This is the fourth story in a parenting series running between Mother's Day and Father's Day.
When David and Jane Hammons began their family over 40 years ago, they never dreamed their lives would include raising a second family.
But that is exactly what happened, although Jane says that their philosophy of parenting didn't change.
The Hammons raised their own children — daughter Tammy, who is a OB nurse at Saint Joseph London, and son Michael, who works for CSX railroad. The Hammons now have seven grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
But when their youngest child was 20 years old, the Hammons began a second family by taking in and caring for their three nieces. Jane said she and husband David had "empty nest" syndrome for only five months when they unconsciously launched their second round of parenting.
"It was Christmas Eve and their mother asked us if we wanted a present," Jane said. "She came and stayed with us for about three days with Becky, who was 9 1/2 months old, then she left. We've had Becky ever since. She's 20 now and is a sophomore in college."
Then came Victoria Grace, or Gracie, who will be 19 in July.
"We brought her home from the hospital," Jane explained. "There's only 16 months difference in Becky and Victoria Grace."
Laura, who was 5 years old when the Hammons got custody of her, is the oldest of the three nieces at nearly 24 years old. Although the other two girls had stayed with Jane and David, Laura lived with her grandmother until she came to stay with her aunt and uncle. Although she was raised here, Laura moved to Colorado two years ago and doesn't get to visit her family and siblings often although she keeps in close contact.
How they came to raise their second family was because the girls' mother was unable to care for them and their father died when Laura was only 8 years old. Jane said the court system gave them full permanent custody of the girls and they have meshed together as one family since.
Jane said she does see a difference in the attitudes of her own children to raising her nieces.
"There is a generation's difference in our children and the girls," Jane said. "We didn't treat any of them any different, although our kids say these girls got more than they did!"
Jane and her husband both deny that belief, although Jane said when her children were young, she was a stay-at-home mother.
"I didn't go back to work until my kids were in high school and I kept on working after that," she explained. "When we got the girls, I kept on working. David's aunt kept them of the day while I was at work. I felt like I had to work so they had what they needed."
But the Hammons' children had to help with household duties.
"They helped in the garden and did yard work," she said. "The nieces didn't have that. We don't have a garden now. But our children say we weren't as strict on the girls as we were on them, but we have never made a difference. We have stepgrandchildren but we don't make a difference. I tell them all that the only 'steps' we have in this family are the steps to our house."
The successful rearing of two families has left a long legacy of parental involvement.
"Tammy was in FBLA in school and stayed active, my son was in marching band from the sixth through the 12th grades, so that kept us busy," Jane explained. "The girls all played soccer when they were little. Becky was in ROTC in high school, Laura went to Somerset Community College for heat and air, and Gracie was in marching band from sixth to 12th grade."
Jane said she was fully aware of the duties of a band parent, adding that she helped prepare the meals for visiting marching bands when North Laurel High School hosted their yearly competition.
In addition to raising their three nieces, the Hammons also had grandchildren - whom were also involved in activities that added to the support system the couple provided to their family.
"The grandkids were constantly moving and doing something," Jane added.
Adding their nieces into their family fold, Jane said she could see a huge difference in the costs of living from the time they raised their children until they began their second family.
"Everything was higher 20 years later," she said. "Our youngest was 20 when we got the first girl. We didn't even have a crib for her, so we had to start over. Things were expensive, but they were worth it."
Despite the financial part of starting a new family, the Hammons believed that they could provide the upbringing the girls needed for some stability in their lives. She describes the nieces as getting along fairly well.
She is thankful for the opportunities she has had with her own children, grandchildren and her nieces. Her husband is a full time farmer, so Jane and her sister planned trips for the children over the years.
"My sister and I took the girls to Myrtle Beach and once we went to Dollywood for a whole week," she said. "When our kids were small, we had a boat and we went camping a lot. My husband is a retired military man, so we also took them to Fort Knox and my sister and I took the girls on day trips to different places."
She also continued a family tradition begun with her own children.
"On special occasions, we treat everyone the same," she said. "I made all their birthday cakes, I made my kids' wedding cakes and graduation cakes, and I still make cakes today. I stayed really busy!"
Her philosophy of parenting, she said, has not changed over the years, despite her children's' claims that she was not as strict on the nieces as she was on them.
"You don't make any differences between them because they know if you do," she said. "You have to take time for them, even if it's nothing more than sitting in the yard and playing in the dirt. And by the time they're 15, they need to know how to take care of themselves if they have to. That means being able to cook, sew on a button, and do laundry."
With a laugh, she added, "The biggest problem I've ever had with any of them is getting them to clean their room."