NFL star Ryan Pickett and his wife Jennifer are living their dreams. Happily married for the last 10 years, the San Diego based couple are the proud parents of six beautiful children – ages six months to eight years old.
One serendipitous encounter in an Atlanta mall almost eleven years ago brought them together and they knew immediately that they’d been blessed. Jennifer was a college junior at the time, and Ryan, who now plays for the Green Bay Packers, was in town for a big game. “I thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen,” he recalls. “The moment was just breathtaking.” Their love was the real deal. Eight months later her popped the question. He was so excited to do it, he actually proposed over the phone. That same night, Jennifer ran right to the grocery store and bought a stack of wedding magazines. Their whirlwind courtship and quick “I dos” caused many around them to question whether or not they were rushing things. After praying about it, both Ryan and Jennifer were certain they were on the right road.
These days, their brood is so large they had to convert a commercial truck into a custom family van (yes, really!) and their weekly schedules look more like road maps. But they manage it all together, and they love every second of it.
ESSENCE.COM: Ten years. Six kids. All smiles. What’s your big secret?
RYAN PICKETT: God is the secret. And, we’re best friends too.
JENNIFER PICKETT: I just have one brother, and Ryan is the baby of four. We knew we wanted to have a lot of children. We really wanted a big family. Ryan wanted to have girls first, and coincidentally, God blessed us with that. Then, we wanted a boy, so next we had a boy. Then, after that one boy, we said, “Well we have to give him a brother!” So we kept going and another girl came. Then, we just kept trying for another boy. After our second son, our fifth child, we said, “It’s an uneven number!” We tried again, and after that pregnancy, I said, “I’m done!”
RYAN: Now we have four girls and two boys. It’s like a joy. A lot of people see it as stressful, but we have fun with the kids. It’s hard getting them up and getting them to bed, but I sincerely enjoy everything about raising them.
JENNIFER: We just try to make sure that they’re all respectful, good, solid kids. We incorporate them into everything we do. They go to all of the home games on Sundays and even some away games too. The difference, for us, is that we planned this. I’m not saying I haven’t broken down along the way, but we have a lot of support from our family, which helps. Ryan helps so much too. We have a date night every Friday. We really look forward to that. No matter what happens, we get dressed up and we go.
ESSENCE.COM: Did you hear a lot of negative reactions to getting married so young?
RYAN: Yeah, we heard all of that, because we were super young. But we knew what was best for us. I knew I wasn’t going to let her go – I just had to marry her.
JENNIFER: This is just our story. We’re Christians, so for us, it was a spiritual thing as well. We didn’t want to live together before we got married. For him, that also gave it a different sense of urgency. He was already established in the NFL, and I was still in school. We had planned this big huge wedding, but he just couldn’t wait. He said, “I really need you here, to be my wife and to be in St. Louis with me now.” I left school early. I never graduated. I was praying a lot. I made a decision that I was going to put my dreams on hold temporarily to become his wife and help him succeed in his career, but I knew everything for me was going to happen later. A lot of people thought I was pregnant. But I wasn’t. We just wanted to do it the right way from the start. For me, being his wife was most important at that time. My mom wasn’t happy. But, that’s a decision that I made.
ESSENCE.COM: Looking back, are there any regrets?
RYAN: The whole getting married younger thing really worked to our benefit. We really grew up with each other. I think that’s what made us sit up all night and talk and grow together. All of that had a lot to do with our success. She watched me become a man, and I watched her become a woman.
JENNIFER: For me, it was a little difficult, because he was already established. I was still in college. I had just landed a major internship. I was just about to graduate. For me to make that sacrifice, that was all God. A lot of people spoke negatively about it. People thought that if something happened, I wouldn’t have anything to fall back on. I prayed about it, and God answered my prayers. He told me that I needed to do it and that my time would come. Still, to this day, we have six children and I’m still going back to school and starting a business. I’m only 33. I’m still young and we already have a big family. I have awesome kids and an awesome marriage. I don’t regret anything. I don’t have a problem with being Ryan’s wife. I’m okay in my own skin and knowing my role and what God wants me to do.
ESSENCE.COM: Is marriage everything that you hoped it would be?
RYAN: Yes and no. You realize that you’re happy and you’re in love, but marriage is also hard work. It has to become a top priority. It’s a job too. You have your ups and downs, of course, but everything you put into it you will get out of it. Our family is our biggest achievement. That’s what I’m always most happy about in my life.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your marriage?
RYAN: When you’re young and you get married, sometimes you both try to change each other. We were both raised so differently. The hardest part is just finding the common ground. Everyone feels like the way that they were raised is the right way. That’s a big hurdle we had to overcome. We had to create our own family traditions and rules.
JENNIFER: Just growing up together. I grew up in a family where we did everything together. My mom and I were best friends. I had to understand my role as a wife and know that I had to leave my family and start one with my husband. I thought I was doing that at first, but I really wasn’t. Ryan would come home from work and I’d be on the phone with my mom for hours. For me, that was all a part of growing up. I had to recognize that I was in a marriage and my husband really had to come first.