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 March 19, 2012
Below is an except to a follow up piece I wrote for Parent Society called My Gay Ex-Husband about why I think gay people can and do make good parents, and why I am in favor of same sex marriage. Although the original title was called, Do Gay People Make Good Parents?, I now think a more apt title would have been, Can Gay People Make Good Parents? because as one of my readers pointed out, it doesn’t really matter if you are gay or straight, you could be a great or lousy parent regardless of your sexual orientation.
When my oldest daughter turned 16, my ex-husband, “J” bought her a car. He asked me for a ride to the dealership so he could pay for it and pick it up. As I drove away from the parking lot, I glanced bank and watched him as he sat down at the salesman’s desk, pulled out his reading glasses from his pocket, put them on and took out his check book. I couldn’t help but think, “How dad-like.” Yes, my ex-husband has turned into his father. Aside from the divorce, this could be a modern Norman Rockwell story, an all-American rite of passage. Dad buys his daughter a car. What a guy. The difference here of course, for those of you not up to speed, is that my ex-husband is gay. Read more…
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 22, 2010
This is the first in a series of Blended Family Stories in which I or one of my fellow moms and stepmoms will recount their experiences, challenges, frustrations and joys being the female head of a blended or stepfamily. If you or anyone you know would like to participate in my video log, please contact me at Carol@shwanda.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 December 21, 2009
I kept hoping this year’s Christmas would go off without a hitch. I really thought that we had finally worked out all the kinks. But no. There always seems to be something or someone who screws up the works.
As you might expect, blended family holidays, particularly Christmas, can be fraught with thwarted expectations and nostalgic remembrances of how things used to be when mom and dad were still married. Every family has its own traditions and blending them and finding a common ground is the hardest to do this time of year.
When I was a single mom my two girls always spent Christmas eve and woke up Christmas morning at my house. My ex would come over in time to watch them open their presents and we would all have breakfast and play with the new toys. There was no stress or drama and everyone was happy.
Things were a little different for Paul. When he was a single dad his kids spent Christmas eve at their mom’s and woke up Christmas morning at her house and he stayed at home alone. He didn’t get invited to go over to her house and he did not get to share in the joy of Christmas morning with his children. They would come to his house later in the afternoon, but it just wasn’t the same. Two years ago Paul decided he wanted this to change and told his ex he wanted his turn having the kids wake up Christmas morning with him. She was not happy about it, but went along with it when they decided they would alternate the holiday every year. I, in turn, made the same arrangement with my ex giving him his turn to have the kids on Christmas morning. (Are you keeping up? I know, it’s exhausting keeping track.)
This year was supposed to be our turn to have the kids wake up here on Christmas morning, but apparently Paul’s ex “forgot” and went ahead and make plans (without consulting us) to go out of town on Christmas day with her boyfriend so she has to have the kids on Christmas eve and Christmas morning. She promised that next year we could have the kids. We went along with her request seein’s how she was going to bring the kids over at 10am on Christmas morning anyway, but here’s the wrinkle. My kids are still waking up here with us and when they get up they want to go to the tree and open their presents right away. They don’t want to have to wait until 10am when Paul’s kids come over, which is what Cheryl is insisting that we do. She accused Sophia of being rude for not waiting for them to come over so they can open presents as a family. While I appreciate Cheryl’s logic, I don’t think she is looking at the big picture. When she wakes up at her mom’s is she going to have to wait to open her presents? No. She was very insistent and would not listen to reason. This made all three girls cry. Sophia resented being called rude as well as the demands dictating how she spend her Christmas morning. Eva, who is very self-sacrificing and is willing to wait until Paul’s kids came over, was upset that there was a conflict and said, “Why does everything have to be so hard?” My sentiments exactly. Why does it have to be so hard? I’m weary. I’m weary of having to constantly negotiate, mediate and compromise. Dealing with the kids is one thing, but having to also accomodate the demands of the ex-spouse is frustrating and exhausting.
I tried to smooth things over the best I could and promised my girls I would talk to Paul when he came home to explain the situation so he could reason with Cheryl. I also suggested a compromise, “How about you open just a few presents” but neither side would budge. When I told Paul the whole story he backed me up and said he would talk to Cheryl. (He hasn’t had a chance to do this yet because the kids went to their other parents’ on Friday.) Knowing this made my girls feel better. Still, I am dreading another confrontation. It makes me very sad. I hope we can get past this and still enjoy our Christmas.
In the meantime, I did try to get Sophia to put things in perspective. Waiting to have to open your presents is better than not having presents to open. And Cheryl’s demands that she wait are borne of her own need to feel included and to not be left out. After all, we are a family and families open their presents together. A conundrum that will take the wisdom of Solomon to solve. If you readers have any suggestions, thoughts or comments I would love to hear them.
Published on December 14, 2009
If you moms and stepmoms are looking for a great holiday gift for all the dads and stepdads in your life, I highly recommend a wonderfully hilarious and warm hearted book I just finished reading: The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad by Joel Schwartzberg. It it a series of essays that are essentially slices of the life of a divorced dad with three children. When Joel asked me to review the book I was eager to see the subject of divorce and single parenting through a man’s perspective and I was surprised that in many instances it was not that different from my own. Like Joel, I too worried that I had the “divorced” label tattooed to my head when I dropped off and picked up my kids from school alone. And then there’s the dreaded back-to-school night. I could really identify with his experiences and I found myself routing for him as he rebuilt his life, forged stronger bonds with his three children, established new family traditions and eventually found love again with his second wife, Anne. Joel’s self-deprecating and insightful humor reminded me a lot of another of my favorite “dad” authors, Dave Barry, which only goes to show you that being divorced doesn’t stop you from being a great parent. Kudos to Joel Schwartzberg for not only penning a delightful book, but for being a terrific dad as well. To read more about Joel click here.
Published on November 5, 2009
Published on June 14, 2009
Yesterday I wrote about my feelings about Sam graduating from high school. I was surprised by what I wrote because it was not what I set out to write. I wanted to share with you the events at the graduation and party afterward because a lot could have gone wrong considering the circumstances and our blended family dynamic.
We decided a month ago that we would have Sam’s party at our house. I told Susie, Paul’s ex that we would host the party and she told me she would bring the cake and drinks and that her boyfriend would attend the party along with her parents. HER PARENTS??? HER PARENTS???? I was surprised that they were attending because in the four years that I have known Paul I have never met them. They only live a four hour drive away, but they rarely visit. In fact Paul said that in the 12 years he was married to Susie, they only visited twice. Paul has always had a strained relationship with them and has not seen or had any contact with his ex in-laws in over five years, since his divorce from Susie.
Well, what to expect. I have to admit I was dying of curiosity. Paul is a gentleman on every level so I knew there would be no fireworks from him. He would be civil and gracious and avoid conflict at all costs. But what about the grand parents? How would they behave? I was a tad nervous. I didn’t want anything to spoil Sam’s day and I was determined to be sure that he had the best graduation party ever. So I decided that I would pretend that I had no inside story or preconceived notions about Susie’s parents and I treated them just like I would any other guests in my home.
We met them in the parking lot where the graduation was to take place. I could see the look on Susie’s mom’s face when she saw Paul. It was definitely strained. She greeted Paul with a handshake and said a terse “hello” to me. Once we got our seats on the bleachers (we sat at opposite ends) there was no interaction. I knew that it wasn’t until we got back to the house that we would see how the evening was going to play out.
I was in the kitchen when they arrived. Now keep in mind, our house used to be Paul and Susie’s house. We’ve remodeled it extensively so it looks a lot different, but still, to them it was once the home of their daughter. It must have been difficult for them. They came through the portico door and I went over to greet them. I said, “Thank you so much for coming. Welcome to our home.” I think that warm gesture broke the ice and set the tone for the evening. Susie’s mom asked if she could help in the kitchen so I gave her some jobs to do. The act of all of us preparing the meal together really relaxed everyone. I asked her about her teaching career. I told her how much I loved her grandchildren and how grateful I was to have them in my life. We looked through the kids’ yearbooks. I showed her the treasure box and checker board Mark made in wood shop. I gave her a bottle of my friend Les’ olive oil. Later, we sat outside by the fire and drank a champagne toast to Sam.
When it was time for them to leave, Susie’s mom threw her arms around me. I looked her in the eyes and said to her, “I know this must not have been easy for you.” She replied, ” You made it easy.”
Published on May 22, 2009
It has been called to my attention that if you Google “gay ex-husband”, my blog comes up first. Number One on the World Wide Web. Isn’t that something? This is my claim to fame — or notoriety, depending on how you look at it. How many people would kill for that kind of ranking? All kidding aside, I am glad in a way. I wrote a separate page for my blog, My Gay Ex-Husband, because I knew there had to be other women out there who were grappling with the shock of discovering that their husband’s were gay and would have no idea where to turn for comfort, support, answers and direction. So in solidarity, I wrote about my experiences so these women everywhere would know they were not alone.
As you might imagine, I have had a lot of emails from women from all over the country. They don’t post comments on my blog, but they do write to me. I would never publish their letters and I never discuss what they tell me, even with my husband (who forgets everything I tell him anyway), but I would like to offer to my reading public the gist of these letters since there is an uncanny similarity to all of them. Here are some of their frequently asked questions:
#1. How did you get over it? How did you get past the pain, humiliation and anger so that you could move on with your life?
This is a biggie. How does anyone get over anything? A failed marriage is a failed marriage and there is no guarantee that I would not have gotten divorced if I had married a straight guy. Still I was pretty pissed when you figure that if I had married a straight guy I might have had a better shot at staying married. I felt like I had no control over the situation, which was frustrating and, oddly, also liberating. It was not my fault. Given the information that was presented to me at the time of my marriage, I felt like I had made a good decision. I was given a free pass.
#2. How did you forgive?
This is kind of tied into the first question, but let me elaborate a bit. I think one of my best character traits (if I may so so myself) and traits we as a democratic, civilized society can use a little more of, is my compassion, empathy and the ability to see through someone else’s perspective. Intellectually I knew that we live in a society that demonizes homosexuality. Rick Warren, the pastor who said the opening prayer at Obama’s inauguration, has likened homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. It is no wonder gay people feel oppressed, ostracized and the need to closet their sexuality. In that context, I couldn’t blame my gay ex-husband, Jared, for attempting to deny his true sexual identity. It made me more understanding and hence, more forgiving.
#3. What did you tell the kids?
I told them the truth, warts and all. I told them I was sad, but I made it clear to them that even though I was down, I was not out. I firmly believe children take their cues from their parents and if I could recover, they could too. I explained to them that we had to let Daddy go to be happy, which is the greatest gift anyone can give to anyone. Dad would still be in our lives, he just was not going to live with us anymore. (Although he came over for dinner many times those first few months.) I told them that there is nothing wrong with being gay, but many people do not share our acceptance and openness about it. To this day, the girls are very selective with whom they confide in about their father being gay.
#4. How did you find happiness again?
I found it mostly because I wanted to, but not until I had given myself sufficient time to grieve,which is a very important part of the healing process. When you avoid pain by not processing it, you can not get over it. After an initial scoundrel period in which I rushed into dating in order to fill the void in my life, I eventually realized that I needed time alone in order to come to terms with what I really wanted out of life and to discover what would make me truly happy.
#5. Where did you turn to for support?
My first action, after I poured my heart out to my friends, was to get professional counseling. I made a few inquiries and found a very supportive therapist who had experience in dealing with exactly what I was going through. In addition, I searched the Internet and found The Straight Spouse Support Network ,founded my Amity Pierce Buxton, whose husband came out in the ’70′s. Amity was sweet enough to email me and I talked on the phone with members from the local chapter. I also read several books that were very helpful and made me realize that I was neither crazy nor alone. Here are a view titles: Pretzel Logic: A Novel , The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families, Revised and Expanded Edition and My Husband Is Gay: A Woman’s Survival Guide.
It has been more than ten years since Jared, my ex, first confessed to me that he was gay, and quite frankly, I rarely think about it anymore. My days now are filled with loving and enjoying my new husband, our busy lives as a blended family, working on our family business and, now that the kids are older and more independent, fulfilling and pursuing my own dreams.
Published on May 21, 2009
There was a time in my life when I never left the house without wearing lipstick. These days I feel I’m lucky if I get out the door wearing clothes. At the risk of feeling sorry for myself, I can’t help but wonder what it is like to have just two kids who go to one school and live in one house vs. what I do have, which is five kids who go to four schools and commute among three households. Yesterday was a particularly shitty day. I put on my fat pants (which smelled like mildew because I let them sit in the washer for two days) and they were snug (fuck!), I noticed weird, long, stray hairs on my chin (Paul’s getting them in his ears. I keep forgetting to tell him.) and Eva’s science grade plummeted even more. I asked her why she keeps forgetting to turn in her work and she shrugged and said, “Why do people trip?” How do I argue with that kind of logic?
I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. The world felt like it was spinning around me and I knew I needed a breather and some reassurance from someone that I was not a BAD MOTHER. As if the timing could not have been more perfect, author Ayelet Waldman was doing a reading and book signing for her new book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace at our local book store. It was a kid free night so Paul and I had dinner downtown and then headed over to the book signing. Listening to her talk about her own bad mother experiences (her youngest son keeps getting suspended from kindergarten) made me realize that I was not alone. I now no longer feel guilty that I don’t sew angel wings on costumes or feign interest in my tweener daughter’s stories about the weird kid in her class who eats paper. If you want to hear Ayelet tell it herself, click here.