Joseph Mwangi and Nelly Njoki describe their honeymoon as a “great start to their blended family”. This is not a typical way of describing a romantic gateway, but there’s nothing ordinary about their four-year union.
They both had children from previous relationships when they got married four years ago, and wanted a honeymoon destination that would accommodate all their children aged from eight to 16.
Nelly had an eight-year-old daughter from a past relationship while Joseph, a widower, had a nine-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son.
They wanted their children to get to know each other during the honeymoon.
“We figured that we were the ones who loved each and chose each other, the children did not, and so we had to make a deliberate effort to have them know each other well,” says Nelly.
Ups and downs
“The fun part was that we got the most beautiful house that came with a chef and it was by the beach. The walks on the sandy beaches and swimming in the ocean was fantastic,” she says.
“For the children, this was the first time they were spending an extended period together. They would argue and makeup, each would be clingy to their respective parent at the start of the honeymoon, but by the time we were going back, they had bonded, they argued less, and when they did, we did not even get to know about it,” she adds.
Joseph and Nelly’s romance dates back four years ago. For Nelly, the journey to having a family leave alone a blended one was accidental. She found love at a time when she had made peace with the fact that she might never get married.
“I had already told God if He wanted me to spend my life as a single person and much as I desired marriage, I would accept his will,” she says.
“So I started working on me and my daughter, I embarked on investing and buying assets to secure her future.”
When she met her current husband who had lost his wife to cancer a year earlier, her main concern was offering emotional support.
“My husband is a friend to my elder brother, and at that time, I feared and respected both of them very much,” she says, smiling at the memory.
“He was a pastor, and I had never imagined a life where I was a pastor’s wife. He was way out of my league too, and my interaction with him before was very formal, so at no point did I imagine I would be his wife,” she adds.
Lost his wife to cancer
Joseph said when he lost his wife to cancer, people kept telling him to remarry, and friends would try to hook him up with their female friends. He was, however, very particular about the woman he wanted. He was looking for a mature and very spiritual woman.
“I did not want to marry a very young woman, and I was also looking for a God-fearing lady who read the Bible and was a fiery preacher. Looking back now, I think I was looking for a perfect person when I am not even perfect myself,” he says.
When he told Nelly that he was looking for a wife and asked her if she would do some research on a woman he had been asked to pursue, she obliged.
“I was more than glad to do the legwork for him, I enquired from people I knew about the woman he was interested in, but I did not get any feedback,” she says.
Softening the blow
To soften the blow, seeing that she had not gotten the information that Joseph wanted, Nelly offered a pep talk, told him not to worry and that he would get a good woman. She also warned him not to be in a hurry to marry, especially now that he had children.
“I found her to be very concerned and caring and would always be keen on how the children would cope when I got a wife. She told me to be careful not to marry someone who just wanted to get a husband. She said that it was easy to love a woman but getting one who would genuinely also love the children was the tricky part.”
'Please come for me'
It soon dawned to Joseph that Nelly was the woman for him.
“There was a day I went village with my son, and while we were there he went down to the farm, and I wanted him back to the house, so I sent him a text that read: Please come,” narrates Joseph.
Nelly continues: “I don’t know how, but that text landed to me, and I replied to him “Please come for me.”
It was at that point that they realised there was some love brewing between them.
The two started going for more coffee dates and spent a lot of time together.
“Joseph also increased the number of times he would pass by my office on his way to upcountry,” says Nelly.
Joseph says introducing Nelly to his family and even to his late wife’s family was not hard as he had at one time asked for their blessings in case he would want to marry someone else.
He says that in his life, he is keen on involving parents in his plans and seeking their guidance-” That is how you tap on blessings.”
“When I knew I was certain I wanted to marry Nelly, I took a few friends to visit my late wife’s family. They blessed my children and me, we knelt, and they prayed for us,” he says.
“I later brought my fiancé to them, and they accepted her with open arms. I requested them to accompany me for her dowry negotiations, and they did.”
During the dowry negotiations, his late wife’s family was introduced and recognised as Joseph’s parents.
“They also got involved in the negotiations, so it was not just attending and staying on the sidelines,” he says.
The wedding took place soon after, with their daughters as the flower girls.
Blended family wisdom
Nelly says raising a blended family calls for wisdom.
“You have to be careful about how you discipline the children, so you do not appear to be favouring one child,” she says.
“In the early days of marriage, it is important to let everyone discipline their blood children before you get familiarise with each other and set ground rules. Now, I will pinch both of the girls if they make a similar mistake and they will both cry,” she says.
She also adds one should take note of how children react to the tiniest of actions. She cites an example of how when giving children their church offering, although she would give them the same amount, giving one a new note and another an old one would be met by pouting and a mood change.
“Now, I make sure I have new notes in my wallet so that I solve the issue of some getting old notes and others new.”
She adds that some people who interact with the children can make blending a family hard with the remarks and questions that they ask the children.
Nelly says their daughter would come from school looking moody, and when she pressed harder, she found that some friends and some teachers would pester her asking if she was being “overworked or denied food.”
“We even had a house help who would push her asking her how I treated her, trying to influence her on how she should be treated and we only got to know about it when she left. I had to sit down and explain to my daughter on how to handle people who asked such questions,” she says.
She advises that the children need to learn from the get-go that you are coming from a good place and that you mean well.
“You should know that you are in a transition and therefore be deliberate on how you introduce any new thing, that way, they will not question your intentions even when confronted by people on how you are treating them.”
For her, she says she involved the children in any changes that she wanted to implement as they already had a way of doing things.
For instance, when she wanted to paint the house different wall colours, she sought the children’s opinion.
“I love bright colours, and so before I could paint the house yellow, orange and green which are my colours, I asked them, and surprisingly they loved the outcome that was a bright house, when we were also removing the wall unit and building something to replace it, I consulted with them,” she says.
At the start of the marriage, they also had to talk to the eldest son who was 16 then, Samuel Waweru, about the new family dynamics.
“Since he was in boarding school when he came home, we used to joke with him as we wanted to know what he thought about the new family, with time, he saw that we are easy and warm and started opening up and being chatty,” says Nelly.
“Right now, Sam, who was the quietest child of them all is very chatty, even relatives get shocked by how much he talks,” says Nelly.
She also adds that she got support from her husband, who would not side with the children when they complained about Nelly disciplining them.
“I also made sure I do not compare my current wife with my late wife, those two are different people, and I appreciate their uniqueness,” adds Joseph.
Easier for everybody
In a blended family, maintaining a good relationship with your ex-partner makes life a lot easier for everybody.
The father of Nelly’s daughter is also involved in all the children’s lives. Nelly says much as he does not live in the country, he is aware that Nelly is now a mother of three and requires him to treat her as such.
“So when he calls to speak with the daughter, he will talk with all the children, he will also buy presents for all of them when he visits, and he also takes all of them out when he visits, it works well for all of us, “says Nelly.
Nelly advises women to think long and hard before moving in with a man who already has children.
“It is a calling and not for everyone. When the honeymoon days of love are over, your true colours will show, it is difficult to bring up another woman’s children, and that’s why you hear of step mums beating up the children because that is not their calling,” she says.
Joseph says one of the things that have made their marriage flourish is doing things together as a couple.
“We go everywhere together, when I travel even for work, she accompanies me, you will also see us in the supermarket together, we go to pick children from school together, I don’t get bored of her at all,” he says.
Nelly adds that just like all families, making a blended family work calls for love and sacrifice for your partner.
She relocated to Nakuru and changed churches to accommodate her family.
“I don’t regret it at all, I did it for love, and I am happy,” she concludes with a smile.