This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Rhiannon, Ben, and Eva.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m Rhiannon, named after the Fleetwood Mac song. I’m the oldest of three girls from a mostly Italian/Irish family. I’m an office manager by day and a writer by life. I live in Hammond, Indiana, which is right over the border of Indiana/Illinois, with my fiancé Ben, his three year-old daughter, Eva, and his/our 10.5 year-old black lab mix, Sloth. I’m still a White Sox fan and still work in downtown Chicago, as does Ben. I just have a different zip code.
What’s your fiancé like? And tell us about his kid!
Ben is the most loving and kindest person I know, next to Eva. I tell people he’s a mix between a human Xanax and a Buddha and neither one is a stretch. Every single day he asks how I am/what I’m feeling/what I want and need from him, be it his ridiculous fish tacos, a back rub, or to be my soundboard one more time. He’s really, really good at knowing when I’m full of it, when “fine” does not mean fine, when I’m trying to cover up a bad day by talking a lot/constantly changing the subject/asking about his day/Eva/Sloth/if the books I ordered came in the mail, etc…He never pushes.He does a lot of waiting, which is good because I’m awful at it. I’m very Martha Stewart about things. “We need to leave by 5:30 to make the party at 6 and we need to have these snacks in the car for Eva and we need to go grocery shopping, etc…” We balance each other out. I’m very go, go, go and he’s very, “Rhi, breathe. Everything will get done. What can I do? What do you need?”
Eva is amazing. She just turned three on April 16 and her party was all pink and all princess. Last year was a train theme; I love her range. She is kind and curious and at least once a day asks me and Ben to “draw a little heart and a big heart.” Right now she is obsessed with Scooby Doo and says, “I want another mystery!” She is the biggest blessing in my life. It’s amazing how much she’s changed since I met her when she was sixteen months old. Everything she does is magic.
Prior to meeting your fiancé, what were your feelings about ‘mixed families’ and parenting kids you didn’t give birth to?
I’d always had it in my head that I would adopt if I didn’t get married. I could see myself as a mother before I could see myself as a wife. I have always been the “mom” in most group situations: the planner, the worrier, the listener. I’ve had several jobs where I worked with kid: as a nanny, working in an after school program, and tutoring.
My parents are not divorced, but Ben’s did when he was young and both remarried. It’s crucial to me that we raise our children differently than the way we were raised. I grew up in a house with a lot of fighting. I know my parents loved me, but it was a sad childhood and I did not learn how to be happy until I was in my twenties. I want to help Eva be happy.
Had you ever dated a man with kids before you met your fiancé?
No, but I dated a few who acted like kids, so, pretty close.
At what point did you meet the kids? What was your first impression?
We agreed Eva would be the last person I met, and I did meet her after close to two months. I followed Ben’s lead on this because she is his life. We talked about her all the time and he was incredibly protective of her. I fell in love with him as he shared more and more about her and then I met her and I was done. I mean get-the-fork-done. I’m grateful that I’ve been a part of her life for more than half of it.
How did the people in your life feel about you marrying a man who already had kids?
Nearly everyone was wonderful about it. “Do what makes you happy. Trust yourself.” Being supported and encouraged by friends and family was everything. I was never nervous about meeting him/meeting Eva/dating a man who had been through a LOT and that is an understatement. I just knew he was the one and felt calm in that. (Ben is Eva’s legal guardian and has sole physical custody of her. I can’t say more than this for legal reasons, but he is divorced and I waited to meet Eva until the divorce was final.)
What did your fiancé tell his kids when he asked you to marry him?
Ben told Eva I was going to be her step mommy. He asked her if she knew what that was and she said no. He explained that I was going to be like a mommy; it’s just a different type of mommy. Eva said, “I just want her to be like Rhi.” Things like this just crack me open.
Will Eva be involved in your wedding?
Absolutely. Eva is our flower girl. She loves, I mean loves big dresses and flowers, so this job is right up her alley.
Do you and your fiancé plan to have children of your own?
Yes. I would love to give Eva a sibling or two. Ben said he’ll be happy with whatever we’re blessed with, but to be clear, we are not having anywhere near a Duggar situation here. And he likes the girl name I’ve had picked out since forever, so that is a big plus.
Obviously turning 30, getting married, and becoming a stepmom is a lot of milestones for one year. How do you feel about all this?
It’s a lot. It really is, but I’m so ready to be married to this man and be a step mama to Eva. There are plenty of days I feel overwhelmed to the point of tears, sometimes on the train, sometimes on the spin bike, overwhelmed by how much work there is to do, by how huge this life of mine is becoming. I’m already helping raise this girl, but come September it will be a bit bigger. And the thirty thing is weird. So many people I know who are 29, 30, 31 are married, have their third child, etc… And that’s their story. One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the thief of joy” by Theodore Roosevelt because it’s so dang true. This is my path. My story is my own.
What advice would you give to others who are crossing off multiple milestones in a super short period of time?
Breathe. Focus on the blessings and less on the stress. If I allow myself to be consumed by stress then there is no room for the joy that’s also a part of this journey, joy that I deserve.When I’m particularly overwhelmed/stressed/whiney I make gratitude lists. I’m the queen of lists and Post its, but making gratitude lists helps me breathe better when I forget how. I am thankful for an empty row of spin bikes. I am thankful we did not get caught by that train on the way to our own this morning. I am thankful for $7 sushi from the café downstairs. I am thankful for the sound of Eva saying, “Shhh. I have to tell you a princess secret…I love you” as she grabs my face with both of her hands like my grandmother did when I was a child. I am thankful for this breath, for this life.
Thanks so much for sharing, Rhiannon! Are any of you guys stepparents or stepkids? How have you dealt with new family? P.S. True Story: I’m a triplet but our birthdays are 11 days apart and What I’m (Trying To) Teach My Kids