Ryan & Jessica Ronne: Insecurities & Conflict
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Ryan and Jessica RonneJess Ronne is an author, speaker, and caregiver advocate. She is founder and executive director of The Lucas Project—a non-profit dedicated to providing respite opportunities for special needs families. She and her husband Ryan live in Tennessee with their 8 children, including their son Lucas who has profound special needs. Her story of beauty from ashes has been shared on The Today Show, Daily Mail and Huffington Post and is detailed in her memoir Sunlight Burn...more
Remarriage after widowhood creates unique struggles. Listen to Ryan and Jess Ronne as they continue to conversation on how to overcome struggles in their new roles.
Ryan & Jessica Ronne: Insecurities & Conflict
Jessica: In 2010, we both lost our first spouses to brain cancer; and when I married Ryan, he brought loads, and loads, and loads of paraphernalia from his previous life into my new home. I didn’t like most of it and, in particular, these bright red Teflon® pots. One day, I packed them up in a Goodwill box. He saw them, and an argument ensued. You know, your house should be a sanctuary of peace; and it didn’t feel like that for me, because it wasn’t my stuff. It was all tied to another woman.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
If I died, how would you help our children grieve?
Dave: Oh, my goodness! Honestly, I can’t imagine my life without you.
Ann: That’s right. It would be empty; wouldn’t it? [Laughter]
Dave: It would be completely empty. Of course, that’s a reality for any one of us; that could happen at any time. To think of my grief and my loss, and then to try and process that with our sons—I mean, they’re married, and they’ve got their own kids—man, that would be incredibly hard.
I immediately went to: “What if they were ten years old, or fourteen years old, or six years old?” You know, we had to watch that happen when your sister died.
Dave: You know, that would be an extremely hard thing to do.
And then, you know, you think, “What if I remarried? Hey, there’s an idea”; you know, and then you have to process—
Ann: You act happy about it; you act excited.
Dave: No, I was just like, you’ve got one process—the grieving process—but then if you brought in another family, it’s a whole other world. You know, you need help; you need somebody, who deals with this sort of stuff every single day, to get an answer from them.
And we’ve got that guy on with us today. Ron Deal, who directs our Blended Family ministry, here, at FamilyLife Today is sitting in the studio with us. Ron, welcome back.
Ron: Thank you guys. Always good to be with you.
Dave: I see you smiling there. This is the kind of stuff you write about; you talk about. You’re with families, who are walking through this kind of stuff all the time. How does a grieving spouse deal with the grief of losing their husband or wife, and then maybe, blending a family after that?
Ron: You know, sometimes I think single parents, who are thrown into that situation, work really hard to connect with their kids and to grieve out loud with their children. I think, by the way, that’s tip number one: “You want to grieve out loud with them.” They hear and see you grieve—and the words that come out of your mouth, and the prayers, and the angst, and the sadness, and the sorrow—that gives permission to them to feel the same and to express those things. The next thing, you know, you sort of grieve together, which is a really important thing.
But sometimes, I think, grieving parents feel: “Wow! I’m so overwhelmed. How am I going to keep it all together?” And then, they think, “I’ve got to keep it together so my kids will keep it together.” I really think that’s upside-down. If you just go stoic, then your kids think: “Oh, the rule is: we don’t tell each other we’re sad; and we don’t grieve with one another. We just all have to do it in our bedrooms, all by ourselves.”
Now, we don’t want that, which is why this conversation, that we started yesterday—a FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ryan and Jess Ronne—talking about how they were both widowed, found each other, got married, formed a blended family. By the way, it was a complex family, eight children between the two of them. On the day they married, 22 grandparents connected to those 8 children.
Dave: How is that possible?
Ron: I know; I know—you have to ask them—but their parents had divorced and multiple divorces. There were stepparents and former stepparents; and you know, grandparents, who still were invested in the lives of these eight children. Think about family grieving—how many people is that?—I mean, already, we’re up to 30-plus; and we haven’t counted cousins, or uncles, or anybody.
Obviously, it’s hard to manage; you can only do what you can do. The kids within your household are where you’re going to focus. By the way, just saying that makes me think of one other thought: one of the things we know about children is that, especially young ones, are sort of black and white about grief. They’ve lost a parent—and they know it, and they feel it—and yet, they don’t really get their heads around it until they turn into a teenager; or until they turn 24, and they’re graduating college. Life has a new turn—and all of a sudden, they’re missing their mother for the first time in a new way—and that’s when the sadness comes out.
It’s one of those things, where you’re not really sure when it’s going to pop, where it’s going to pop, what form it’s going to take. Man! You walk with God—you pray about it—and then, when you see it, you try to step into that space.
Dave: Let’s go find out how the Ronnes dealt with their grief [and] the complications of blending this family in a whole new reality.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Grief is so individual; but if you don’t know how to grieve, you kind of question how you grieve. Then you’re like: “Am I doing this right?” “Should I be doing this? Should I be doing that?” “Should I be feeling this? Should I not be feeling that?” It’s like: “Well, that’s not the point.” It is your journey; you just try to hold onto God in the midst of it, and stay faithful with Him. That’s the one thing you definitely need to try to strive for, but the expressions of grief are going to vary so much.
I’m wondering about your children. We’ve already heard from Ryan a little bit in terms of one of your kids said, “When are we going to get another mom?” But what about the other kids? How did they grieve? And what were their responses to a new person coming into their world?—all that change and transition.
Jessica: Well, Caleb had asked me the same thing: “Mom, when do you think you’re going to get us another dad?” And I was like, “Honey, it’s not like I can just go to Walmart® and pick out a dad for you.” [Laughter]
Ron: I’m glad you told him that. [Laughter]
Jessica: Honestly, [in] our beginning years, it was not that challenging.
Ryan: The kids were really young.
Jessica: They were really young, and I think that worked in our favor. We did get them into grief groups with other children; we got them into therapy. Then we moved to rural Tennessee, and it just kind of felt like everything was good, like, “This is our new family.” We relied really heavily on one another, and we had a lot of fun.
I would say, as the kids are aging, we’re going through so many things that we had never anticipated, as they’re becoming teenagers, and having questions about their identity—and raging out about “real mom”/"not real mom”—those types of realities.
Jessica: In the past couple of years, it has been far more difficult, where the kids are concerned, than it ever was in their younger years.
Ryan: Yes, and I think we started off—we didn’t necessarily want to be a stepfamily—we just wanted to be a family. We just let them talk; we let them tell us whatever they felt. We were emotional in front of them. We didn’t hide behind anything, so I think they did better, like she said, when they were really little. They just acted like this was normal—
Ryan: —like, “Okay, good.
Jessica: —like, “This is our new family.”
Ryan: “This is my new mom,” “This is my new dad,” “This is our new house.”
Jessica: —and “All these new friends to play with”; you know, because I brought siblings and he brought siblings.
Jessica: So it was like fun.
Ryan: They meshed so well.
Ron: Okay; by the way—young children—that’s pretty common for them to do.
If the kids were talking to me right now—if you guys were not in the room, and the kids were just talking to me—and I asked them: “So, as of late, I hear you guys have started asking new questions and having new feelings. What commentary would you give me on this whole family journey?” What would they say now?
Ryan: I think they’ve handled it very well. It’s when everybody else steps in and finds out. Their new teacher is like: “Oh, I didn’t know your mom died”; and then they want to feel sorry for them. Then our kids are part of a big family, and they’re going, “Wait a minute; can I benefit from this somehow? If I make this more than it is—more than I feel—will I get more attention?” A few of them have really embraced that.
Then with grandparents—you know, who try to reach out and remind them, “Hey, don’t forget/don’t forget about this person,”—we don’t/we don’t allow that either [to forget]—but we’re not going to bring it up to try and make them sad. I think a lot of the outside influence has done that.
Ron: One of the things we generally advise people—and I’d love your reaction to this—is just keep the grief conversation going. Whenever something pops, you go with it.
Jessica: Yes, I think we do. We’re back to looking at therapy again and some grief groups again. We’ve seen, too, as they’ve aged, more of this loyalty towards the bios. When they were younger—they all just meshed, and they had fun, and they played—but we’re seeing that movement toward the bios, who feel safe now.
Jessica: Then both of our youngest have absolutely no recollection of this person, who was their father or mother; and I think that’s really painful, that they’re trying to work through that.
Jessica: One other thing—all of the kids—everything they think about, in terms of late mom or dad, is also/again, through that lens of sainthood. If I ask them to clean their room, or I get upset about something or whatever, it’s:—
Ron: —“My mom would have never done that.”
Jessica: —“My mom would have never done that.”
Jessica: And he’s taken the reign with those conversations—I don’t necessarily feel like that’s my place—but he’ll sit down and say, “No; your mom would have busted you too.”
Ron: “Blood talks to blood”: that’s a good principle.
Jessica: Yes, yes.
Ron: I mean, this is the journey of grief.
Ron: I mean, if there’s a big takeaway, it’s: “Blended family does not repair what was lost. It creates something new/something different that has its own life; its own set of relationships, and you have to continue to grieve what has been lost, developmentally, along with children, in different seasons of life.” It just is—it’s not a statement about: “You did it wrong,” or “You shouldn’t have done it this way or that way,” or the timing—don’t do that to yourself.
I think far too many people start unraveling their own story when they experience hiccups. That’s not helpful, and it’s not accurate. Everybody experiences this in one form or another; it’s just: “Alright, God, how do we handle this? Let’s walk through it.”
Dave: Man, hearing that story—wow!—the question would be: “If I’m the stepdad or stepmom: ‘What do we do? How do we help our kids process?’”
Ron: Well, let’s unpack and step into their grief—I’ve said that a couple of times—what does that actually mean? Well, you can be intentional to go into those spaces in a blended family. Imagine a stepdad saying this to his stepchildren: “Your dad’s birthday is coming up. You know, I just love hearing the stories about your dad; but I also know this is a hard time. You’d love to be celebrating your dad this coming Friday, but he’s not here. I just want you to know I’m sorry. Your pain is real. Let’s do something to honor him; what can we do?” and “By the way, if you don’t want me to be there, that’s fine. I just want to help you guys honor your dad; how can we do that?”
You’re just creating permission for expressions of grief. That, coming from the stepdad, makes all kinds of other statements—things like—“I’m not competing with your dad. Your relationship with your dad, even though he’s deceased, is a good one. I want to honor him, and I want to encourage your relationship and connection to him/your memories of him. We’re not competing.”
That’s an importantstatement. That helps kids know: “Okay, you’re not trying to erase and replace my dad.” It's those sorts of things that, then, tell the child, at the age of 10, or 15, or 6: “I can talk about my dad, and I don’t have to worry about other people’s feelings when I do that.” That is what helps release grief.
Another way to help step into kids’ grief is—when you see something, you hear something/you hear, from a third-party, that the child is talking about their deceased parent—find a way to bring that up. Just go, “Man, you know, I imagine something’s going on. I saw some sadness in your eyes; can you help me with that? What are you feeling?” Intentionally go there. Intentionally say the name of the person who’s gone. You do those things, hoping that the child feels comfortable to give expression. It’s awkward, and you don’t always have the words. You’re kind of afraid of what they might say; so you say a prayer; you find your courage, and you open that door.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Let me turn a corner and talk about ghosts for a minute. You’ve got a whole chapter on this, and I really appreciated it a lot. I talk about ghosts a lot in my previous writing. Often though, it’s connected to a divorce narrative, where you have that ghost of pain and heartache, sitting on your shoulder, of how the relationship came apart.
This is a little different when it’s the ghost of a relationship that was good—that was happy, that was family was complete—there was something there. I’m not saying it was a perfect marriage; I’m just saying it was alright; it didn’t unravel. Let’s just talk around those sorts of things that haunt you, as you move into a new relationship.
Jess, you tell a story about red cooking pots. [Laughter] Could you tell our listeners? I thought it was a great story.
Jessica: Well, when I married Ryan, he brought loads, and loads, and loads of paraphernalia from his previous life into my new home.
Ron: Paraphernalia. [Laughter]
Ryan: Lots of it.
Jessica: Lots of it. I didn’t like most of it, to be honest. I would look at the stuff and just want to vomit; I didn’t like it. It was all over my house. In particular, these bright red Teflon pots that he had bought her for her birthday. It was one of the nicest gifts he had ever gotten her; he put them up in our new cupboards. Every time I’m baking a nice dinner for my family, I’m using these red pots. And the issue was much deeper.
Jessica: I mean, we all understand that.
One day, I packed them up in a Goodwill box; and he saw them, and an argument ensued: “Why would you get rid of these? They were hundreds of dollars.” I said, “I don’t like them.” You know, your house should be a sanctuary of peace; and it didn’t feel like that for me, because it wasn’t my stuff. It was all tied to another woman, whom he had an intimate relationship with; and I didn’t feel like that was fair.
Ron: Is that the deeper issue for you?
Jessica: Oh yes, for sure.
Jessica: And I didn’t like it either.
Ron: So you needed to get rid of them.
Ron: And he didn’t want to get rid of them. Did you interpret that as: “He doesn’t want to get rid of her”?
Ron: Yes, that will take you to a hard place. [Laughter]
Ryan: It was a pretty nasty fight, but it did work out later on; because what it did is it brought attention to me that I was unaware. I had no idea what she was doing. It was like: “You just want to get rid of all of my stuff.” I was totally oblivious to the meaning behind it, and I honestly don’t think it came out in that argument. I think it came out later—where it was—I’m not even sure she knew, deep down, why she wanted to get rid of them so badly.
But on my side of it, I grew up with nothing. You know, growing up, my dad was gone; and my mom raised me and my sister. She got married, later on, as I became a teenager. It was hard; we had to work from the time we could. You don’t throw away good stuff. I spent, you know, a lot of energy and time figuring out exactly what to buy her and all that stuff, so it was important to me; but it had nothing to do with the intimacy of it that Jess felt from it.
Ryan: It was just more about: “That’s good quality stuff. Don’t just give it away.”
Ron: Yes; when it comes to symbols, and meaning like that, I just invite our listener: “When something like that rises up inside you, and you have a red cooking pot argument, ask yourself: ‘What’s going on with me? What is underneath this? What is driving me to really be worried about this and concerned about what this means to the other person?” and “What does that reveal in me?’” Usually, there’s something there. Whatever that strong emotion is—that pain or fear—that’s something you have to learn how to deal with and invite God to help you with it.
It sounds like you guys have discovered a new truth about pots: sometimes, they are symbolic of prior relationships; but it doesn’t necessarily have an implication for whether or not you have a strong relationship. Have you gotten kind of around that?
Ryan: Yes, I think so.
Ryan: I held onto that bitterness for quite a while though, because I accepted it; but I didn’t like it. I still didn’t understand it completely, way back then; and even in that book, I got to write my take on it. It brought up emotion—it did—even when I was writing about what I really felt about that. It really wasn’t tied to my marriage; it was just something I didn’t want to let go of.
Ryan: And that’s right, and I didn’t know why. Honestly, I still don’t really know, deep down, exactly what it was about.
Jessica: You told me it was kind of tied to your marriage though, because it was like one of the very few nice gifts you had bought her.
Ryan: It was something that was of value to me, not necessarily to the marriage. It was like I put forth effort and really thought this through. I think the gift was really appreciated and, maybe, that’s more about what it was about. I was appreciated for it.
But yes, I held onto it for a while; but that’s not Jess’s fault. That’s my own insecurity. That’s something I had to really face, and I did later on. I think that’s why it’s easier for us to communicate those things now.
Jessica: I don’t think it’s fair to ever ask a woman, who you want to marry, to live in like a shrine to their late wife or ex-wife or whatever. If it makes her uncomfortable, I would say those feelings need to take precedence over your feelings.
Ron: Yes; What I love, Ryan, about what you just said is that you got to what was underneath that for you. You got to the insecurity that was there, and you made a decision about whether or not you were going to hang onto that insecurity. Oftentimes, what we do, when we get to these moments—and everybody listening right now has got a red cooking pot thing in your marriage; everybody does—it’s what reveals some insecurity in you about your relationship.
We could list a thousand different cooking pot little arguments or moments. At the end of the day, we have to decide: “What am I going to do with that insecurity in me? Am I going to let that rule me?” or “Am I going to figure out a new path around this?” or “Am I going to walk through this insecurity and trust you in spite of my insecurity?” That’s the moment where we grow up in relationships; I really believe that.
And there are all sides, and every side has to be considered. So yes, Jessica’s got a point—if there’s a shrine, and I’m living in this shrine—boy, is that uncomfortable. At the same time: “What’s the reason for the shrine? Is there a reason? Is there something valid that led to the symbolisms being held onto in the first place?”
All of that has merit, and it takes a lot of patience, I think, for us as couples—to listen to the other person to hear their point of view, to try to give consideration to the need within it—and then, at the same time, to give voice to what’s troubling us. And to do so in an environment and in a way that, ultimately, we can come together and say, “Our ‘us’ matters. How do I honor you in this red cooking pot conversation?” [Laughter] It’s not always easy.
Jessica: No; and early on, it led to explosive arguments. I would say now, when we feel something, we’ll say to each other: “What’s this really about?”
Ron: Yes, good question.
Jessica: And then it’s a pause: “What is this really about? Have the kids been driving me crazy today, and I’m lashing out at him?” or “Am I feeling stress because I took on too many projects?”—
Jessica: —or whatever it may be.
We don’t really have those shrine arguments anymore—what we have is what we have: and some of it’s from his previous life; some of it’s from mine—but we’ve accepted it as our stuff now. But we don’t tend to have those explosive arguments over that kind of thing anymore.
Dave: Yes, I know the insecurities are real. I can remember the day that Ann’s old boyfriend shows up on our front porch. [Laughter] He had just signed with the Detroit Lions, and he wants to come to the team Bible study. I’m like, “Not you, dude.” [Laughter]
Ann: Maybe you should ask Ron where that insecurity came from.
Dave: Yes; where did that come from, Ron? [Laughter] I mean, I let him in; and you know, I prayed for him—that he would leave—[Laughter]—no, I’m kidding. [Laughter]
But I mean, you know, staring at him—it wasn’t a red cooking pot—but it was like a person that represented—
Ron: That’s right.
Dave: —“Wow, this is not easy.”
Man, the Ronnes have really modeled for us reality, and authenticity, and vulnerability; but also, you know, how to navigate that. And I didn’t even know there’s a whole other aspect of their life with their eight blended kids,—
Dave: —that they have special needs kids.
Ron: Right; they have one special needs child. You know, anybody in that situation, knows that that reorients everything in your home: the structure of your home, the scheduling of your home. So for those, who really want to learn from their experience, make sure you listen to the entire FamilyLife Blended podcast.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to a conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. We’ve been hearing clips from Episode 67 of the FamilyLife Blended podcast. You can hear the rest of Ron’s conversation with the Ronnes in the full episode. Just search for FamilyLife Blended wherever you get your podcasts, or click the link in today’s show notes at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you are in ministry, and wondering how you can help couples like Ryan and Jessica work through grief in a new family, we’d love it if you’d consider joining us at this year’s Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. This year, the focus is on helping ministry leaders better understand loss and grief in blended families. The event is October 13-14 in Phoenix, Arizona. You can find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will be talking with Kay Wyma about the natural struggles we experience as we live in a culture that is very much the era of self. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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