8/21/2014 12:05:00 PM Second chances Blended families say faith is key to unity
Hill family photo
A blended family: Jaid Hill, Kaden Pitts, Trudi Hill, Zia Pitts, Kara Hill and Robert Hill.
Ruhl family photo by Jasmine Placito
Ricky, Ben, Noah, Stella, Ruby and Emma Ruhl pose in front of Helvatia farmland.
Synod changes aim to increase discussion
VATICAN CITY — This fall’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will be shorter than a usual synod and will include new rules aimed at helping the bishops grapple with the issues together, says the general secretary of the synod.
"We want a frank, open, civilized discussion," Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri says.
The extraordinary synod will meet at the Vatican Oct. 5-19, bringing together the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of Eastern Catholic churches and Vatican officials. The world Synod of Bishops, which will include more bishops — many elected by their peers — will meet at the Vatican Oct. 4-25, 2015, to continue the discussion on pastoral approaches to the challenges facing families today.
Decisions about the church's pastoral approach to families are not expected until after the 2015 synod gathering. Topics raised by a pre-Synod questionnaire last year included contraception, divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, premarital sex and in vitro fertilization.
Blended households — with kids from previous unions — benefit from diversity and freshness. At the same time, such homes face challenges to unity. Two Oregon Catholic families explain how they navigate the life of “yours, mine and ours.” Both say that faith is one of the keys.
The Hill family of Beaverton is “like a little United Nations,” says the mom, Kara.
Her Filipino-Irish-American husband, Robert, has daughters from marriages to a Japanese woman and a Filipino woman. In her previous marriage, Kara adopted a boy from the Marshall Islands and then became pregnant after years of trying.
The Hills are members of Holy Trinity Parish and are trying to keep it all together.
Kara points out that her parents were high school sweethearts who wed and began having children nine months later. “Real life now is messier,” she says. “Bobby and I both made mistakes along the way. We are thankful for forgiveness and second chances.”
One of the older daughters told Kara she wished everyone in the family looked the same. The step mother responded that God made them the way they look and that diversity can be beautiful. To build togetherness, the family celebrates everyone’s ethnic heritage. The parents also plan “mystery trips” in which kids pile into the car to have a surprise experience. Common memories build relationships.
If relations get tense or confusing, Kara and Robert often utter the refrain, “This is our family.”
Practicing faith is the main source of bonding. The Hills attend Mass together regularly and everyone speaks the language of faith and gains identity from Catholic symbols around the home.
“Church helps with unity,” Kara says. “It puts a higher power at the top. Raising a family without that would be so difficult. It would be hard to build a foundation.”
Both parents were raised Catholic. Kara always loved her faith, but after her divorce mistakenly withdrew from sacraments and then, when she decided to remarry, wed outside the church and did not ask how to make things right. Later, she and Robert felt called to get their marriage blessed and asked their parish leaders what they needed to do in the world of church law and did it.
“It was thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds off my chest,” Kara says. “Our church is a place of forgiveness.”
Of fellow Catholics, Kara asks patience. She knows her family looks different, but she wants people to know they are trying to live a good life like anyone else.
Stepparents and stepchildren almost always have awkward moments at first. But, families say, patience and time yield good results. That also goes for children from different parents.
Stella and Ben Ruhl, members of St. Anthony Parish in Forest Grove, say that honest communications and deep faith have led to success.
Stella was a widow and mom of one boy when she met Ben, who has two children from a previous marriage. Early on, she wondered if she could trust Ben. It was not long before the dating couple had some straight talk: What do you think of kids? What is your idea of parenting?
They wed in 2009 and had their union convalidated in the church last year. Married life has meant more open dialogue.
Stella knew stepparenting could work. She had a stepfather and loved him as a parent. She is delighted to see that happening for her husband and her son, 14-year-old Ricky. Ben went through formal adoption procedures.
But it wasn’t all easy. Predictably, as a younger child, Ricky was not keen on sharing his mother.
Ben, who entered the church this past Easter, says he and Ricky had frank talks early on. Ricky, it turned out, did not want to see his mother hurt. He needed assurance. Ben gave it.
“Anybody would want to be Ricky’s parent,” says Ben, a Washington County Sheriff’s detective. “And I knew when Stella and I decided to get married, I wanted to take the whole responsibility.”
Ricky, whose biological father had not been part of his life, admits he did not like Ben at first. How things have changed.
“I realized there was no reason to be mad,” Ricky says. “My mom was happy to have him around. And now I like to have my dad around. I really like it. My life has been a lot better. I have a lot more opportunities to have experiences.”
Ricky’s advice to kids who are getting a stepparent: “Try to accept it. It’s not your fault and not their fault that your other parents split up.”
It’s been harder for Stella and Ben’s kids, who live with their mother and visit only so often. The mother has not supported Ben and Stella’s efforts to draw those children into the circle of faith that has proven so unifying.
“I have a lot of faith that God is leading my life,” Ben says. “I think people run into problems when they try to control it and make it go the way they want it to.”
Ben and Stella have had three young children together. But they never differentiate. Ricky is as solidly in the union as the others.
The Hills and the Ruhls return often to the Nativity story. Children in both clans like to point out that St. Joseph was a stepfather in the model of all families.