Carol Shwanda chronicles her blended family's lives and experiences offering hope, guidance, wisdom, inspiration and humor to anyone who is in or about to enter into a blended family.
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Must Reads for Today’s Successful Blended Families
Published on May 6, 2011
I love Mother’s Day. As a stepmom, I often wish I could spend the day will all of my kids, but I also enjoy the opportunity to spend it with just Eva and Sophia. And I must say, I really delight in their enthusiasm as well. I think it is because they appreciate that I see it as a day for everyone to relax and enjoy each other’s company. For instance, last year we all got pedicures, went out to lunch and saw a movie. Sophia was grateful and actually told me, “I like the fact that you don’t make us do chores all day, like weeding the garden and cleaning out the gutters.” Gratitude. Love it.
This year’s event will be fairly low key. We are going to spend the day in Carmel with lunch at the Hog’s Breath Inn (which I believe is still owned by Clint Eastwood) and the afternoon at the beach. Paul said he would cook us dinner when we got home. Lovely. My sister Jill is coming with us. She and I like to toss flowers into the ocean to honor our mother who passed away 7 years ago. (She never made us do chores either. And she always raved about the running eggs we made her for breakfast.)
Published on April 22, 2011
A few nights ago we were sitting outside enjoying an outdoor fire when the conversation turned to camping. Cheryl has been dogging her father for years to take her on a backpacking trip where the two of them hike into the woods, pitch a tent and fish for dinner. Apparently this is something Eva has longed to do as well, so the two of them cornered Paul and made him promise to take them. They also made me promise that I would not go since they know I don’t enjoy camping and would whine and complain the whole time and they are right about that.
Once it was agreed and a date was set for a weekend in July, Cheryl and Eva got busy planning their trip. They pulled out all of our camping books to decide on a destination and made notes and lists in a designated “camping notebook”. The supplies included two tents: one for them and one for Paul, just in case he snores (or eats too many beans, if you know what I mean.) It was a joy to watch their excitement. And a delight for me to know that my daughter Eva would beg her stepfather to take her somewhere and feel comfortable and safe with him.
Later I told Paul, “These girls are so excited you’d think you had given them the moon. You’ve given them something to live for.”
Published on March 18, 2011
I was out to lunch with a friend today and when I returned home, Sophia was sitting on her bed in front of her laptop with a dejected look on her face. Tears were welling up in her eyes and she looked up at me and cried, ” I just got rejected from the University of Chicago. ” My heart went out to her. She was so disappointed. The sting of rejection is hard to bear and all I could think was, “This is only the beginning.” Read the rest of this entry »
Published on February 17, 2011
Cheryl and I had a stepmother/stepdaughter lunch yesterday. I had been promising her for weeks to take her to lunch and shopping as a belated birthday present. She turned 13 in November and with my graduation, the holidays and her soccer schedule, we just didn’t get around to it. We went to a fantastic barbecue restaurant called SmoQe, which we had been wanting to go to for some time. Cheryl loves anything barbecue and the pulled pork sandwich she ordered yesterday was, in her words, “The best sandwich I have eaten in a long time.” I had a bbq chicken, bacon and apple pizza and for desert, we toasted marshmallows to make s’mores at our table.
The food was great, but the best part was the conversation. Read the rest of this entry »
Published on September 9, 2010
Years ago, when I was a single mom, I used to go on a winter break ski trip with my girls and my best friend Susie and her daughter, Jill, who is Eva’s age. We used to live two doors down from Susie and Jill and my girls are best friends. We called it our “all girl ski trip.” We looked forward to it every year. We haven’t gone the last few years and just recently, we talked about going again. “This year,” Eva and Sophia informed me, “we have to take Cheryl.” I was touched by how thoughtful and magnanimous they were in including their step sister, because after all, this was a special thing that we had always done together.
When I told Cheryl of our plans, she was a little skeptical. She said she really wanted to go, but she was afraid of feeling like a 3rd wheel. She went on to explain that whenever Eva is with Jill they tend to ditch her. So… we came up with a solution. I suggested that she bring along a friend and this year it would be a “super all girl ski trip.” Cheryl was very happy and even told me the friend she wants to take.
I explained to her that in blended families we often have to find ways to make old traditions new traditions.
Published on June 26, 2010
This past week marked two great family gathering events in the Shwanda household. Paul’s brother and five sisters all flew or drove into Santa Cruz (from as far away as Alabama and Ohio) for a family reunion to celebrate Pop Pop’s 90th birthday. In addition, my ex-husband, Jared, took our two daughters, Sophia and Eva, to his niece’s wedding in New Jersey. Sophia and Eva got to spend the first part of the week with their step dad’s family and the second part of the week with their dad’s family. (Jared’s family is also rather large in that he has one sister and four brothers.)
It was a fun filled, busy and joyful occasion filled with lots of activities during the day with surfing, sailing and kayaking, and in the evenings at each other’s homes playing charades, board games and reminiscing over old photos of Pop Pop in the army and on his wedding day. Those were the moments when I looked at my girls blending in with their “step” aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying themselves and feeling included, even though they don’t share the same heritage, history or genealogy. After Sophia and Eva left for the wedding in New Jersey, where I heard reports that they ripped up the dance floor with their East coast cousins, we had one final big party at our house on the last day of the reunion.
I had planned a menu of grilled chicken kabobs, homemade potato salad and coleslaw. It was a pot luck and everyone brought their contribution. Paul’s older brother decided he wanted the family to take a trip down memory lane and asked his wife to prepare “bun burgers,” a dish their mother made for them as children. It stirred some fond and not so fond memories. (Apparently not everyone liked the bun burgers.) I didn’t quite get the recipe, but I watched them being prepared. Basically, you prepare ground beef like you are making hamburgers. Throw in some spices and some chopped onions, but instead of adding bread crumbs, pick out the bread from the tops of hamburger buns, which leaves a big O, tear it into pieces and add to the mix. The top of the bun is placed on the bottom half of the bun and then on a cookie sheet. Next, scoop up a generous dollop of hamburger meat and place inside the opening of the top bun. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees and just before they are done, top with strips, in an X shape, of Kraft processed American cheese. Place back in oven until melted.
I have to say they were pretty darn good and could easily be adapted to something healthy and rather gourmet if using, say, ground turkey, whole wheat buns and perhaps some goat cheese, instead of the fatty beef and fake cheese. The culinary nostalgia didn’t end there. No. There were fish sticks too! You know, the frozen kind that comes in a box with lots of fillers and mystery ingredients. They were a once-a-week staple in Paul’s family’s house. Paul’s brother felt that no family reunion was complete without fish sticks and bun burgers. As we were standing around the kitchen, noshing on the retro delicacies, he lamented, “Too bad we don’t have fake milk to go with them.” Anyone who grew up in a large, budget stretching family in the 50′s and 60′s would know what fake milk is. I do. My mom used to take powdered milk, mix it with water and add it to the real milk to make it last a little longer. It was gross, but we accepted it because that’s just the way it was.
As Paul’s family reminisced about their childhood memories, I reflected on my own (I’m one of five kids.) and realized that big families are pretty much the same. It isn’t just the food, the family vacations, the sibling squabbles and competition for the bathroom that they have in common, but rather the inherent bonds, life lessons and experiences that go with the territory. I’ve always said being part of a big family prepares you for life’s greatest challenges: To be able to get along with anyone, to know how to wait your turn, to accept delayed gratification and to tolerate things that can at times be somewhat unpleasant.
My thoughts wandered to the future as I pictured myself at Sophia’s or Eva’s wedding and imagined all the guests who would attend. There would be my family, Jared’s family and Paul’s. It would be a blended family wedding… and one hell of a party.
Published on April 23, 2010
My daughter Sophia has recently started her own blog called Stepkids Stories, which is her account of her experiences as a daughter, stepdaughter sister and stepsister in a blended family. Many of her stories bring tears to my eyes, tears of sadness and joy, when I recall, through her perspective, all the struggles, challenges and changes we faced in becoming a blended family. I am happy to report that it appears that we have come out on the side of success and happiness, but for a while there it did not always seem that that would be the case. I welcome you to read her stories and to share with others, especially all the kids and stepkids in your life. Sophia is also looking for comments and contributions, as she is very anxious to hear your stories too. You may contact Sophia via email: Sophia(at)Shwanda(dot)com.
Published on April 12, 2010
One of the many issues blended families and stepchildren have to deal with is the conflict over divided loyalties. Our family is no exception.
Last week I told you about our trip to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to look at colleges for Sophia. We had a blast. I took all three girls, my two daughters, Sophia and Eva, and my stepdaughter Cheryl. We planned the trip a few months ago and even went shopping for new outfits; shorts, swimsuits, etc. just for the occasion. What I did not plan for was that we were going to be gone for Easter. I had gotten the dates mixed up and thought Easter was the following week, which meant that I had actually planned the trip so that we would be gone for Easter.
A few days before we were to leave, Paul got a call from his ex-wife, Cheryl’s mother, saying that Cheryl had decided she did not want to go because she would much rather stay home and hang out with her friends. She also informed Paul that Cheryl was afraid to tell me herself for fear that I would be “mad at her”. Paul relayed the news to me, and I did not buy it for one second. Not want to go because you want to hang out with your friends??? Come on. I knew there was more to the story, but I didn’t want to put on any pressure for fear that I would be characterized as one who “gets mad at things”. So I said nothing, even though I was concerned that Cheryl would be missing out on a great opportunity to visit colleges and that she would regret it. Quite frankly, I was a little pissed. I told Paul, “You should encourage her to go. This is a great opportunity. Seeing these college campuses will inspire her.” But he resisted my prodding, which only exacerbated the problem further. Our differing parenting styles often clash. When it comes to kids (and just about anything), I believe in getting to the bottom of things. Paul does not. He thinks we should let things flow “organically”. “Don’t get involved and don’t imagine things,” he always tells me. So I kept my mouth shut and I didn’t say anything to Cheryl about not going.
The night before we were to leave Cheryl was sitting on the couch playing on her iPod and I asked her, “So, Cheryl, what are your plans for this weekend?” She replied, “I’m going on the trip with you.” This was news to me, but I did not let on. Instead I said, “Well let’s do your laundry and get you packed” While we were in the laundry room sorting through her clothes she admitted to me, ” I never not wanted to go. I just felt bad about being gone over Easter…” and her voice trailed off. I realized she felt guilty about leaving her parents. After all, I’m not her mother. She had divided loyalties.
I called Cheryl’s mother to tell her Cheryl had had a change of heart and decided to go. She was surprised. If she was disappointed she didn’t let on. She had Easter plans with Cheryl, but to her credit, she did not object and respected Cheryl’s decision to come with us on the trip. Cheryl and her mom celebrated Easter on Wednesday after we returned. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do in a blended family.
Published on April 4, 2010
Sophia, Eva, Cheryl and I are on a Southern California tour this week to visit colleges that Sophia is considering. We arrived yesterday in San Luis Obispo and have an appointment tomorrow to check out Cal Poly. We are having a blast. I am delighted to watch the girls explore their new surroundings, making coffee in the room, checking out the ice machine and testing the firmness of the mattresses. I am always so charmed by the sisterly camaraderie they have. You would never know that they are not blood sisters who were not raised together from birth. Their allegiance and loyalty to each other is astounding and remarkable.
Last night we had a nice dinner in downtown San Luis Obispo, which the locals here refer to as “SLO Town” for its meandering, laid back pace. We window shopped and checked out Bubblegum Alley, a local landmark that is known for its accumulation of bubblegum on the walls that has apparently been written up in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was fascinating and gross all at the same time. Later back at the hotel they watched a movie together in bed while I did homework. We just finished a workout at the fitness center and they are at the pool. When they return we are going to head down to Avila Beach to check out the sights and maybe do SOME SHOPPING !!!.
Published on March 4, 2010
Yesterday was Sam’s 19th birthday and we all went out to dinner to celebrate. My girls, Eva and Sophia, were at their dad’s and did not attend, but Paul’s kids, along with Susie, his ex-wife, met up at a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Capitola called Canton’s. I highly recommend it.
It was a pleasant evening. We each had assigned jobs to order various courses, ( mine was appetizers) but desert was the usual fortune cookie. Sam went first to read aloud his fortune, but before he did he said, “I think I got Dad and Carol”s.” (Carol is me, those of you who don’t know.) It said: “You will be very happy with your spouse.”
“What a nice thing to say”, I thought, not only because he could recognize that his father and I are happy, but because he acknowledged my existence in the first place. You see, Sam and I have a very turbulent past, so to speak. There are times when he looks at me with such disdain I swear he hates me. If I had to list all the mistakes I made as a step mother, most would begin with Sam.
When I first entered Sam’s life he was coasting along just fine without me. Both of his parents worked outside the home and there I was working from home and therefore able to observe him not doing his homework, eating crap and playing too many video games. I felt it was my role to correct his behavior and made it my mission to do so. In hindsight, this was not such a great idea. It not only back fired in my face, it bred resentment. I hope someday Sam will look back on my “interference” as caring rather than an annoyance. Only time will tell. If I had to do it all over again I would simply leave his parenting up to his parents and stay out of it. I set myself up to be the bad guy, even though I was well intentioned. Perhaps Sam’s acknowledgement that I was good for his father was the first nod in my favor. Maybe I am making way too much of this, but sometimes I just have to take what I can get.