Julie Thomas and her husband, Michael, already have six kids in their blended family, but it is about to get a little bigger.
In July, Julie’s two teenage cousins, Alex, 16, and Anthony, 13, will be moving in with the family after their father's passing from Parkinson's disease in March and their mother's death from stomach cancer in 2018.
“It's going to be an adjustment, obviously, because they've been through a lot, and they're pretty mature given everything they've been through,” Thomas said. “It's amazing how resilient kids are, to be honest. I don't know many adults that have been through what these kids have been through, and they really do have it together. They make good grades, they're taking exams today and finishing out ... their school year.”
Thomas said she and the boys come from a small family. When they were deciding where the boys should go, she thought her parents and grandmother were too old to be raising teenagers. Her brother had only had daughters who were already out of the house.
“I looked around the room and I said, 'These kids have been through a lot,' having to be basically caretakers for their parents for literally the last four or five years, so they really haven't had a chance to grow and worry about themselves and be, you know, selfish teenagers,” Julie said with a laugh.
But Julie said the kids already in her family – made up of two girls and four boys, with three teenage boys still at home and the others away at college – were immediately on board when they heard their cousins needed a place to live.
“Our kids didn't even blink,” Julie said, “They said, 'Of course. You guys would take in our friends if they needed it, so of course, you're going to take in family,' so there was never any hesitation.”
With the family spending more time together due to the coronavirus pandemic, they have already found ways to get their cousins involved.
“They're excited because they see the normalcy that my kids have,” Julie said. “During COVID, we've been doing forced family fun night, so we've been engaging them remotely in some of those so we can start fostering that relationship and them getting to know each other and those sorts of things, so it's been not ideal but it's been good to have that time to [acclimate.]”
Right now, Julie’s dad is taking care of the boys in Florida as they finish up their school year. They plan to move in with the Thomas family this summer.
To make room for them, Michael, a builder, has been adding rooms in the family's basement and his boss has decided to subsidize some of the costs.
Julie said adding two more teenagers to the mix would mean a busy household this fall.
“We'll have three [high school] seniors in our house next year,” she said. “We'll have two at Lambert and one at Central.”
Julie just wants to give them a normal family life.
“They didn't go to sporting events, they didn't go to practice, they didn't do the things we take for granted,” Julie said, “so we're not going to go out of our way to do anything different because we know what we have and what we do on a regular basis is going to be a 180-degree difference of what they have ever done.