:                   Awesome. I liked the crock pot in the microwave analogy.

Todd:                    That was totally Ron Deal. I totally stole that.

Scott:                   Put that into a lot of things in life. That's awesome. So just a couple quick questions. So the first question is do you have a morning routine and if so, what is it?

Todd:                    Do I have a morning routine? My morning routine is get up, try and get ready for my day. Now this...are you talking about before kids left or after?

Scott:                   Uh, the most recent one I guess.

Todd:                    I was like, cause it changed drastically when the kids left the house!

Scott:                   Yeah. Yeah.

Todd:                    One is to try and get up and just kind of have a little quiet time to kind of think, what am I going to do today, Tammy, usually your sleeps a little more. Cause I get up pretty early to get to work and then I have a little prayer time with Tammy every morning to pray about our day, to pray over the kids and their safety and then go to work.

Scott:                   Yeah. So in doing this, I've asked people that and it's interesting to hear people's way they start their day, everything from PT to some people meditate.

Todd:                    Which part of Air Force, are we struggling?

Scott:                   Yeah, I guess that's true. I forgot about that part.

Todd:                    So it's called the chair force for a reason.

Scott:                   So second question is favorite military movie.

Todd:                    Ooh, wow. I'm going Sand of Iwo Jima with John Wayne.

Scott:                   Oh, that's the old, I love that!

Todd:                    Oh, I love old John Wayne movie, man. Come on, doesn't get any better than that.

Scott:                   Yeah. John Wayne. He's definitely a winner.

Todd:                    And it gets bonus points if it's still black and white. They didn't use that terrible colorizer. I think the newer movies, the reason I don't bring those, I still struggle trying to watch any movie that's set in the desert. So I'll try and keep it till the older ones that, you know, keeping more sight.

Scott:                   Watching some of the new ones that it's like, man, that wouldn't happen that way. You know what I mean? Like I'm like for real. So it's like, you know, I can't, I guess a guy with the machine gun on the sands of Iwo Jima and walking around like John Wayne probably didn't happen either, but, I experience it. So I guess.

Todd:                    Yeah.

Scott:                   I know.

Todd:                    So actually one of my seminary professors was a chaplain in the, uh, Big Red One.

Scott:                   Okay.

Todd:                    Marine chaplain, he was a Navy chaplain, is assigned to the Marines and he was actually on Iwo Jima and then he went through, it was, Iwo Jima as a protistant chaplain. Boared a light landing craft and they were heading for the coast of Japan when we dropped the bomb and it's amazing years later. I mean he was probably late eighties and he came and spoke to us. That group of us that were chaplain candidates and he, his idea of the nuclear bomb was not what you would consider a normal person because he realized the captain had already come to him and said, Hey, you know, we're all dead. Uh, bottom line is probably the first, you know, eight to 10 waves going to shore and we're all going to get wiped out. And he said, I just wanted you to know that so you could start preparing them men. Now imagine that. And then we dropped the bomb. His view on the bomb was, it saved my life and a lot of other lives.

Scott:                   Thanks a lot for the interview.

Todd:                    You're welcome. Please go to The Military Ready Stepfamily. It's all one word. TheMilitaryReadyStepFamily.com and on our webpage you can sign up for our monthly newsletter where we talk more specifically about military step families and the trials and tribulations we faced. Give you some good tips on how to overcome those. And you can also look at more information on our military seminar, which is called the Step Family Bootcamp. Love for you to share that with your chaplain. Love to come talk to you more about what we do and how we help military step families to succeed.

Scott:                   And I'll share those. I'll link to those in the show notes as well.

Todd:                    Thank you sir.

Scott:                   Thank you. You know, I've only seen this from the outside so it's interesting to hear the inside part of it that goes along so thank you.

Todd:                    There's a lot to it. There's a lot of moving parts, real quick stories that close you off here. But we did a family symposium recently and we had the chaplain assistant come say, Hey, you really got to meet this couple. I mean, they're really incredible. You know, my idea of incredible is they're doing wonderful things with their step family. So when we met this couple, finally they came, they said, Hey, we got a question to ask you and the stepdad did. And I was like, sure what you got? And he goes, well there's this other couple that lives with us and we'd really like them to come to, but they're not military. Is that okay? And I said, sure. I said, what are they? He said, well it's my wife's ex husband and his girlfriend. And I was like, they live with you? And he's like, yeah, we, yeah, my wife and her ex share a 13 year old autistic son and living together really helps our autistic son to do better. I was like, wow. And they were making it work, man. They would go fishing together and I was just all sorts of impressed. That's amazing. Cause it does work out better.

Scott:                   Yeah. That's the kind of stuff that I wish we could get across a lot of parts of our society to work together. We could use a little bit more working together, a little less fighting each other.

Todd:                    We sure could. We sure could.

Scott:                   Hope you enjoy the show and found Todd's advice useful. Check out his website for more resources. It's linked in the notes. Please review the show and provide comments, and if you have a topic you'd like to hear covered, reach out to us and let us know. Thank you for listening to Sheepdog Financial. Visit us online at trisulifinancialadvising.com for more military centered financial resources.