Wendy Swallow
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Breaking Apart: Book Info

Q: Why write a memoir about remarrying? It seems like a very private, very personal decision … why do you think other people will be interested in your story?

Yes, it is a very private decision, that is true. But, I think that is partly why I thought a book about a couple making the decision to remarry would be so compelling — because it seems most people don’t discuss what a difficult decision it can be. Like many divorced people, I had a fairly naïve view of remarriage — that you remarried simply if and when you fell in love again. But when I fell in love with Charlie and started thinking about how we would merge our families, I began to see just how complicated it was going to be. I decided a book that took an honest look at these issues could only help others facing the possibility.

Q: What are some of the issues you examine in your book that may surprise readers?

I was surprised to discover how reluctant I was to be a wife again, even though I had very much missed being a wife when I was single. I enjoyed the financial security marriage offered … I missed living with someone who loved me and having the added help with the kids. But I was stubborn about relinquishing the autonomy I once had as a single parent and the solitude I enjoyed when my boys were with their father. While I loved being with my new husband, I missed being alone and being the boss of my life. The minute you commit to a marriage again, you become a partner. And I still struggle with having to consider the partnership all the time. That came as a shock to me.

Q: Your book includes some of the newest research on stepfamily dynamics. Why did you think that was an important element to your story?

When Charlie and I announced our engagement, the psychologist who had worked with my boys since my divorce warned me that three out of every four remarriages with children involved don’t make it. They fail, and the family then suffers a second divorce. That number really shook me. I had no idea that statistic was so high, and I started paying attention to the latest research on remarriage in order to better understand that number better. I wanted to discover what Charlie and I could do to improve our odds. I encountered all those depressing statistics about families and kids of divorce when my first marriage broke up, and I realized how corrosive to your morale this information can be. In doing the research on remarriage, I was happy to find that Charlie and I had many factors in our relationship that would work to our favor, but I also found some things we needed to watch. The research really helped me understand what I was taking on. I included the best parts of it in my book so that readers could benefit from it, as well.

Q: You and Charlie have four boys who are now teens or young adults. How are they doing, and what factors made it easier for you when you moved in together?

What the research tells us is that kids can make or break a remarriage, if they really want to. Fortunately for us, Charlie and I didn’t have angry children. We had boys that were occasionally grumpy, as all kids are who are being dragged through something they might not chose, but each of them was old enough to recognize how their lives improved through our remarriage and therefore they didn’t have reason to try to undermine it. They were sweet kids who wanted their parents to be happy, and that carried us a long, long way. I also think it was easier that they were all close in age (four boys ranging from 12-16 when we married), and that they were the same gender. It made for pretty uniform decision-making, although their needs were hardly identical. I also think it helped that Charlie and I remarried slowly and deliberately, letting the kids get used to the idea in advance and to feel supported by our extended families.

Q: How does this marriage differ from your first?

Second marriages differ from first marriages in so many ways they don’t even seem to be the same thing. The optimism is very different — more measured, more complex. You hope wildly for some things, while feeling jaded about others. Many factors are much knottier the second time around such as the finances, relationships with children, lifestyles, and habits. I wrote an entire chapter on what I call the clash of family cultures, what it feels like to suddenly try to blend very different households. I wrote another entire chapter on dealing with in-laws and the people I think of as “para-family”: ex-spouses, former in-laws, half-siblings. It’s a lot to deal with, and I think many people go into remarriage with only a minimal understanding of the issues they will have to manage.

Q: What is it like to become a stepmother?

Being a stepmother is one of the least attractive roles any woman can play. I’ve been lucky, though. My stepsons have an active, loving mom in their lives, and since they were older, they don’t need me to really “parent” them. More than anything else, I get to parent them by providing the things that make for a fun, relaxed life together: regular meals, help with laundry and school, a second opinion to balance their dad, love and support and celebration for all they do. But it is different than the way I parent my own two boys, and sometimes that makes for conflict.

Something I discovered in doing this book was how much stepmoms feel misunderstood by society. Stepmoms often shoulder an enormous amount of child care for stepkids, yet rarely get the credit or appreciation from outside. I’ve talked with a lot of stepparents, and I think society really needs to rethink the stereotypes. Stepparents aren’t all perfect, but most people who work hard to help raise other people’s children should be acknowledged for that difficult and often thankless work. There are many kids out there growing up stronger and healthier because of stepparents. I have a much deeper appreciation now of how much dedication it takes.

Q: What is the biggest challenge to being remarried?

First, it’s mustering the courage to do it, and after the vows, making emotional space in your complicated life for the relationship. Charlie and I don’t always pull it off — we often get very tied up by our kids and our work. But we do best when we take time alone together on a regular basis. It’s easier now that the boys are older, but we still have to carve it out and physically put it on the schedule. I decided early on that our kids would be best served, in the long run, if our marriage was really strong and healthy. So that’s what we try to do. It’s tough, because each year there seems to be a new layer of things to deal with as we work through our defenses.