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 14, 2012
Yesterday’s Mother’s Day celebration at the Shwanda household definitely ranked as Number #1 in my book. For one, I got to celebrate with my step kids, as well as my daughters, and that was really special.
Sophia and Eva, my girls, made me homemade waffles for breakfast. Cheryl, my step daughter, was at a sleepover. When she got home I took the three girls out for tea. (Mark did not want to go, understandably. He stayed home and watched the Giant’s game with Paul.) We went to a lovely new tea room that just opened up in Santa Cruz. Very Zen. Soft music, various teas that were served with various temperatures of water. (Apparently it makes a difference.) After the server gave us the lecture on no WiFi, cell phones, iPads, laptops or any electronic devices, as if on cue, my cell phone rang. I was about to ignore it when I saw the caller was Sam, my oldest step son calling me from the Navy!!! I leaped across the restaurant to run outside so I could talk. I was so touched I almost wept with joy, but I didn’t dare for fear that he would think I was a weirdo and swear off calling me ever again. His call was especially poignant for me since he and I haven’t always seen eye to eye over the years and have butted heads on a number of occasions. That he had the thoughtfulness to call me meant the world to me.
When we got home, there was a bouquet of roses and a lovely note waiting for me from Paul who had made us dinner. Cheryl gave me a beautiful hand made card thanking me for my generosity and telling me that I’m a great step mom. I beamed.
Yesterday was indeed the best (Step) Mother’s Day ever.
Published on April 12, 2012
Thanks to everyone who voted for me in the Circle of Mom Top 25 Blended Family Blog contest. I finished 14th and that’s definitely in the top 25! The winners of the contest were all asked several questions about what it is like to be a (step)mom in a blended family. Some of their answers may surprise you. Some of my answers surprised me. You can click here to read the questions and vote on which answers are your favorites.
Published on October 4, 2011
I’ve been asked to be a contributing blogger to a new site geared toward moms called Parent Society. Here is my first post on a topic that unfortunately, I know a lot about, Queen Bees, Mean Girls and Frenemies.
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 May 13, 2010
One of the most sensitive issues in the whole blended family situation is the name thing. My kids have a different last name than my step kids and I now have a different last name than my children. Which is the dominant name in the family? We sort of solved that problem by combining the two names into one, Shwanda, which is the name of this blog. (To read more about the transformation click here.)
I changed my last name when I got married to my first husband because I wanted to have the same last name as my children. Maybe not the feminist thing to do, but it was my decision. When I got married to my second husband he was sensitive to the fact that I had my first husband’s last name. Go figure. He told me he wouldn’t have minded if I had kept my maiden name, but the first husband’s last name kinda bugged him. I debated a bit because then my children would be offended and they were, but I changed my last name to my Paul’s anyway and my kids eventually understood. I explained to them that their last name would always be their tie to Daddy and that I wanted my last name to be my tie to my husband. So it was settled. But not quite.
Sophia, my oldest daughter, wrote about this very subject in her blog Stepkid Stories. In her post titled The Name Game Sophia revealed that she has often been asked if she has any plans to change her last name. She considers this a bizarre and intrusive question and so do I. Why would she change her last name? Even if her father were dead, I would never change my children’s last name. I could see if her dad were a dead beat and not in the picture, but anyone who knows us well knows that Sophia’s dad is a very active part of her life. Even still… it is NO ONE’S business and is a question that should never be asked.
Published on May 4, 2010
While I was out dress shopping with Eva on Saturday, Sophia was at the high school taking her SAT’s. When she finished around 1pm she was starving so she came home and picked up Cheryl to take her to Burger King and then for a ride down to the beach. Sophia treated Cheryl since Cheryl has no money and Sophia has some money from her babysitting job. Sophia is very generous that way. She doesn’t ask to be reimbursed. She is a wonderful big sister. She often treats both Cheryl and Eva to movies and Starbucks. She reminds me of my big sisters, Nina and Pam who were also very good to me. The difference, of course, is that I was born into a family of older sisters. Cheryl was not.
Cheryl once told me that she cried on our wedding day. When I asked her why she said, “I cried tears of joy that I finally had sisters.” Sophia and Eva were not so cheerful that day because at the time they often considered Cheryl to be ”INSANELY ANNOYING!!!” All that has changed. Now, they wear each other’s clothes, trade makeup, ride bikes to the beach, go to the movies, hang out talking in their rooms and do just about everything together. Eva and Cheryl have this ritual every weekend when we are altogether. They pull out Eva’s wipe board and write a weekend “to do” list with tasks such as: (The spelling and parentheses are theirs.)
1. Put lemon juice in our hair and lay out in the sun.
2. Work on our tans.
3. Go to da beach.
4. Partay (not really)
5. Go to D.J.’s and get candy.
6. Create a dance routine.
7. Make a movie of our dance routine.
8. Get a samich at Joe’s
9. Wash Joey
10. Have a picnic on the trampoline.
This is the life of a 12 and 13 year-old. And what a life it is. I always tell them, “Do not ever tell me you didn’t have a wonderful childhood.”
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 16, 2010Fellow stepmom blogger and life coach, social psychologist and stepfamily educator, Joan Sarin of Stepmom SOS offers counseling for members of blended families. She and I have talked on the phone several times and I find her a wealth of information, guidance and inspiration. I strongly urge you to check out her blog. In addition, she is asking all stepmoms, stepdads, stepdaughters and stepsons to share their stories with her in a video format for a project she is creating called Stepfamily Diaries.In this video she and her son (now 26) recall her wedding day to her second husband, the happiness she felt, and the pain, anguish and uncertainty that her son and stepdaughter experienced. One thing Joan told me that really resonated with me and I want to share with you is that you are not alone. Members of stepfamilies tend to think their struggles are only happening to them, but that is not true. Many of us are experiencing the same challenges and frustrations and could be helped with counseling. She said if those resources were available to her and her family, it would have saved them a lot of heartache, which is why she is now an advocate and counselor for stepfamilies. Please visit her website, Stepmom SOS for more information.
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.