Written by Teresa Goodnight
Meet the queen of the remodel. Jenny has been redefining everything in her life for decades. It seems each year she finds a new project to launch – some by necessity and some by choice. Jenny was in shock when her seemingly perfect world came crashing down around her in 2006. She never imagined going through a divorce. Jenny has this gigantic heart with a passion for family and friends. “It just wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t see it coming. So, it really knocked me off my feet.” Jenny grew up in a very traditional Christian family with divorce being more “something other people did” than anything she ever imagined experiencing. So, Jenny was thrust into single parenthood with two young sons – the lights of her life. “Yeah, I never imagined it all, but I would endure any of it again for the chance to be the mom of these guys. They fill my heart with more love and life than I can really explain, but I think you know. I really wouldn’t change a thing.”
In 2015 Jenny began remodeling her single parent life of two outstanding then young teens: Peter (who is now 16) and Harry (14) by marrying her longtime love, Jason Sotkin. Adding Jason’s lovely daughter, Lexi (16), and his suave young son, Reid (14), they were just two kids shy of the Brady Bunch. As if that level of chaos wasn’t enough, they chose to add two gigantic dogs, Maggie and Champ to the family. Peter and Harry each stay very busy with sports, primarily focusing in on basketball these days. Lexi, on the other hand, is a vibrant young cheerleader at Jenks High School. Reid, a tennis player by day and crafty skateboarder by night, is into gaming and is a freshman (as is Harry). At a minimum, these kids could collectively be called a handful. It’s a lot to even write about, much less live.
“Jenny, let’s take a step back just a bit because any one of these roles is a lot. So, you are a Christian woman, a mom of 4, dog owner times 2, an entrepreneur, a work-out-aholic, plus, of course, a wife. For 9 years though, you were a single mom. You raised your boys on your own for the most part. What was the most difficult transition for you as a woman who had to learn to do things on her own?”
“Flying solo. Definitely.” said Jenny. “When my situation left me a single mom of my boys, I had to change gears. I took a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep and started mobilizing forces to be able to give them the kind of life I wanted for them. It wasn’t easy. There were nights I fell asleep long after them and rose much earlier, just trying to make sure I had everything in line. They would sometimes ask why I was so tired, and I just thought ‘Boy if you only knew.’”
Back then, Jenny burned the candle at both ends with the boys in almost every sport imaginable. It took a while for their family to find their groove, but once they had it, they HAD it. Everything ran smoothly, although it left Jenny a little worn down at the end of the day. “You just do what you have to do. People don’t talk about it a lot, but in a high percentage of divorces, most of the moms end up carrying more of the burden of keeping the kid’s lives straight. Usually the child support doesn’t cover everything the kids are in. It’s just hard.” Jenny said.
As mentioned, Jenny was single for about 9 years before marrying Jason. “It’s a lot of time to get into your own rhythm”, said Jenny. “Dating is one thing but actually moving everyone in together—well that’s just SOMETHING ELSE!” It was easy for them to see both the joy and the difficulties their family faced as they tried to find a new rhythm – together. Jason added, “When you have dated a long time, you don’t expect it to be that difficult to blend the families under one roof. But you really have a rhythm to your single parenthood style. We did premarital counseling but found no difficulties in anything they talked about; however, there have been a lot of challenges we just didn’t think of. No one would’ve even thought of most of the things that have been super difficult. For example, one thing that seems small—groceries. You don’t think about it, but teens are used to their own things, including their own brands of certain foods. Suddenly, even the mundane parts of life became a merger and compromise situation.” Jason added, “In fact, we didn’t expect anything that happened to happen. It’s just hard to be prepared. You just have to listen.” Then Jason continued, “We were both single parents and we were in a rhythm and had our own way of doing things. Then, all of the sudden you bring in 3 other people and the rhythm just changes.”
The fun bunch consolidated into Jenny’s lovely home that she had built in 2009. On her own, she championed one of the loveliest homes in the neighborhood on a tight budget. She really is a powerhouse. Now, with Harry and Reid suddenly sharing a bedroom, it might be said that they carried the biggest burden of the blend. Harry once enjoyed the room by himself, which makes this type of transition even more complicated. The family quickly decided it might be better to spread everyone out a little bit if they could. Reid (then 12) agreed which lead to him spending hours on Zillow searching for homes. In the end, the family decided to remodel an older south Tulsa house Jenny found to make it their own and to accommodate the needs of their new family of six.
The kids all had the same answers to the myriad of questions this life change brought about with a different twist on both the fun parts and the difficult parts. Peter, Jenny’s oldest, said, “It had always been me, my mom and Harry. I mean, my dad was there when I was young. But really, all my life, just the three of us. It really didn’t hit until after the wedding. I mean, they were dating, and he proposed, but then they came back from the honeymoon. 3×2 now we’re at 6. Doubled my family. I’m still adapting. Can’t say I’m a 100% used to it yet. At first it was kind of chaotic but moving houses to a bigger house really helped.”
Reid, Jason’s youngest said, “The other house, it was smaller. We could’ve been fine. We planned to move but we kind of moved 3 years late, which no one minded. Dad and Jenny were picky, which was a bit annoying.” Reid chuckled. “I would always be on Zillow trying to help them find something, but they knew what they wanted. Trying to get good deals (gasp). It took forever to get a house. When I first saw this house, it wasn’t terrible but it was pretty bad though. Weird walls. Now it’s amazing. I don’t know if you saw it before. It’s an insane transformation.” I could see in Reid’s eyes that he’s proud of what they’ve accomplished as a family with the new house.
When asked why the remodel, Jenny explained, “After searching for quite a while, with the minimum requirement for 5 bedrooms, we decided we had to go with really great bones and remodel.” So, while remodeling their family, they also decided to remodel a place for their new family to call home. “Remodeling was just a necessity for our situation.,” said Jenny. “I wanted to make an incredible family home for us to call our own.” Jenny continued. “I think it took us a year just to figure out more about who we were and who we really are now, as a blended family. So, with a little life under our belts and a lot of ‘my house’ comments due to it being mine before, we were ready to get this party started and over.”
Jason chimed in, “We dated for 4 years, so I think the adjustment was more in moving 6 people into one place, not necessarily Jenny’s place. Even though you all know each other, when you go to live with someone it doesn’t matter what house. It’s a good experience for the kids, hopefully they’ll adjust much quicker when they get to college.” Jason went on, “The toughest thing is to take the emotion out of remodeling. You want it so right—it’s your home. The other thing is patience. No timeline is going to work, and no budget is going to work. The kitchen had pillars. Jenny didn’t like them. I said get rid of the pillars. They said the pillars didn’t support anything. We tore them down. Then, they said ‘Whoops, looks like they did support something’ and there we were.”
When asked about remodeling both family and a home, Jenny and Jason laughed that there are similarities in advice for remodeling both. Jason said, “In some ways, the two are similar. You can have all the plans you want, but it will not happen as you planned. Of course, you also have to plan that it won’t happen on time and it will cost more than anyone tells you.” They laughed. It’s kind of true of both situations.
After a few beams and a lot of cash, the remodeled kitchen turned into a marvelous masterpiece with an island about the size of Texas (if I were guessing). With seating for the entire family and a few friends, it makes the perfect gathering place for the new blended family to come together for a quick bite. They also redesigned the master bath, the living room, added new lights, flooring and carpet for an exhaustively brilliant family home. The remodeled house definitely hits on all points as one of the most elegantly styled homes in Tulsa.
The remodeled house gave way to helping with the family blending as well. Teens thrown together to be siblings are in a much different place than young children. Teen identities really take a stronghold when those ages hit. As Jason pointed out, “It wasn’t just our rhythms that were thrown off a bit. It was the kids’ rhythms as well. Everything was just different.” “It’s really difficult to merge very active kids, for starters.” Jenny said. “I have basketball players, cheerleaders, and a tennis player with activities in every possible direction. I have had days while Jason was travelling, where all 4 kids had an activity at 6:30. Sometimes you just get one there super early, one early, one on time and one a little bit late.” With so much chaos, it’s difficult to say there is even a rhythm to be found.” The kids were going in 4 different directions even on the day of our interview – with Peter rushing off to Bedlam. I honestly couldn’t catch where all of them were even heading it was so crazy.
Directly after the remodel, Jenny decided her next adventure for 2018 would be to launch a brand new company—HaPe Chic (a combination of her sons names, Harry and Peter!). Jenny’s new company offers some of the most trendy women’s clothing items on the market. Jenny’s experience in the fashion industry was at the ground level but her sense of style has always left friends in awe. As I told Jenny, “Now, you’ve launched your own HaPe Chic clothing line. It’s exhausting me to just get to my questions regarding everything you do these days. These are all really big changes and roles. Are you ever overwhelmed by all you have on your plate?”
Jenny replied with a roaring “Yes ma’am! I want so much for my family. I love traditions and time together, but I just found I needed a little ME time too. It’s chaotic yes, but it is soothing as well because I am really loving the business.”
Jenny’s favorite part is meeting with friends and customers both in her home as well as events around the city. “It’s a great excuse for me to stay plugged in with my tribe of women. We have photoshoots, mimosa events and a lot of fun with the clothing line. I couldn’t be happier with the success.”
Jenny’s drive, strength and determined nature are some of the things Jason loves most about Jenny. Jason said, “Jenny is a very determined person and she kinda keeps me on track. When she sets her mind to something, it’s pretty much going to get done. She makes things happen.” When I watched Jenny in action preparing the house and the kids for our interview, I could see both her command of the situation and a little bit of sweat on her brow. It’s a skill to push through the chaos to make everything come together. As you can see from the cover photo, she rounded the troops for a great photo.
Blending a family is not easy. It comes with amazing highs as well as a few lows. However, it is incredibly worth it as you create something new out of two really good families.
Remodeled and Blended from The Teens Parents always have a perspective on the family blending, of course. However, there’s a bit of truth to the old adage “out of the mouths of babes” when it comes to putting families together. Younger children can be more adaptable, because they haven’t quite found all of their grooves yet. Teenagers are a lot more set in their ways, but are also old enough to have adult-sized opinions on situations. It’s tough deciding the difference between listening to justified concerns versus making them to the line with discipline. Blending a family is difficult for the parents, but the kids have more adjustments than anyone might think. Let me share just a few more of their thoughts on family blending with you.
Lexi, the couple’s only daughter, shared “It’s different being a new family. For one, we obviously grew up with different sets of morals I think. I grew up with a more lenient family. Overall, it’s benefitting every person to experience this. I think we’re all learning from each other and it’s helping us all grow.” For all the kids, it was a tiny rumbling of ‘there are different rules for each of us’ as an underlying comment. As Lexi said, “I think there are more of us now. So, it’s just difficult for them to keep up with each of us.” As an adult listening to their comments, I realized it’s more of a norm for any family to have different sets of rules for each child—because each child is different. Some privileges are earned, and some are lost. Even in a non-blended family, there are a lot of ‘that’s not fair -type complaints. The goal is the same for each child: primarily—get them to a place to have a successful life, whatever that path may be. One thing teens need to know though is that the path to get there rarely ever looks the same.
One difficult part for Lexi is, “The girls at school don’t realize Harry is my younger brother. They all have crushes on my brothers. They like to flirt with them. It’s just awkward.” I’m pretty sure Lexi isn’t the only sister out there with that dilemma with her brothers. But now she has two additional good-looking ones, which can lend itself to a lot more attention from her girlfriends. That said, Lexi continued, “Being a blended family helps a lot with a lot of stuff. I don’t know what I’d do if we had never met them. I love them. The kids have never gotten in a fight. We’ve argued but never actually fought. We’re pretty
I asked Lexi about her experience with Jenny as we all know the difficulties that could occur with moving two women into the same household. “So, what’s been different?” I asked Lexi. “For one thing, I’ve been in cheer my whole life. Jenny is at every single thing. I really appreciate that. All my friends know her. She tries to teach me how to be a woman. I don’t believe all the same things she does—I think the men and women should have equal roles in the house. But I respect her. I mean, she drives us around everywhere we need to go. I think the biggest part is she’s just very involved. She still makes time to be there for EVERYTHING.”
In talking with Peter, I wanted to know the real side of having a “new dad” in his life. One of the traumas of divorce can often be the absence of the father, as often moms end up with primary custody regardless of the plan or circumstances. It’s difficult to truly do a 50/50 split with bedrooms, school districts, friends and activities. Peter’s dad lives in Texas, which although somewhat close, keeps him generally at bay. Peter said, “It’s interesting. It’s like always you have your dad and then there’s Jason. My grandpa has had a very big influence on my life growing up, coaching my sports teams. I’ve always viewed him as my father figure—just not living in the house. Advice, life lessons, my grandpa has always been that go-to guy, but Jason and I have gotten a lot closer lately. He’s stepped up into a bigger role of that in my life as I’m growing up into more of a young adult. He’s starting to teach me a lot about what you should do, how to do this, how to do that–things that matter. I’m gonna be outta here on my own in 2 years. So, there’s a lot to know.” Then Peter went on, “Honestly getting closer, to know Jason more, has been my favorite part. Having that void of a father figure and watching him step into that part has meant a lot.”
Peter’s not alone in having a grandparent step in to fill the absentee role of a father. Many grandmothers and grandfathers step into these roles for several reasons. It’s often a result of exceptional grandparents filling the voids they see in their grandchildren’s lives in whatever way they can. Our boomer population has honestly raised quite a few grandkids; however, it was easy to see in Peter’s eyes that having a new dad around was a big deal to him. As young men start to mature, it becomes really critical for the father figure to give them guidance on everything from dating to adulthood.
Of course, being the adoring son, Peter also threw in “My mom honestly has done a heck of a job. I feel like shuffling the kids, cleaning the house, making dinner, just making sure everyone is where they need to be is a chore. She’s done it all. She really is amazing.” It’s clear through every child, that Jenny taking the time to be there for them—even if it gets a bit rattling – is a foundation for their family. With Jason travelling regularly for work, it’s often left to her alone to be that piece that holds everyone and everything together.
Harry, being the youngest (and ending up with a brother his same age) has been through a lot of changes. “The impact and joy they can make on life is amazing,” said Harry. “I can be there for them and they can be there for me. It’s just, like, another person to just be there for you forever.” He continues, “Getting along was tough. For a long time, I shared a room with Reid and it took a long time getting used to it–sharing everything. Not as much space. We got used to it though and our relationship is much better now.”
Harry and Peter both had a lot to say about Jenny’s role in making the family function properly. A determined mom with a vision for her family can set the pace. Harry said, “My mom, she has a cARaaazy TON of patience.” Patience seems to be the key according to this astute, insightful teen.
I finished up with Reid, the unassuming smiling one, who had quite a lot to say. Reid said, “At first, it was kind of like you could be best friends with someone, but you live with them every day and it becomes different. You have differences in the way you were raised. In the first year, we argued a lot. Now, we’ve adapted and changed, you know to satisfy the other. We’re still not fully there but we’re a lot closer.” Reid really appreciated gaining a new part of his family. Reid said “I like their side and their family. I have a pretty cool side but it’s kinda cool having another side. My family lives all over the country. Theirs lives all over Oklahoma. We might have a reunion every year. They do Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m Jewish but I love Christmas. It’s such a festivity.
“I enjoy the family. I like eating the meals and spending time with them.”
Reid ended commenting on Jenny’s parenting points, “Jenny kind of keeps us in line. She’s taught me a lot about manners and stuff. She always helps us clean. The house would be a mess without her. She has a really good work ethic. It’s kinda just cool to watch it. She’s very, very dedicated to making whatever we need available to us.”
It was easy to see that the whole group was happy to have each other, but they didn’t want to mask the fact that they’ve had tough times mixed with the good times. In the end, their comments didn’t sound all THAT different than comments that my sisters and I might’ve shared in our teens. I think sometimes it feels different, because their situation is new, but really—it’s not THAT different.
In closing, it’s critical to understand that although you are very close with the children that you brought into the blended marriage, they are not your partner. Your spouse is now the one who should be in sync with you when it comes to parenting. We’re not even venturing into the effect of exes in each blended situation each of whom add a different dynamic. Regardless of the situation, the husband and wife (and the kids) need to remember the new couple is now a team—THE team, in fact. Sometimes it’s necessary to step back from tough situations to regroup and then get back in step together. It’s ok to admit when you aren’t perfect. Biological/married parents aren’t perfect either. Listen and communicate with each other. The kids, regardless of age and maturity, are still just kids counting on the adults in their lives to guide them.
In the end, Jason said “‘Don’t give up’ is the best advice I have. I think that being open minded helps. It’s been a great process, because neither of us are naturally that open minded. You realize that what’s a ‘10’ to one person might be a ‘3’ to the other. So you try to find a ‘7’ compromise. Of course sometimes, it’s easier to decide to go with what Jenny says.” Jason admitted while chuckling. “I also think I have to give the kids credit. I think every kid wants a family. I think sometimes even when we get off track the kids are like ‘You need to stop. Sit down and talk.’” It’s the total overall family. I don’t think it’s something you can prepare for everything you will encounter.”
I don’t think I could say it better myself. In the end, it absolutely is the whole family venturing into something together that none of them can really be prepared for, but with a caRaaazy ton of patience, and a guiding light like Jenny, something beautiful can be born!
Here are a few tips from Jason and Jenny:
Counseling helps but doesn’t cover it all
Embrace the unexpected. You will be toppled by things you didn’t see coming.
Realize rhythms need reset. They take time. Don’t expect it to happen all at once.
Space is good if you can make it. If you can’t, just be a little understanding that it’s not always easy.
Parents need to be on the same page. Period. “Mine” and “yours” can’t be operational adjectives.
Different children in a family need different parenting styles. Period. Blended and unblended.
Children are smart. They get it. Don’t underestimate their prowess to play the situation.
Find a cARaaaZy TON of patience (per Harry!). These aren’t overnight transitions.
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Wednesdays, January 9 – February 27, 2019
6 – 8 pm, Room 1335
Facilitators: Brian and Beverly Bryan
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