FamilyLife Blended® Podcast

128: Organize Your Life

with James and Ginger Dellaripa | January 1, 2024
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Do you have trouble organizing your life? Your family calendar? Well, help is on the way! Ron Deal speaks with James and Ginger Dellaripa about challenges of blended family management including schedules, co-parenting, custody, and more. Listen to gain valuable insights in getting your life organized.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Guest

Do you have trouble organizing your life? Your family calendar? Well, help is on the way! Ron Deal speaks with James and Ginger Dellaripa about the challenges of blended family management including schedules, co-parenting, custody, and more.

128: Organize Your Life

With James and Ginger Dellaripa
|
January 01, 2024
| Download Transcript PDF

Ginger: We ran a carpool, and we had our children's friends say, "Doesn't it bother you that your parents talk to you so much? Your parents want to know where you're going, what you're doing, who you're hanging out with, what homework you have, what was your favorite part of the day, what was your worst part of the day?"

The older they got, and these children were around our household more often, they were seeing a sense that we actually love them, and we actually wanted to communicate with them. And then we actually started asking their friends the same questions, and so when they got into our vehicle, it was like a family party.

Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most.

First things first; Happy New Year to you. I sure hope your Christmas season was merry and bright, but mostly I hope it reminded you of the most beautiful story ever told—the story of the risen Messiah through whom the kingdom has come. Everything is different. Jesus is King and there is hope in the world, and there is power for living differently in the world.

Do you have trouble organizing your life? —your family calendar? Well, help is on the way. And for those of you with children that are moving between homes, if there's one thing that I'm hopeful for on your behalf is that in 2024, you're going to learn how to manage who you are and how you interact with your children's parent in the other home.

Why? So that there can be improved collaboration between your homes and your children can live with more peace. I think both of those are worthy goals—getting organized, staying on top of things, staying in communication with the people that are important to us in life, whether they be in your home or in another home. That is the topic of our first episode of 2024. We're going to get to that in just a minute.

Had a guy write to us saying his wife had all of her financial ducks in a row when she was a single mom. He said that was good, but now he's in the picture and both of them are confused about what should change, if anything, in order to care for both children and one another should death sneak up on them.

I reminded them that we have a top-rated book on that subject, on blended family finances. It's called The Smart Stepfamily Guide to Financial Planning. That book is designed to help you get your collective ducks in a row. And It's going to educate your attorney, if you have one, about the unique needs of blended families and financial tools that can help stepfamilies. Every couple needs this book. The show notes are going to tell you how you can get a copy.

Hey, if you're new to FamilyLife Blended, we are the largest nonprofit resource ministry to stepfamilies and the churches that they attend. That book is just one of about twenty book, video, or online resources that we make available as well as training for leaders and pastors. So if you're just getting to know us, sign up for our monthly newsletter, browse our website. You can even search for a local ministry on our free ministry map, and if you have a local ministry, you can post it there so others can find you. Again, we'd love for you to get connected to all of that. Check the show notes to learn how.

Okay, Dr. James and Ginger Dellaripa are co-founders of a family management platform they call The Family Core. They've got a blended family of seven. They've experienced the typical challenges of co-parenting, custody battles, and family integration. And in return, they made it their ministry and mission to try to help families see the brighter side of the blending journey through this resource, The Family Core.

James, Ginger, thanks for being with me today.

Ginger: Yes. Thank you for having us.

James: Hey, Ron.

Ron: It's nice to have you here. I've enjoyed getting to know you guys a little bit at some of our live events over the last couple of years, and we appreciate you being a part of those. Hey, listen, so I just want to learn something about you, and I'm sure our audience wants to know a little bit more about you guys. Before we jump in talking about this Family Core website, tell us a little bit about your family and your family journey.

Ginger: Sure. Most people say that's a dynamic so; well, we're a blended family of seven. When we blended, I brought in one boy; he brought in two girls. At the time, they were 12, 7, and 4 so we're long past that, because they're now 26, 21, and 18. And then we added two additional, so we have one that's ten and one that's five getting ready to turn six.

Ron: So you guys are—you're truly yours, mine, and ours.

Ginger: Yes. Yes, completely, so it was great. When we first started on our journey, James said, "We'll be good with ten kids," and we compromised at five. [Laughter]

James: Yes; took the average.

Ron: James, did you really want ten kids?

James: Boy, it seemed like it at the time, but I've grown up and wisdom has taken, gotten the better of me, I think. [Laughter] Five seems to be the magic number for us.

Ron: Okay, I'm just sitting here absorbing, three when you started, adding two more.

There's a lot of moving parts. You guys, like a lot of other blended families, know it's tough keeping up with all those moving parts. Did you feel the need for some improved communication in your marriage, and, I don't know, were there other homes that you had to deal with as well?

James: For sure, and like every other blended family, outside of some resources that are out there like FamilyLife Blended, there's not a lot of direction to help these blended families get started off on the right foot. And so, we made the common mistakes like a lot of people do, where you can take a hard road and say, "When you're at my house, it's going to be my way," and there's very little flexibility or understanding of how the kids are coming over to your home, to their home, as opposed to the other family's home. We had to learn how to bend and move with the feelings of the children, but as well as hold our own values in place when they were home, and we were acting like a new nuclear family.

Ginger: The church played a big part in that. We made that, we decided that that was going to be our center point and the kids ended up loving it, knowing that that was going to be their transition point. And when they got home, that was the day we were going to church, and they all ended up volunteering and being a big—that ended up being a big focal point for them, and then it helped us better lead, not only in the church but in our home and in our marriage.

James: It really became a center point of the family to be quite honest with you. And when you heard the children saying that they enjoyed going to church, well, that really made it; that really cemented what our family was about. All the kids knew when they came home how the weekend was going to go when they were with us, and that we would pray over meals, and that we would gather in fellowship as a family to keep that communication open. And it wasn't forced. Everybody enjoyed the church day, the day of church, and participating in the other activities that the youth programs had to offer, and so it really became a natural unfolding into what we became as a new nuclear family.

Ron: Now, Ginger, when you started to make that comment a minute ago, I think I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying your church helped to facilitate the transition for kids, but I think you're saying, no, Sunday. It was Sunday. It was going to church. It was, that was our family schedule, ritual, if you will.

Ginger: Correct.

Ron: And that gave everybody a centralized point to sort of get reoriented again. and to life in your home. Is that right?

Ginger: Correct; yes. We have since, became a larger part of the community in our church. We attend a megachurch and just now our church is really starting to recognize or put a center point and a focal point in to support blended families. I think the statistics are large and real, and churches now, especially in larger congregations, are starting to recognize that almost half can be from a blended family. So, part of our ministry together more recently, is that we're going to start addressing even smaller churches with a resource like yours so that we can start to bring in the success of blended families or the support that's needed that we lacked 14, 15 years ago.

James: Sure, because, you know, blended families have different challenges, and you're around other nuclear families. They can't understand some of the problems that you're facing, and they shouldn't. They've never walked in that, on that path and so they just don't know. And so, yes, that's exactly what we're trying to do now is serve that part of the church community.

Ron: And we really appreciate you doing that. I just want to say to our listener or viewer: hey, listen, a lot of blended family ministry across the country, across North America, across the world is grassroots. It starts with a couple like James and Ginger just sort of having conversation with somebody in leadership at your church. That's often the way it begins, and the next thing you know, they're now aware of something they were unaware of.

I find pastors to be very open to blended ministry once they realize that there's a need. They often just don't have that realization, so by you, listener, just starting a conversation with somebody within your church leadership, who knows what can happen, maybe something similar to what's happening at their church. That's great.

So what about communication within your household and between households? Did you guys have any particular challenges as you were getting your family up and going?

Ginger: I think we truly did, and we'll be transparent. We parallel co-parented on one side and then we had a very litigious situation on the other. The child is—the children that are transferring back and forth, they just want to protect and honor the other parent, and we understood that.

Sometimes a child would make a statement that you knew didn't come from that child or they were fed that information and it's what they were led to believe. So communication in our house, straight away, we said, "If you tell me, you have since told dad. And if you tell dad, mom's going to know." It was open communication in our marriage, so that everybody could be on the same page. There was no hiding information that came over, or "Please don't tell dad this."

Ron: No keeping secrets.

Ginger: No keeping secrets, and so it gave the children an opportunity. Maybe it's something they didn't want to say straight to him because they knew it came from their biological mother and that it was going to hurt him. They would say, "I'm going to tell you in confidence," but they clearly knew I was going to let him know and we were going to work through it together.

It became a kind of a security net for them, knowing that they didn't have to face him or upset him or what they thought would, you know, cause a ripple. They could tell me; we would talk through it. We also had a very strong position that I could be home with the kids all day, whatever decision I made, when he came through the door and they came to him and said, "Mom said—" he would say, "What mom said I agree with." There was never going to be any—a lot of blended families have a, "He said," "She said," and "I'm going to side with this individual," or "I'm going to go to my dad" or "my mom" so that there could be a division. Right away, we cleared the air with that. It wasn't going to happen.

James: Sure. I mean, you get children and they're at later adolescent stage or early teenage years and there's that divide and conquer mentality, right? There's a manipulation that just comes with that age range. It's not a fault. It's just more of a part of the personality of that age range, and you have to learn how to stand together as a husband and wife, and as a mom and a dad, and treat each child appropriately, but also stay firm with what the answers are going to be. You have to support your wife, you have to support your husband, and whatever the decisions that they make, regarding the safety and the health of the child.

Ron: Yes, that is so good guys. I can just hear somebody pushing back who's listening or watching right now because I get this every time I speak on this subject. Somebody raises their hand and goes, "but, but, but" and here's the big but. "We want to do that. We communicate well in our home. We work hard at not letting the kids divide and conquer, but what happens between homes is a whole lot more difficult." Or "The kids go into the other home, and they get totally different answers, even though we've given them an answer," or "They're told something over there that contradicts," or all of that kind of stuff. We all know, a lot of people realize that, you know, that's a big x factor in their world and in their life.

Okay, so I want to drill down a little bit. You guys said you had parallel parenting with one co parent situation with a, with the kid's parent in the other home, and you had one that was very litigious. Let's start with the parallel parenting. What did that look like in your situation?

Ginger: For me, I had been doing that for 12 years prior, so we had decided that what he was going to do at his house, he was going to do.

Ron: You're talking about your kid's father, right?

Ginger: Yes, yes, our son's biological father. The decision was made, and it was actually made very early on, what you're going to do at your house, you're going to do at your house. You're going to keep our son safe, end of story. I'm not going to—I mean, if it was something I needed to question, I could question it, but it really was going, stepping out on a limb to think, "You're going to do what's in the best interest of the child." He did what he was going to do. We tried to parallel as much as we could, Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, so that one house wasn't over gifting or under gifting because our career paths were different.

And so, we tried to balance it as well as we could. [We] tried to do parent teacher conferences together, although separate, so that we were trying to honor the teacher's time and make it as comfortable for him as possible, but not give the child the impression at all that we were, you know, a unit as parents, as husband and wife.

It was completely separate—show up separate, do the job separate—but in the best interest of him and his safety.

Now, when my daughters came into my life when they were four and seven, and they would see the type of, relaxed type of method—we would pull up. He would hug and kiss us on the exchange. He would turn right back around to the car next to him, hug and kiss his stepmom and his biological father. We would wave. He would get in and drive away.

After several months of that, our daughters, who were being brought up in a more litigious situation where it couldn't be like that, started to question, "Why can't you do the exchanges like that? Why can't"—you know, those types of things. In hindsight, it was a benefit because now that they're adult children, what it did do was it made all three of them recognize that no matter what went on, on either side or exchange or who had what type of parent, that those three, I would say, bonded more successfully than most biological children or siblings do. They are thicker than thieves.

Ron: Wow.

Ginger: You know they're in tight communication even as adults. But by seeing the two different levels of parenting, it really brought a higher education to all three of them. And it gave our boy an ability to nurture the two girls and say, "Hey, it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, we're siblings. Let mom and dad do what they're going to do. Let your mom do what she's going to do. Let my dad do what he's going to do. It doesn't matter. It's just us. It's us."

It really kind of brought them together. He kind of was able to nurture them and say, "It doesn't matter. My situation is no different than yours. We have both a parent—you know our parents are both divorced, and now it's just us." And so, they're pretty, they're probably as nuclear as nuclear can get, and we're blessed beyond measure because that doesn't happen very often.

James: I suspect that's true. They really acted like a team early on, and it was, it really warmed your heart when you saw them behaving, not to say they didn't get in arguments with each other every once in a while, but they really did come together with a friendship, and it has lasted all these years. I mean they are still friends today. So that's a very, very blessed component of a blended family to have in place for sure.

Ron: So, James, you had a court situation with your former spouse. What was the nature of that? How did that go? How long did it last?

James: Well, most of the legal proceedings were over taking care of the children appropriately. We started with a 50/50 custody arrangement, and pretty much right from the get-go there was problems. I feel like the court kind of knew we were going to be revisiting them at some point. All the same problems that everybody else out there that is listening can relate to, whether it be health problems or just perceptions of endangerment of the child, those types of situations, because the children would bring those stories back home, right?

And so, you're being fed some stories, and you have to filter through some of that stuff because these are young kids and you don't know what's true, you don't know what's not true, but over a period of time you kind of get the lay of the land. We would have conversations with the children, not an interrogation standpoint.

We basically let them come to us. You know, one of the things I found out is that when the children first come to you, they tell you what's on your mind straight away, what's on their mind straight away. And then give it a day or so, and then revisit it in some form or fashion. You can kind of get the whole story about what's been taking place, if in fact there's something that needs to be discussed, or if you think there's something that needs to be discussed. I'm not trying to suggest, you know, weaponizing conversations or anything like that, but if there's truly a sense that there is something not right happening—

Ron: Especially if your child is distressed in some way. I'm assuming that's sort of the context there.

James: Yes; correct.

Ron: Yes, you're following up. If your child came home from school and let you know something happened with some other student, you'd want to follow up on that.

James: For sure; for sure, and so you take it slow and easy, and the story will come out. And so, over the course of a couple of years after the divorce was over and we were attempting to co-parent, it became clear that there were red flags, and that we needed to address this in a formal fashion.

Of course, we had to go a litigious route and that took a number of years. We went through, I think it was three comprehensive family evaluations by different experts and all other types of people in place with a couple of different child psychologists or child therapists to try and root out the story for the benefit of the court. Because the parents are biased in their perception of things, but in the end, the court deemed it was necessary to be back in court and look at this family dynamic and this family picture again. But in the end, we ended up with the children 100 percent of the time with some visitation, and we had the decision making in our court, or on our side rather.

But to say that that's the way it needs to go down every single time, that is certainly not the case. It's agonizing. It's emotionally draining, as well as the pocketbook draining, but you have to do what's right for the children in the end. You cannot—I can't stress it enough, Ron—you can't weaponize the court system because you have a vengeful heart or a vengeful action against the other party. You've got to rise above that, stay above the fray, and know that if you do go into the court situation, that it's a long haul and the court's probably going to get it right in the end, but you're in for a roller coaster and you can't get off that roller coaster anytime too soon, because this is all about the best interests of the children.

Ron: It is so difficult. I know there's no one right way to go about that. You know everybody thinks they're right when you go to court. Everybody's holding, digging in their heels and it's difficult. It's a hard environment to come to some understanding that's mutually beneficial, if I could say it that way. So sometimes you do have to have a third party speaking into the situation on behalf of the kids and that's unfortunate and difficult but sometimes it's what has to happen.

James: I will say, though, when it, when the final decisions came down and there was a reallocation of time and decision making, there was a great sense of relief in the children. Mentally they knew, or psychologically, they knew something wasn't right. You know the examples that they would bring home of, "This happened" or "That happened," they knew it wasn't right, and it didn't mirror how things were taking place in our home.

Those buildups of examples and events over time, they can create a lot of anxiety in the child. Fear can rise to the surface. And it's all not good, but sometimes you have to go there in order to get to the greener pastures on the other side of it. So that was a storm that we just had to ride out and it was certainly worth doing. Like I said earlier, it wasn't easy, but it was certainly worth doing. And in the end, God helped get us through a very tough storm, stormy situation all for the betterment of the children.

Ron: Well guys, so five kids, the transitions, bringing two—you know starting with three, bringing two more into the picture—having to wrestle with some of that court situation for six years, man, there's a lot of stress and distress going on behind the scenes in the middle of all of that for your kids, but then also for each other and you got to communicate, and "You told the attorney what?" I mean, I'm sure there's all kinds of moments where you're thinking, "This is just hard." And so, was that part of what eventually led you to think, "We need to create a tool that will help people communicate, stay organized, stay on top of what's going on for all families, but also for families where there's somebody moving back and forth?"

Ginger: Right.

James: Yes. Well, so the timeline, Ron, is that this court battle ends and within a year, Ginger has this Holy Spirit moment. Of course, that's usually about 2 a.m. when she has them.

Ron: I get it. Why does the Holy Spirit do that? Same thing with me. I don't know what the deal is.

Ginger: He wants to make sure you're not busy. You're not busy, are you?

Ron: There you go.

James: He wants your full attention. Yes, but I'm going to let—please tell the story because it's a fantastic story. But it, this occurred, this unfolded just at the end of all these troubles and as the sky was blowing up and getting more sunny.

Ginger: We thought we were totally free and clear. So over that period of time, we had put in, by this time we're about eight years into being together, and we had, as I'm sure you can tell, we prayed constantly. Like, "Why are we going through this? When is this going to end? Can you give us some answers? Please keep the children safe," all of those things. And so, I'm an over detailer—schedule down to the detail type person anyways and so we had prayed on it, no answer. So, of course, we thought God's silence was definitely we were being punished or, you know, everything else that you think of when you don't necessarily hear Him speak straight away.

One morning the Holy Spirit comes and says, "I put you through that so that under all circumstances that you can reply in honesty that you have been through all of the trials that somebody is going to come to you with. So in that, you and your husband are going to make an app and you're going to make an application for families so that the transitions can be better, and the safety of the children can be better, and documentation is clear and calendars are clear and messaging is clear, and all of these things that we had worried about and had been to court over multiple times, it suddenly became clear.

He basically said, "This is what it's going to do. This is what the logo is going to look like. Now, wake your husband up and tell him you're going to make an app." And so, I thought, "This is great!"

Ron: So at 2:05, James, what were you thinking?

Ginger: I thought this was wonderful, so I said, "Hey! Listen to this. The Holy Spirit says that the last eight years was all for this. We're going to make an app." And he said, "No, no."

James: I'm just settling into this new world free of the litigious bondage. Now, we have a new project on our plate, so I got up early that morning. We went back to sleep. I consoled her, got her back to sleep because she was very excited. I got up early in the morning and I was going through my emails and drinking my coffee and that thought came back to me from about four hours earlier. And it made perfect sense, actually. It almost dawned on me as a lightbulb above my head that, yes, this is—it didn't take long to convince me.

You know, while the kids were younger and we were in all these different co-parenting dynamics, the neighborhood families would compliment us on, "The children's hair is great. They're in all their activities on time. They seem well adjusted. They're doing well in school. They're just pleasant to be around or to have over for a play date." And so, you know, 95, 99 percent of it goes to Ginger here for being so organized. When I was thinking about that, all those memories that morning, it was the color-coded calendars. It was all the different chat threads. It was a folder of documents. It was all these different components, but nothing comprehensive or put together.

And so that's what came into my head is that "This idea is a family management tool. It's some type of comprehensive family management tool." And so, I got up straight away. I stole all the colored pencils and crayons and 3x5 note cards that I could, and I just began doodling away at what this thing might look like.

Ginger: From our house, not stole them from anywhere else. [Laughter]

James: Right, from our house, yes, fair enough.

Ron: Let's get that straight. We don't want him to go to jail over this.

James: Didn't go down to the grocery store or anything. The kids later that, over the week, are like, "Where's all my crayons or colored pencils?" "I don't know. I have no idea."

We began to lay this thing out of what it would look like, and we thought, "Okay, the pillars that need to be in place for organization and communication are some type of data storage feature, a shared calendar, a geolocation check in just for safety and security purposes, but it can also generate conversation. And then a chat feature, obviously for communication purposes." Those four pillars were the center of what this app has become. We thought it was about organization and communication, but it's really about connection is really what we found it out to be.

We've been at this for about five years now. It's become a wonderful project. It's certainly become our ministry. We thought this was all about just a family management tool, but now we realize it's greater than that. It goes back to serving blended families in all capacities.

Ron: Okay, Ginger, I want you to expand on something he just said. First of all, let me just say to the viewer, listener, this is a tool that has application for any person, individual, family. If you're part of an intergenerational family, this could be something that you can utilize, but it has that added element of a sensitivity for blended families where there's another home and you're trying to coordinate between home co-parenting. Some of those kinds of pieces are definitely an advantage there.

He just said a minute ago, the real—what this really boils down to; it started in your minds as an organizational tool, but what it is really about is connection. Ginger, would you mind saying more about that?

Ginger: So, our children, there's five of them. They have a lot of friends and so a lot of their friends would see how connected we were to our children. We made sure that dinner was around the table multiple times out of those seven days and specifically every time our family was together because we made sure that custody days were the same. You sit down at the dinner table, you connect. When we do pickup, if we're both here, we both do the pickup as often as possible. Talk about their day—what was good? What was bad?—and communicate.

Well, we ran a carpool. We've run carpools with all the kids because at one point we had four kids at four different schools so you kind of have to manage that. We had our children's friends say, "Doesn't it bother you that your parents talk to you so much? Your parents want to know where you're going, what you're doing, who you're hanging out with, what homework you have, what was your favorite part of the day, what was your worst part of the day."

The older they got, and these children were around our household more often, they were seeing a sense that we actually love them, and we actually wanted to communicate with them. And then we actually started asking their friends the same questions, and so when they got into our vehicle for carpool, it was like a family party because we knew what was going on, we knew the problems they were having, things like that.

And now, even further on, their friends will say, "Hey, Evelyn, did you check in, so your parents know if something happens? They know where we're at and they know where we're going. And they know, you know, the concert environment." And we would always say the same things and have the same connection reminders with our kids. And it's not that we don't trust our children. It's that we want them to know that we are the resource. We would rather have them come back to us in connection for resource than seek a response somewhere else with information that may not be true or healthy for them.

So, we have always been big on connection, and when we started with this tool, that was the number one thing, is that there's a way to message, there's a way to check in with each other.

All of our adult children put their college calendars on their calendars so that then we can see where they're at and where they're going and gives him an opportunity to kind of stalk our kids to say, "Hey, I'm passing the university. I see that you're available."

James: —lunch.

Ginger: Then we go to lunch. [Laughter] Yes.

So just staying in connection and communication with the kids and always keeping it open even when it's not a topic that, you know, there's some—we have three daughters, so there are some topics that James is like, "Why are we talking about this at the dinner table?" But it's because they feel comfortable talking about anything, anytime, anywhere and staying in connection with us.

James: Yes, right. I mean, it was really about just frequent engagement and that frequent engagement led to trust as a parent child relationship should have, and the app kind of helps with that. You're checking in with them. They're checking in with you. These are frequent actions being done throughout the day. Although they, we may be apart, we're still connecting in some way and that just leads to a better relationship, better current ongoing relationship with each of the children.

It really does bring a team environment together because there's more discussion over the dining room table when there's a chance to get everybody home for dinner at the same time, and there's open dialogue. It's really turned out to be a very useful positive tool in that regard. And it really wasn't designed for that originally, this is just one of those blessings that have occurred from it.

Ron: I know there's some more elements to the app that we'll talk about here in a minute, but so far, you've mentioned chat and calendar. Well, those are things every one of our phones has on there and so we can already chat with our kids. We can already calendar with our kids. Is there any distinct advantage to having that all centralized into one place?

James: Well, I think there is because how the app works is it's set by permissions. Everybody has a profile and then the way you share content on the app is by tagging that person on that piece of information, whether it's a calendar event or a piece of data storage, like a birth certificate or a medicine record, whatever it may be. Anybody else in the app who's not tagged on that piece of information won't know anything about it.

You can keep information sensitive and secure and only share with the people that you need to. That's why it works well for blended families is because you can have exes on the platform and be sharing the information that needs to be shared with, for that biological child's benefit. But they can also have the new nuclear family over here and keep this information separate and secure all on the same platform. That's why it's comprehensive and works so well in that manner for bigger blended families with more complex relationships in it.

Ginger: Yes, and I think what you said is perfect. It's all in one place and so when you—I'm sure any family that's blended or running more than one calendar, even a busy nuclear family, I would run his work calendar along with my work calendar along with my girl's custody calendar, our son's custody calendar, then our bio kids' calendar and then, all of a sudden, you're four or five calendars later.

Ron: That's right.

Ginger: So being able to view it in one place with all of those events right on top of each other so that you can coordinate vacations or holiday parties or whatever you need to do, you're doing it all in one place. I think that that then brings a huge benefit because even your communication through everything is under one button. You said it perfectly. It's all in one place and that's what makes it a benefit.

Ron: James, a second ago, I heard somebody scream in my ear when they heard you say, you can have your ex on the application and—

James: It's true.

Ron: —somebody just screamed, "That is not a good idea." [Laughter]

So tell us, is it a good idea? Like, what's the advantage of that? And how does that facilitate co-parenting, for example?

James: Yes, well, it, you know, to be a good co parent, you need to act like a parent, right? You need to do what's in the best interest of the child, even though you may not see eye to eye with that ex-partner anymore. What we know about co-parenting is there's a high anxiety level and high depression level in kids who are products of divorced co-parenting situations or are in blended families.

CDC statistics have shown a doubling of anxiety over the last two decades, and if you carve out kids in blended families or co-parenting situation, those rates tick upward. You can have it up as many as one in every eight kids has a diagnosable anxiety disorder, or depression, or both, because of these family dynamics that we as parents have created for them.

So, do you want to co-parent? Do you want to co-parent appropriately? If so, maybe this app is a good idea because you can share information in a neutral fashion. You can text in a neutral fashion. You can build a calendar just around that child, where nobody else has to be involved in it or see anything else in it. And you're doing your job as a parent here, and you're doing your job as a parent over here as well. You're taking care of all the children equally, and you're demonstrating that you are acting like the parent you're supposed to be. You're keeping that other party in communication and up to date and current with what's happening with the child when they're away from them.

And if you do have litigious actions going on, the app is good because you can record the fact that you've been doing and sharing the information or sharing the communication that you need to be doing.

Ron: It documents. It documents the communication.

James: Correct; correct. There's a lot of upside to doing that. Yes, I understand that's in the past. You don't want to see that ex necessarily so much anymore. But you've got to understand that this is not about your needs. This is about raising the child appropriately to be a good citizen in the community when they get to become a young adult.

What we know is anxiety and depression, when it goes untreated or unknown about, later in life, leads to a lot of behavioral disorders. You know all this, Ron, and we're seeing all this play out today. All of this is really a product of our own mistakes. We all make mistakes, but we've got to learn from them and repair them, and we're not doing a great job of that just yet.

Ron: Yes. So, what do you do if the other household won't engage the system? All good co-parenting comes down to both sides trying to do their part and communicate well. I can totally see how awesome this would be if two households were in agreement. That's something that they would work with. Have you run into any struggles?

Ginger: Well, yes, that does not happen all the time or being in agreement or wanting to be on the same platform and we understand that. I think the girls and I had always established a great relationship and even discussing their biological mom, which was fine. I had just said with a family earlier that I did get some kickback from the kids to say, "Why do you, you know you don't have to include her, or you don't have to talk to her, or you don't have to do those things. Why do you do it?" And really, the bottom line is you have to put yourself in the shoes of the other parent. And no, I may not, the kids may not see that, no, I don't want to talk to her, but I am going to do that because it really benefits them.

I'm modeling behavior in the future for them as well. And so, you need to teach your children to handle stressful situations like that in a mature fashion. It really takes nothing from me to go on the calendar at a soccer game and I invite the people that need to be invited, whether it be grandma, grandpa on either side, on every side, but them being able to see that their biological mom was invited, it takes the stress off of them to have to carry the information, it takes the stress off of her having to ask me for the information, and it takes the stress off me because really I've made no verbal contact. I've invited her if she chooses to come. I can't change her decisions, but at least she was invited.

There's, as you know, I'm sure you've seen in your ministry and counseling, their decisions today may not be the same two years from now, and I'd hate to have that damage a possible relationship that they could have with the child down the road.

It gives them an opportunity to say, "Oh yes, I did remember you played soccer, or you swam, or are you still doing that?" It gives them the opportunity to still have communication and have an understanding of what their children are doing, even if it's not a direct contact.

James: What we found is the percent of co-parents that won't jump on the app with the other party, about half of them will come around over the course of a year or so, and then the other half won't. Usually, the ones that are the most resistant, that's where there tends to be some court wrangling going on anyways. And then it goes back to our conversation just two minutes ago, which is, use the app, document that you're being the parent, because most likely you're going to be back in court and you're going to have to prove your position at some point anyways. And now you have something to demonstrate that you've been doing your job as a parent.

Ron: And in the meantime, you're still coordinating well with children, with, you mentioned grandparents. You know you could have other people involved in that, a youth pastor, whoever is right.

Ginger: Absolutely. Yes, whoever's caring for the child. What we have found, if our adult children will come in and kind of foster the parent role if we're—like when we go and do a live event near you guys, so we have the older children come in. When they do, we tag them on the younger children's calendar events because they're very active.

We open up the power of attorney for them to treat, the pediatrician consent. They have all that information with them. And when we come home and we return and they're not responsible for their minor siblings, we untag them and it's off their calendar.

So having somebody else step in, have all of the documentation that they need and the calendar events and the daily schedule, so it doesn't cause a blip in the younger kid's schedule, and it makes the older kids look very informed because they know, you know, what they need to be eating and what time they need to go to bed and all of those things. It kind of makes the household run seamlessly without us being present. And to be quite frank, our older children probably do a better job at the parenting than we do. [Laughter] So it works out perfect.

James: They're pretty good.

Ron: I think that word tag has more than one meaning.

Ginger: Yes, yes.

Ron: Tag, you're it. We're out. [Laughter]

James: You're on.

Ginger: Yes. Good luck.

Ron: I'm assuming you're getting some feedback from some of the people that have been using this. You got a story or two you could share with us?

Ginger: We have. Probably one of my favorite—and I'm still in communication with her, quite frequently. I had a young lady reach out somewhat—

James: —about a year, year and a half ago.

Ginger: Yes, she was in distress. She had dm'd me on a social media account, because we do a lot of family support and this gal reached out to me. She was deployed in Iraq. She's a mom and she got deployed four weeks after her third daughter was born. But she is also a bonus mom to her, the first child, which is a boy. So, her circumstance was beautiful, per se. Her best friend ended up being, over time, the biological mom of her stepson.

So, she basically laid it out and said, "We know this is no secret. We're going to be parents for a lifetime because I'm married to his father now. You and I are going to be best friends," and I'm sure the woman thought she was crazy. But nonetheless, three children down the line, she gets deployed. She spent half of her deployment away from the children and she was starting to get into a depression of her own.

She said, "Do you think your platform would be helpful to me? We actually loaded both biological mom and bonus mom, and she is away in Iraq. Biological mom of the oldest child started coordinating all of the other children into their platform as well. So now they've got biological dad, biological mom, mom that's deployed in Iraq, the child that they share, and then their daughters. There's one on one side and three on the other. They're all on the same platform. They, each family, although they're running separate lives, coordinate their calendars so that the child gets to see both sets of siblings on both sides. And it is just a remarkable—

When she adds her date night with her husband, she doesn't tag her, the other mom. They don't need to know. So they're still running separate lives, separate calendars, but the information that they need to tag to make sure that the siblings are still connected—even though there's only that one biological sibling that connects those children—that everything circumferences around the ability of that child to get the most out of the sets of siblings on both sides.

Ron: That's neat.

Ginger: So, that was a huge success and she called me in tears from Iraq one day and said, I just went into the mess tent and told everybody to get on this app because a lot of the parents are having the same struggle. They're away from their children. They're not able to see what they're doing on a daily basis. So, having parents back home adding those events and having the parent that is deployed or away be able to be part of those events or say, "Hey, I saw you got your haircut today" when they are able to talk, those are seemingly daily agenda items, but it's a big deal when you don't have a parent in the home.

So that was a huge success for us and happy as can be and both sets of parents are like, "This is really cool because I can run my family and still work with the blended aspect, but still build communication with my children outside of the blended aspect that we have going on, which is great."

James: You're taking care of everybody appropriately, all in one space.

Ron: This is a subscription-based service, right?

Ginger: It is.

James: Yes, it is. It is monthly subscription based.

Ron: We're going to point people to our show notes where they can learn how they can get in touch with it and explore it. I'm sure there's a website, you can explore the app, and you guys are giving our viewers and listeners a special: 30 days for free. Normally, people just get seven days. You're going to get 30 days to use it, try it, settle in, see how it feels, take it for a test run, and then make your decision. Thank you so much, James and Ginger, for being with me today.

Ginger: Thank you. We appreciate you having us.

James: Thank you, Ron.

Ginger: Happy New Year, everyone.

Ron: If you want to learn more about what they're doing at the Family Core, look in the show notes. As we start the new year, I just want to personally thank all of you who participated in our December donor match. Your gift to FamilyLife Blended is what helps us produce this podcast and reach around the world with the various ministries and strategies that we employ, so thank you very much.

Nan and I are going to be speaking soon in Texas and California. I'll be doing a virtual training for pastors in March. Our next Blended and Blessed® live stream, well, that's coming up in April. You want to find information about all of that, you can learn more at SmartStepfamilies.com or again, check the show notes.

Okay, next time, hey, we're going to be talking—I know, but believe me, you've never heard this story before. We're going to be talking with a biological dad who had no idea that there was a problem with his child. And we're going to be talking with a stepmom who absolutely knew there was a problem with his child. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.

I'm Ron Deal. Thanks for listening or watching. And thank you to our production team and donors who make this podcast possible.

FamilyLife Blended is part of the FamilyLife® Podcast Network. Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


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