Our Family is a series that celebrates two-mommy families and delves into some of the challenges they face. The goal of the series is to depict same-sex parent families in a way that’s authentic and dispels myths associated with same-sex childrearing.
ELIXHER had the opportunity to talk to Chwanda and Kacey Frierson-Nixon, a lesbian couple who made national headlines when they embarked on an “I Do Marathon” to legally wed in eight cities in ten days blending their family of seven children.
ELIXHER: How long have you been together and how did you two meet?
CHWANDA: It was three years on April 5th of this year. [stops and does the math as Kacey gives her the eye to make sure she knows] 3 years and 2 days after we started dating we got legally married.
ELIXHER: How did you meet?
CHWANDA: Our sisters knew of each other before we knew each other. We probably were passersby but we never knew it. We also had a mutual friend who had a get -together and we went to her house. That’s where we were introduced.
ELIXHER: Tell us about your family, and how did you know it was right to blend your family together?
KACEY: That was hard because I’ve always been out, so my kids always knew that as they’ve grown up. When they started seeing Chwanda come over more and more, she would tell them that she had kids, but they would meet them one day. That was her answer because she was in a heterosexual relationship and they had been together 17 years, and it was a transition for her more than it was for me.
ELIXHER: At that time, how old were your kids?
KACEY: 13, 11, and 10.
CHWANDA: 14, 13, 11, and 9.
ELIXHER: So how did you know it was the right time, especially considering that for Chwanda this was your first permanent relationship with a woman?
CHWANDA: I can’t say that I knew it was right. It was just what I wanted. I was at the point where I was all about me and my happiness when I had missed that before worrying about if the kids were okay and if [my marriage] was okay, but mainly about the kids. When you leave a relationship, it’s hard to leave when it’s the kids and their father because it creates turmoil for them. I never really knew if it was the right time to do it, but she sort of pushed me into it. She’s a picture taker, so she takes a lot of pictures and she puts them up on Facebook and everywhere. One day, she wanted to post a picture of us on her profile because she was tired. I wouldn’t say I knew when the right time was but that’s what happened.
KACEY: I’m not one of those people that’s good at hiding. I’m just like if this is who I’m with and this is who I love, I’m going to show it to the world. I’m not too keen on not sharing or having to restrict myself about what I can and cannot say about whatever it is that makes me happy. And she makes me happy.
ELIXHER: What was the adjustment like Chwanda for your children?
CHWANDA: It was rough. It was a rough start at first because they just wanted to be with their dad. They wanted their family together. My youngest son was like, “Mom, I just want you to be happy, period.” They were meeting Kacey before and they liked her already. Once me and their dad talked to them and told them, they were sad at first but they adapted well.
As far as them with Kacey’s kids, they were a little leery at first because they were raised differently. Kacey’s kids are more vocal than mine are. They were allowed to say a little bit more than my kids were allowed to say and express themselves. Whereas my kids were raised in church and all that, so it was just different for them.
ELIXHER: How would you describe a typical day with you two and your children? Is there a such thing as a typical day?
KACEY: No, we never have the same day twice. Never. It’s always something—somebody doing something, somebody arguing with somebody about something, us doing something.
CHWANDA: And it’s always someone with attitude. We don’t know who the person is that doesn’t want to be involved with us on that day. We very rarely have a day when they’re all just cool.
ELIXHER: You have a house full of teenagers! Our hats off completely to you. What do your children refer to each of you as?
CHWANDA: In the beginning my kids were calling her Miss Kacey, as a respect thing because she was a friend. But as time went on, on their own they decided to start calling her mom. They each did it individually on their own. My youngest was the one who took the longest to stop calling her Miss Kacey and to start calling her mom.
KACEY: If we’re both in the same room, they’ll still just say “mom” and if Chwanda answers, they’ll say, “Not you, the other one.”
CHWANDA: They started that if we’re in the same room, my kids will call me Mom One and her kids will call her Mom One. Her kids call me Chwanda.
KACEY: Unless they want something.
CHWANDA: Every blue moon, they’ll call me mom but other than that I’m Chwanda. Not Miss Chwanda, just Chwanda. Ask me if I like it, no.
ELIXHER: What is your favorite family activity?
KACEY: Going to eat! If we’re going out to eat, and we’re not cooking, they love that, especially if we’re going to a buffet.
CHWANDA: They are just happy to get out period because it’s seldom that we can. Kacey is very good about finding free things for us to do. If it’s free, she’ll find it and we’ll do it.
ELIXHER: It’s a blessing that they can be appreciative of all of it.
KACEY: And I tell them that even if they don’t like it now or they don’t want to do it that they’re doing it anyway because as they get older, they’ll remember the time their mom dragged them to a juggling place. Who says they’ll ever be able to do that again? They can at least cross that off their list.
CHWANDA: They like to complain about what we’re doing once we say where we’re going. But once we get there, they’re all on board. And they talk about it all the way home and don’t want to go in the house.
KACEY: I like trying to find a different activity. I try to expose them to a lot, so I try not to do the same things over and over. I want my kids to know that the world is bigger than where you live. I tell my kids all the time that they’ve been more places than a lot of adults. While I have them all together—because in a few years they’ll be older and moving out—I want them to have these things to look back on. They may not like it at the time, but when they get older with kids of their own they’ll have the memories.
ELIXHER: What has been your biggest challenge raising your children as a same-sex couple?
CHWANDA: I guess the biggest challenge is about how we raise our kids. We’re different and we still have some ways to go. The kids will be gone before we ever get it together. They aren’t big issues, but it’s certain things where I feel like she needs to be on [a kid] more. I feel like if she has my back, the kids will know it. They’ll also know when she doesn’t have it even if it’s not her intention. I am at home all day and she goes to work. So I’m with them more, so when they come home from school I’m here. There are seven kids, I need her help. I can’t stress that enough. It’s a challenge in raising them based on which parent is home because they feel like I’m home so they know they have to come to me for certain things, but if I say no or have an opinion one thing, they’ll go to her to see what’s going to happen, especially her kids. They’ll go to her because they feel she’s the deciding factor on it all even when we tell them whatever I say when I’m at home goes for both of us, they’re still going to try it.
KACEY: The only time I know what’s going on is if they call me at work. My son will call me at work asking me to do something I’ll tell him to go ask her.
ELIXHER: One of the things that we’re excited for our readers to see, especially our heterosexual readers or those that think there’s something magically different that goes on in a lesbian household is that when it comes down to it, the issues are the same—parenting teenagers, being a blended family, and having people with all different personalities. Period.
KACEY and CHWANDA: Exactly, especially if you have a lot of them.
ELIXHER: What has been your biggest gift in raising your children together?
CHWANDA: For me, it has been learning more about myself as a parent. I was more of a disciplinarian and more strict in the way I was raised, being brought up in the church. Whereas, she’s not as strict and is different in some ways. Being with Kacey, I’ve learned with some things I have to just back off. Some things I have to just let go. She taught me to be more calm and more excepting.
For example, when I met her, the kids were all over the place as far as chores. I felt like it was just three of them but now it was going to be seven when my kids came on the weekends and it’s going to be chaos, so we’ll need schedules and a chore list of when and who so we won’t have any problems. So I created a chore list and she agreed to it and we had the most difficult time, especially with her kids in the beginning. They complained a lot about it. They did it, but I’d have to be on them every day. My kids were already used to it. At first Kacey was more relaxed but as time went on, she was like me and on them and I was the one saying to just let it go. We would go back and forth. After a year went on, I got easier with it and I decided I wasn’t going to stress it. Now somebody comes by and we know it, I’ll just tell the kid to go quickly clean up the bathroom. I compromised and I got a lot better with that because at first I was on them like a sergeant in the military.
KACEY: I’m not that strict. I’m more like if you do it, you do it. But that’s how I was raised, so I can’t teach them any different than what I already know. I’m just not a strict parent, even now, even though we have a bunch of them. Some stuff is literally not worth the fight.
ELIXHER: What advice do you have for same-sex couples that are either thinking about starting their family or blending their families?
CHWANDA: Talk about it first. Know what you want. If you can, when you’re getting to know each other, get to know each other’s kids and talk to each other about how you see things and how you’re going to apply them to make it work for your family. You have to remember that the parents can’t bicker in front of the kids. Go into another room and talk about it, figure it out, and then come back as a united front.
KACEY: You have to be a united front.
CHWANDA: Communication is the key. Period. If you don’t talk to each other and you don’t see eye to eye–and you’re not always going to see eye to eye, you’re not going to always agree–if you can come to a happy medium, you’ll be alright.
ELIXHER: What is something else you want to add to this interview?
CHWANDA: Don’t let the outside masses stop you. If you want to be happy, you have to bring your own happiness. I stopped my own happiness for a long time, listening to everybody else. Now when people come to me, they say I am the most happy person they have seen in a long time. Don’t let anybody stunt your growth because that’s really what it is. And if you find somebody like [Kacey], you’re lucky.
KACEY: I’m lucky! To piggyback on what Chwanda said, you have to do what’s best for you period, no matter what you do. My thing is to live your best life, live it the way you want to live it, make the best memories because at the end of the day I look back on my life and realize how lucky and how happy I am that I’m able to do what makes me happy. I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve done.
ELIXHER: Thank you so much for this interview. I’m sitting here learning so much from you and I can’t wait for our readers to learn, too. Even for our readers that aren’t parents, you have shared an immense amount of wisdom. I appreciate your time and your sharing.
CHWANDA: I do want to add that we are looking for a 10-passenger van because with a family our size, we need the space. You should have seen us crowded into our seven-passenger van for the “I Do Marathon.” So if you know of anything very reasonable or free, please reach out to us on our website.
For more information about the Frierson-Nixon family, check out their website www.idomarathon.com.
– Interview by Aleia Mims
Aleia Mims is a mother, daughter, sister, and friend for whom writing is a form of liberation. She shares her journey so that others may name their own experiences and realize their higher truths. Her commitment to self-empowerment was a key feature of her eleven years as a classroom teacher, and remain as such with her current work at an education non-profit in New York City.