Doubly Blended: Meet The Cleymans
Wow, today’s intercultural love story is really special. Why? Because it doesn’t involve just 2 lovely human beings… But 4!
Yes, you’ve read well. This article is about a beautiful DOUBLY BLENDED family of four.
Cheyanne is from the US and met her Belgian husband, Kim, in the Netherlands! But when she became Kim’s wife, she also took on the role of stepmom for Kim’s daughter, Billie. And the family recently welcomed their first son, Mason!
Are you still following?
Let’s go back to the start.
ONCE UPON A TIME…
Their chance encounter seems to be coming straight from a romantic movie. I love the way Kim recalls the first time he met this unknown American girl:
« It was on a sunny Saturday evening in September 2018 in a château in the Netherlands. We were both attending a mutual friend’s wedding. We first had a small conversation before dinner and then we danced the night away on the dance floor. Before going to bed, it was Chey who kissed me, underneath the stars and by the fireplace.
But it was not until the morning after (or at least a couple of hours) when we were talking as we were walking literally through a field covered in bull sh** during an outdoors excursion planned by the married couple, that we both felt a pleasant combination of being calm yet exhilarated. »
Chey immediately knew he was the one and shared a fun anecdote about their first date:
« What’s also remarkable, is I had bought a dress 2 years before in 2016, that I declared would BE the dress I wore on my first date with my husband – I for some reason brought it to Belgium…and you guessed it- that’s the exact dress I wore on our first date. I knew in my bones he was a once in a lifetime kind of person. »
Eventually, Kim brought Chey to the train to Paris, where she would fly back to America after an exhilarating “once in a lifetime” week in Europe. But, not before kissing her properly.
A kiss that changed many lives.
WHEN YOU KNOW YOU KNOW
Only a few months later, Chey and Kim got married!
« We met in September 2018 and we were married before 2018 was over. We got married in Las Vegas on December 30th, as we were road tripping through the States, driving from New York to Los Angeles. A quick little stop in the Marriage Capital of the world. (This was PURELY for legal reasons so Chey could get her name changed & get her VISA in order to immigrate just a few short weeks later).
A week after that, we had a little ceremony on the beach in California with a select group of friends and family. Kim’s brother even flew in from Belgium and surprised him for the event! »
AND THEN, REALITY HITS…
Things got more complicated when Kim had to go back to Europe. Indeed, Kim not only had to get back to work in Belgium but also to join his daughter from a previous relationship, Billie.
« Chey decided to move here for love, as I have a daughter here, who (at that point was only 9 years old) I wouldn’t want to leave behind, nor take her away from her mom.
So initially I said: “Chey, I’m sorry but this could never work, as I am not in the situation to move.” Luckily for me, she replied: “Then I will move.” »
Chey left the States on February 25th 2019. She immigrated and was officially Kim’s wife all under 6 months of having met each other. And she had never met his daughter in person yet!
NEW ADVENTURE, NEW ADJUSTMENTS
Living abroad meant a lot of new challenges for Chey. She had to get used to new habits and sometimes faced some judgemental reactions. These are the 5 culture shocks that surprised her most:
–The time they spend with family: brunch often takes 5-6 hrs., where in the USA, because I believe we’re so active and busy, I believe it would take a maximum of 2 hrs.
–How much bread they eat: food is different in every culture, but I was shocked how often bread is served a dish almost at every meal – and lots of it!
–The large prevelance of a Muslim culture: in the USA, I’ve never lived anywhere there was a large Muslim community – however here in Belgium, that faith is very prevelant. I often see women with head coverings (Even at my bonus daughter’s Catholic school), and food here is often prepared to meet their religious preferences. Speaking of religion, I myself am a very spiritually devoted woman (in the Christian faith), and many Belgians believe and see Christians as only Cathlotic and have a very negative view of my faith.
–The driving has also been a shock for me – or lack there of! I used to drive everywhere in the States – I had to! There’s such a friendly bike culture here. I take my bike everywhere!
But these little changes didn’t scare Chey and she even went through the extra challenge of having a baby abroad!
“Living abroad has also been challenging when having a baby…going to all my doctors appointments where no one fully spoke my language and not having my family here to help me during pregnancy or now even getting to spend time with our son has been difficult.”
MY FOREIGN WIFE
And even if Kim didn’t move to a new country, he faces cultural differences on a daily basis with his wife. These are a few details that struck him:
“I’d say Americans are more enthusiastic and outgoing than typical Belgians. They are also more open-minded and easy going. Less judgmental, too, I feel.
Their pace of life is faster, which calls for more planning out and more double checking.
And definitely their freedom: “Nobody tells me what to do.” Even in these corona-times, “no government has the right to tell me that I can’t go out and travel.”
“IT FELT LIKE I HAD LOST MYSELF”
But the main challenge for this blended family is definitely the language. Especially because Billie, Kim’s daughter, only speaks Dutch. Imagine the complications of being a stepmom to a little girl who doesn’t understand you.
“The biggest challenge for me, especially in the beginning was the language barrier. In the region we live, Dutch is the local language. However, Belgium itself has 3 national languages – Dutch, French & German. None of them are my native tongue of English! I am such a talker and communication is my jam, so to have that taken away, it felt like I had lost myself.
This also was a major challenge in our house, as Kim’s daughter didn’t understand or speak any English. He was constantly translating and it made her and my relationship in the beginning be VERY basic.
I found it funny how often other stepmoms I’d chat with or connect to who would say, “I feel like I speak another language than my step kid,” and I would think, Man, I actually do!”
This was clearly the first aspect the family had to work on and it’s an ongoing process!
“It can become so overwhelming because you can constantly second guess yourself. “Did she understand me correctly?” “Does she know how much I care for her…how much I love her?” “I feel like I can’t combat what her mom is saying about me…how do I show her who I really am if I can’t talk to her”
If language wasn’t an option, I had to find other ways to connect with her. Whether it was baking, doing yoga, shopping or walking the dog, we did what we could and built our own relationship…and language in those moments.
My husband, without a doubt, has been the biggest help and has really been the BRIDGE in our relationship. In the beginning and to this day, he often translates for us, but also communicates my heart to his daughter when I cannot.”
Beyond the language, it took a lot of adjustments to make the whole family blend their cultures in their daily life.
“There are so many challenges when becoming a stepmom to begin with, and adding in the different culture/country AND different language into the mix, just adds so many more compounded issues!”
Yet, with a lot of love and understanding, the family found their personal way of exposing their kids to both cultures.
“We don’t have a specific routine or schedule – however, we do find it very important that both of our children are immersed in both of our unique cultures – no matter where we are living. In our current household, in Belgium, this often looks like cooking traditional Belgian and American meals together, watching American and Dutch films, traveling around to historical Belgium cities and monuments, and also planning summer travel to the States. We are raising our 1 year old son together to be bilingual as well, so there’s always two languages going on inside our house!”
THEIR KEYS TO SUCCESS
Cheyanne and Kim have learnt so much from this family experience already. They shared some valuable tips for other blended families.
- Educate yourself and your family about the other culture. This can ease surprises and defuse potential conflicts. Ask questions of your partner. Research norms and expectations.
- Challenge false beliefs you or your family may have about the other culture. When two people marry, they generally “marry” each other’s families as well. That’s why it’s a good idea to discuss as a couple the belief system each person has and to explore the evidence supporting those beliefs.
- Discuss the positives and negatives of the two cultures and choose together which parts will best fit in your relationship. Talk with your mate about the possible weaknesses and strengths of your own culture. Decide which aspects of both cultures might enhance the household you’re building.
- Adjust and adapt to one another’s cultures through compromise and communication. This takes humility and courage. It also takes a willingness to give up some of your desires in order to meet the other person’s needs. Listen to each other before identifying differences, problems, and solutions. Realize that both of you have equal influence in your relationship.
- Be patient as your partner adapts. If you continually correct your spouse, they may lose interest in adjusting to your culture. People tend to gravitate toward familiarity and success; provide both as your spouse explores a revised and expanded way of living and perceiving.
“Nearly 70% of all second marriages also fail”
Their knowledge on the specific situation of multicultural stepfamilies also pushed them to help other couples struggling with the same hurdles and to create a unique online course.
“We dove into research and discovered that nearly 70% of all second marriages also fail. At that point it became clear that it would be our mission to help families avoid this hardship again (because they had gone through divorce before), making it possible to give children from divorced parents a second chance as they are now growing up in a loving and happy family, impacting their future marriage as well.
We offer a simple four week crash course, which is designed to get you on your course to a thriving MultiCultural StepFamily, and we build you up from the bottom.
First we focus on the ‘marriage’, as this is the sole reason why the people involved have to share lives. After having built a solid foundation, we get the step- and biological parents to come together as a team when it comes to ‘parenting’. This way ‘step parenting’ becomes easier and clearer. At that point, embracing the different cultures involved is the icing on the cake.”
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE CLEYMANS:
You can come find them:
- On their main website, which has a blog where they write about their entire journey.
- On Instagram, where they share useful tips and resources