This is the second installment of a series on parenting that will run in the Friday edition of The Sentinel Echo between Mother's Day and Father's Day.
Gina and Stephen White both grew up in Southpoint, Ohio, attending the same elementary and middle school. But Stephen transferred to a different high school, where he played football, and the couple lost touch with each other. Both married and had three children each.
Gina had lived in Louisville with her first husband and children but the family moved to London in 2007 where her husband took an administrative position at ABC Automotive. But after 14 years of marriage, they divorced. Ironically, that was around the same time that Stephen, still living in Southpoint, also divorced.
Stephen and Gina met once again through social media and although they never dated growing up, they did begin a long-distance relationship. After a few years of seeing one another, Gina said Stephen moved his family to London.
"I told him I couldn't do the long distance relationship - I have three children. So he moved his family here," she said. "I didn't want to live with him and not be married, so we got married at 9 o'clock at night at Hart Baptist Church."
The blended family now includes Gina's three sons - Tyler, 19, Gavin, 15, and Reece Noble, 13, and Stephen's children - Jackson, 19, Anden, 13 and Danika White, 10. Five years ago, Gina and Stephen added daughter Scarlette to the family. Another child whom they claim as their own and who lived with them for five years is 20-year-old Ace Allen, who has recently finished boot camp in the U.S. Marines and is stationed in North Carolina.
"I call it 'seven plus a bonus,'" Gina said.
The family leads a busy lifestyle with the children's involvement in sports and other activities. Tyler, now a freshman at the University of Kentucky, is studying engineering software and works with ABC Automotive designing software. Tyler launched a home business at the young age of 14, repairing cell phone screens. But when their home became a hubbub of people, Gina said Tyler branched out to area phone stores, landing jobs at Stop Gap and One Stop Phone Shop.
Although Jackson has autism, he is high functioning and verbal, but his monthly doctor visits keeps Gina busy.
"Jackson is obsessed with telephone poles and can locate them anywhere," she said. "His room is full of drawings of them."
Son Reece is an all-around athlete, having played basketball and baseball for South Laurel Middle School and on Cold Hill Elementary's track team. Anden plans to play football at SLMS this upcoming year, and Gavin and Ace have both umpired for the Little League teams in the past.
Daughters Danika and Scarlette are involved in gymnastics at Tumble Station and dance at Rhythm Dance studio.
Their involvement keeps the adults of the family busy running, especially since Tyler and Ace are not available to help transport the younger children back and forth.
"We have no family here and there are times I just can't go to some things," Gina said. "My husband is 100% supportive and asks what he can do to help. And sometimes we have friends who will pick up some of the kids or drop them off. It really does take a village sometimes!"
Although the children all get along well, Gina is the first to note that their household is a blend of different personalities. She feels however that their differences is what also makes things work.
She and Stephen do most of the household duties, although the children are responsible for maintaining their own rooms. The children share bedrooms with another sibling in the four bedroom home and they are also responsible to complete their homework. Gina said all of the children are A and B students.
"They've never made a C," she said. "They never miss school - we have several with perfect attendance every year. I don't tell them to do their homework but I watch Parent Portal like a hawk and when I see a 0 or a bad grade, I tell them to fix it. And they do."
She does have to help some of the younger children with their assignments, although she said each child is independent and realize what they have to do academically. She credits that to the example that she and Stephen set - a strong work ethic.
"Stephen works at Walmart D.C. He gets up early and works Monday through Thursday until 4:30 p.m. or later. He's also coached football at South Laurel Middle School for the past six years," she said. "I teach English to Chinese children, and with the time difference, I'm up and teaching at 3:30 a.m. until 9 a.m. I work with each child one-on-one for 25 minutes every day."
She said the children work hard at their academics because they realize that you have to work to achieve and succeed.
"They are all good about not asking for a lot of stuff," she said. "I hope it's because they see how hard we work to give to them."
The large family also lends itself to birthdays nearly every month, which have taken a new twist over the past years.
"As they've gotten older, things have changed. The older ones now have a choice of having a few close friends over, having cake and getting $100," she said. "Scarlette is still little and she still wants to have a party. But money is a big attraction for the other ones."
She also credits cooperation from the other biological parents in supporting each other in disciplinary actions.
"If my boys are in trouble at my house, they're in trouble at their dad's," she said. "They go to their dad's every other weekend and Stephen's children go visit their mother who lives in Tennessee. We know that they need a close relationship with both their parents. But I always tell them that they have four pair of eyes on them all the time."
In their own household, Gina said she handles issues involving her children while Stephen addresses those with his children.
"You can't just parent," she said. "It's a whole different ballgame when you're a blended family. We take it day by day because the needs and the personality changes as they get older. When I have issues with Stephen's children or he has issues with mine, we talk about it and each one of us addresses it with the child."
But she feels that their family is close knit despite their differences and she is grateful that they have the educational opportunities in the public school system.
"The schools here are like the private schools in Louisville. Neither Stephen or I from here, but it's a great place to raise a family. Now it's home to us," she said.