About Carol

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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I would like my blog to be a forum for my readers to share their stories and experiences and express their views and opinions about being a part of a blended family. I am working on a book tentatively titled:Blended Family Stories. It will be an in depth look at the real life challenges and joys of successful blended families. If you would like to be part of my research I'd love to hear from you.Take my Blended Family survey

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  • Published on December 23, 2012

    I love Christmas. As a mother of five children who works full time this can be a very busy time of year for me, but I embrace it wholeheartedly because  I have learned how to relax and  enjoy the holidays by being being efficient and by delegating certain tasks to others. (Paul wrapped all of the presents and I hired a house keeper to clean the house.) It saves my sanity and I get to focus on the things I really enjoy.

    I shop online as much as possible and Paul and I have a brilliant time saving idea that has become a family tradition: we give the kids money to buy each other presents.  They know what each other likes and wants and we don’t have to worry about it. What’s more, they get to experience the joy of giving. Yesterday Eva and Cheryl went Christmas shopping and when they came home, Eva announced, “I’m so proud of my gift choices. I really put a lot of thought into them and I just can’t wait to give everyone what I got them!”

    Here’s a Shwanda family Christmas story that always warms my heart. Every year Paul gives his kids money to buy their mother a Christmas present. One year Cheryl was in charge  of holding the money and she lost some of it. It must have fallen out of her pocket. She was crushed. She started to cry because she could no longer afford the present she had picked out for her mother. My girls, empathizing with her, gave her some of their money so she would have enough to complete her purchase. What wonderful sisters and I’m sure their act of kindness and generosity meant the world to Cheryl.

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  • Published on December 29, 2009

    Christmas morning treeIn spite of my trepidations that things would go awry based on the pre-Christmas angst all the kids were experiencing, we ended up having a wonderful Christmas after all. Sophia and Eva woke up Christmas morning around 8:30 and I made breakfast for all of us.  Afterward Paul  lit a fire in the front room while we waited for his kids to return from their mother’s. The girls were a bit mellow and kind of funky, the excitement of “Let’s go open our presents!!!” was definitely not there. In a way they seemed kind of sad, but once their stepsibs arrived the mood elevated to joyous excitement. We all settled in the great room under the big tree and Cheryl was the self-appointed mistress of ceremonies and handed out the presents. Everyone took his or her turn in a very civilized fashion as we all savored the moment of giving and receiving. I especially liked watching the children open the gifts they bought for each other.  They have developed a genuine fondness and affection for each other and truly enjoyed sharing the excitement of the day.

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  • 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.

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  • Published on December 14, 2009

    Christmas tree 2009aWe got our Christmas tree on Saturday. The kids had been looking forward to it all week. We had such a wonderful time picking it out.  This is our fourth Christmas together as a blended family. It has really become quite a joy to watch the children cherish their new family traditions. We went to our usual cut-it-yourself tree farm, but they did not have the size of tree we wanted. Apparently we got the biggest tree last year. Instead we went to another tree farm and in spite of the rain,  had a blast finding just the right tree. We got a cypress. No needles. Full and thick with lots of stiff branches to hang our combined collection of ornaments. When we got home, Paul and the boys put it in the stand and anchored it to the wall (a necessary precaution  here in earthquake country) and we all decorated it. Sophia and Mark thought the tree needed more lights so they made  a run to the store to get some more. Everyone had their input, particularly me who went through all the boxes of decorations to make sure all the important ones got on the tree. Each ornament has a story and a sentimental memory. The cinnamon dough ornaments my girls made in kindergarten, the painted ceramic ones Cheryl made in preschool and the “Baby’s first Christmas” ornaments that were gifts from friends and relatives. I even have decorations I made with my mother when I was a child. All those memories,  past, present and future, are on that tree. It is that one constant that makes every Christmas “The best Christmas ever!”

    The next day the children went Christmas shopping together to buy presents for each other. This is another blended family tradition we started. Rather than Paul and I shopping for all the kids’ gifts, we give them money and let them do it themselves. They really get into the spirit of giving and this year was especially poignant because somehow Cheryl lost a big portion of her money and was quite upset. The other children all chipped in to give her what they had left over so she could finish her shopping and Sophia consoled her by saying, “Let’s just imagine that the person who found it was someone who really needed it.” I think having the love and support of your family is the greatest Christmas gift of all.”

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