Click on the picture below to go see our video feature on this unique family!
Matt and Ashley have graciously answered our questions so that we all may be bettered by getting to know them and their blended family. Enjoy!
What led you to one another? At the time of our meeting we were both living the single parent life. For anyone who has experienced even a short amount of time running a household and raising children solo, you know that is probably one of THE most challenging life experiences. Neither of us were really looking for a relationship but we both had dating app accounts (Bumble). So, maybe that was just the story we told ourselves while we window shopped the opposite sex online? LOL Matt was traveling to and from Sacramento to Fresno taking care of his widowed Grandma when the dating app made us a match. I was captivated by Matt's profile because he was funny, a die hard Giants fan and seemed to have a great love for his children. He had linked his Instagram page, so I did some exploring (stalking) to see if I could glean anymore information as he had peaked my interest. One particular post about his daughter for Woman Crush Wednesday, pulled at my heart strings and so I sent him a DM. I chose not to reach out via the Bumble app as I didn't yet feel ready for a relationship but was open to connecting with other like-minded, single parents. And if that person happened to be a tall, dark and handsome bearded man who knew how to do household chores and fix cabinetry...well so be it. So when I got her DM I was moved by her kind words and beauty and I definitely wanted to get to know more about this stranger that had messaged me. We chatted for a few days and then I dared her to meet me at Top Golf in Sacramento. Upon meeting we both felt a definite chemistry, comfort and connection--it was peaceful and almost felt familiar or like home. As Matt stated in his wedding vows, he felt like our souls recognized one another even at that very first meeting.
When and how did you introduce your children to both the other children and to your spouse? How’d that go? About 4 months into our dating relationship we decided to introduce our children to one another. I think we both knew this was going to be a pivotal if not a "make or break" for us, as we were both very committed to our children and finding a partner that could blend in well with them. At the time , they were ages 5, 7, 9 and 9. Our original plan was to meet halfway between Fresno and Sacramento at John's Incredible Pizza. It was a place all the kids were familiar with and we wanted it to be low pressure and fun. At the last minute, we changed the plan and I came to Sacramento with the girls to go to a different JIP location. We introduced the kids at Matts townhouse and they almost immediately hit it off. They have all been inseparable ever since. I only just recently learned that the kids had a similar experience as Matt and I. Without prompting after our wedding the 3 girls were discussing when they first met, all 3 described the meeting as if they had known each other all their lives. I think it was Averi that said, I already felt like you were my sisters the first day I met you. Now don't get us wrong, all 4 kids absolutely quarrel and bicker sometimes but it never fails that when it's time for our weekends or holidays together (right now they attend school in different cities) they are chomping at the bit for that time to start.
When did you decided and how did you decide the time was right to live together? We had been dating one another for over a year and had been traveling between cities on the weekends with the children and had outgrown Matt's town-home in Sacramento. When his lease was up, it was just a natural progression that we would begin looking for a bigger home in both cities in order to accommodate our newly forming blended family.
How long did you date before tying the knot and when did you know it was right/time to marry? Did you incorporate a special moment during your wedding ceremony to signify the blending of your families and commitment to each other’s children? About a year and half after moving in together, we already felt like a solidified blended family. However, family/friends/society etc. without the title of husband and wife made it difficult to garner the respect we felt we deserved as a blended family unit. And of course, we were all just ready to officially call each other family, husband/wife, and for the kids....siblings. We were supported immensely by our children in our decision to marry. They were probably our biggest fans and cheerleaders throughout our dating relationship. We wanted to ensure we kept the focus during our wedding and make a point to highlight the children during the ceremony as they were one of the biggest reasons we wanted to have an actual wedding event (rather than elope). We knew this time in their life would be especially memorable and felt it important that we symbolize our coming together as a family. We did this by saying age-appropriate vows to the children, performing a family sand ceremony, and also giving the children a symbolic token (dog tag necklaces that read 'we are family, with our names and wedding date'). In addition, for fun....cause we are always trying to create joy and fun in our household, we choreographed a family line dance that was quite a hit at the reception! LOL
What are you parenting roles in your home with each other’s respective children? Like other parts of our story and relationship, this has also been a natural progression. We initially were just spectators of each other's parenting and have slowly merged our parenting styles to parent the children together. Although, during discipline or conflict with the children, we definitely rely on the birth parent to lead those discussions depending on which child(ren) are involved. For instance, I don't discipline Matt's children although I do gently correct them in the moment and vice versa. We do find it beneficial to have the other parent be involved and support the birth parent in challenging situations to ensure the children see us as a united front and do not learn to try and divide us. For example, if my daughter and I are having a disagreement that we are having a difficult time resolving, I may ask Matt to step in and help mediate the conversation as we find ourselves a little more neutral when not dealing with our own birth children.
What has proven to be your biggest challenge living the blended life? Our situation is unique in the fact that we live between 2 cities. So our biggest challenge is raising children in a dual household and at times independently when our children's activity schedules do not align. Our other, elephant in the room, biggest challenge is definitely our co-parent relationship with our ex's. They have not always been our biggest fans or supporters and I would even go as far as to say they have, at times, tried to sabotage our relationship and our relationship with our children. For example, when Matt's ex-wife decided to show up at our wedding uninvited, unannounced and tried to remove his children from the event. So those types of situations are extremely difficult to navigate but we do our best to use them as fuel to strengthen our family and our bond.
What is a situation that you are most proud of handling successfully that you have come across in your blended family? Keeping Matt's children at the wedding! We knew in our hearts that we had done everything within our control to prevent that situation up to and including proposing exchanges of parenting time and providing detailed information about our event. Ultimately we have learned, that we cannot control the actions of others, we can only control our own behaviors and action. The sheriffs who showed up to mediate that night, understood that removing the children would have been more detrimental to them than sending their mother home empty handed.
What discussions did you have before marriage and what discussions are you currently having with one another about your blended family? Before marriage our discussions were primarily focused on logistics and the what and how of making it work given our dual city/household scenario that we knew wasn't going to change in our post marriage lives. Outside of that, our conversations focused mostly on our roles as parents/step-parents in one another's bio kids' lives and what we felt were the most important items we could each focus on with the others' children. Our conversations now that we are a blended family are more centered on maintaining a safe, peaceful and loving environment for our children to grow up in despite the ongoing challenges we face as a blended family that often occur in the form of intermittent conflict with the co-parents.
What role does your faith play in how you have structured your blended family and how you handle curve balls that this life throws at you? Our faith is based in Christ, and it keeps as grounded as we remind ourselves that we truly are not in control. It sounds a tiny bit cheesy but the quote, "Let go, let God" is a staple for us as we feel like our patience and persistence are tested often. We are only in control of how we respond to the negativity, not whether or not it happens. We feel like this is also one of the biggest gifts we can give our children in life, is by showing them a real and tangible example of "Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you CHOOSE to react to it!" We know that all of the negativity and noise will be exposed in due time and on it's own if we just stay the course and speak our truth.
What is any advice you have for the readers of this on how to handle co parenting with an ex? Oh boy...lol. Our biggest piece of advice would be to understand that you cannot control the actions of others, but you can control your own actions, reactions and behaviors in the midst of whatever is being thrown at you. It is extremely difficult to NOT take things personally, and make them about yourself, but it is paramount to the health and well being of your marriage/relationship as well as your relationship with your kids that you don't get pulled down to that level. It is also important to be as healthy of an individual as you can be, have the self awareness and be brave enough to take a look in the mirror and ensure that you aren't a contributor to the problem. We ALL have some form of baggage/damage/challenges that we have faced or still face due to our relationships with our ex, but it is so crucial that we leave the past in the past and not allow a relationship that we left for a reason...to not bleed over into our present or our future. We also wish that we could have learned, earlier, that nobody can steal your peace unless you allow them to do so. Once you can grasp that concept and maintain it...it is beyond liberating.
What has been the biggest adjustment for the children? I believe that the children still struggle every now and then with the travel and the living between 2 cities, but they are learning to embrace it for the beauty and potential it has rather than focus on the possible challenges it could present. They are learning how important scheduling, communication and balancing of the day to day aspects of life are as they grow and mature. They also still struggle at times with the basic adjustments that siblings face as well...not wanting to share their time or space or getting frustrated because their brother/sister is being annoying. Lol!
What has been the biggest adjustment for each of you as a married couple, step parents and bio parents? Maintaining healthy boundaries for our relationship (and now marriage) has been a critical focus throughout our time together as we know how important it is for us to remain a united front. We stay true to ourselves while still ensuring that we are supporting one another in all parenting and co-parenting matters, reminding one another that WE are on the same team and here to support the other during the challenging times. Also, focusing on keeping things fair with the kids...not treating any one of them as they are more important than another. As we have all learned, marriage isn't easy, and when you add the additional layer of being a blended family it can be even tougher... but it can also be sooooooo worth it if you take the time to invest in the relationships that matter and are paramount to your success as a blended family unit. Don't be afraid to lean on those who understand your challenges and want to be a champion for your family.
Lastly, feel free to give a final pearl of wisdom that you have learned to pass onto other blended families. Be present! Be consistent! Have fun! Choose to enjoy one another! And no matter what, stay true to yourselves and shine bright for your kids so they can see who you really are, regardless of the circumstances you face. Don't lose any sleep or waste any of your precious energy worrying about what other people say...because "it's none of my business what other people think of me!"
To connect with the Brock family, follow them on Instagram: @modern_bradys