Family Feature – The New Normal
Story by Jennifer Truesdale | Apr 26, 2018
Photography by Anthony Jinson
We take a look at the different types of families in our city.
American families have changed. According to the latest Pew Research Center and U.S. Census Bureau data, 73 percent of children were born to a husband–wife couple in their first marriage during the heart of the baby boom in the 1960s. Today, that number is just 46 percent — the lowest in history. More families form out of remarriage: about 63 percent of remarried couples have children from a previous marriage.
Three local remarried couples know that blending separate families into one household can pose challenges, from fitting into the community to achieving marital bliss and juggling parenting duties.
The Modern-Day Brady Bunch
When Gary and Candie Hill married in 2007, they were both divorced with a child apiece. Gary and his daughter, Amani, are black. Candie and her son, Steven, are white. The couple also has a daughter together, Ella, 9.
“I think because we didn’t make [race] a big deal, the kids didn’t take it as a big deal,” Candie says. “We’ve had some conversations about it because there were questions from other kids at school about our family.”
Amani, now 23, and Steven, 18, experienced disapproval from their peers at school for having an interracial family. Steven heard derogatory racist jokes, while Amani’s black classmates accused of her “acting white” because her stepmother was white. When Ella was in kindergarten, she came home upset because a classmate pointed out that her skin was not the same color as either of her parents or her siblings.
“We talked to her about how everyone is made differently. We all have different shades of skin, and that’s just how our family is,” says Candie. Ella was quick to brush off any curiosity or negativity the next time a classmate inquired about her skin color.
Candie, 41, is co-owner of Heads Up Salon, while Gary, 43, is chief of police at Lincoln University. Gary made an unsuccessful bid for Cole County sheriff in 2016, and like his kids, he received some racially charged feedback.
“When I was running for sheriff, we were approached by a lot of people saying Cole County isn’t ready for a black sheriff,” Gary says. “And we had people coming into Candie’s salon and saying they had a problem with us being an interracial couple.”
But Candie says not everyone feels that way.
“I feel like if people do have a negative stance about us, they usually change their minds after they meet us and get to know us,” Candie says.
As gay parents, Tiffany Walker and Carla Wessell can relate to feeling a degree of discrimination. Both live in Jefferson City and work in Columbia: Carla, 44, works for Sysco Foods in Columbia and Jeff, and Tiffany, 40, is a neonatal nurse practitioner at the MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The two also own the successful Eat Crepe Love food truck, which does business in both towns.
The women became best friends following Carla’s difficult divorce in 2005 and were married in 2011. Carla eventually gained full custody of her three children, Ria, Chris, and Nina, who were between the ages of 2 and 5 at the time of the divorce.
“Jefferson City is more conservative, while Columbia is more progressive,” Carla says. “But I think Jeff City is moving in that direction.”
In 2011, the couple was unable to obtain a family membership at the YMCA. Carla met with the YMCA board about updating their policy to include families like theirs. They changed their family membership policy to include married couple regardless of sexual orientation.
Tiffany, who jumped into her role as stepmom, says the kids are very open about having two moms. All three are students at Jefferson City High School and have received little criticism from classmates about their family structure.
“Jefferson City Public Schools are the best. They have been very supportive of our family,” says Tiffany.
Growth from Loss
Sometimes the pressure to find your place comes from within the family unit itself rather than society.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if I can fill your late husband’s shoes,’” Kim Quirouet says about her second husband, Dustin. “And I told him, ‘You’re right, you can’t. I don’t want you to be him, I want you to be you. And my kids don’t want you to fill his shoes either.’”
Dustin, 42, works for Culligan Water; Kim, 40, is originally from Linn and works for Farmer Co. Her high school sweetheart and husband of nearly 14 years, Alan, died of cancer in 2013 at the age of 35, leaving her the single mother of sons Nolan, Justin, and Michael. Dustin was a divorced survivor of cancer himself who shared custody of his only child, Jett, when he met Kim a year after Alan’s death. Dustin was coaching a baseball team that Jett and Justin were playing on together.
The two were close friends for more than a year before they dated, and they didn’t pursue a relationship until all four boys approved. Their marriage in 2017 meant a big transition for the couple and their kids. Kim was used to being a nonstop parent of three and Dustin was used to being a part-time dad to a single child.
“Dustin and I had totally different lifestyles, and I told him before we got married that that was going to be the hardest part,” Kim says. “Our kids probably did better at blending together than [Dustin and I] did.”
Kim and Dustin say their long-standing friendship allowed time for their children to become friends, and for Dustin and Kim to develop relationships with the other’s kids from previous marriages. This was particularly important for Dustin, who didn’t want to seem like he was trying to replace Alan. Dustin says he encourages Kim’s sons to talk openly about and remember their dad.
“There’s a picture of [Alan] and the boys in the kitchen,” Dustin says. “I look at it and I think, dang, what he’s missing. It’s not uncomfortable for me to walk by and see it.”
Building from Within
As parents and stepparents, Gary and Candie were also concerned about the kind of relationship they nurtured with their children as they merged their families.
“We wanted them to know that we weren’t trying to replace their birth parents,” Gary says.
“They were both only children, so I think it was difficult learning to share,” says Candie. “Not just with another sibling but with their parents.” They adopted the practice of taking each child out for one-on-one time each month. Gary and Candie also established strong, cooperative relationships with each other’s exes to make co-parenting as easy as possible.
“The least we can do is be adults about the relationships we have, and it’s been working out for us,” says Gary.
For these couples, hope for future generations is found in the open-mindedness they have instilled in their children by blending their families.
“Love sees no color,” concludes Gary.
“I think having a biracial family helps them not see boundaries,” Candie says about her kids. “There shouldn’t be a boundary on who you care for.”
Carla and Tiffany feel similarly. “We empower our kids to be confident in who they are,” says Tiffany. “We have raised them to be independent and invest in themselves.”
“Tradition” Isn’t Dead
While the prevalence of diverse family types grows, the “traditional” family unit has been anything but replaced. Bruce and Ann Bax, both Jefferson City natives, began dating in high school at Helias and have been married for nearly 34 years. Ann, 56, is president of United Way of Central Missouri, while Bruce, also 56, co-owns and operates Don Schnieders Excavating Company, which the Bax family and their business partners, Don and Jane Rhea, purchased from Ann’s parents in 1994.
They have three grown children: Trent, 28; Taylor, 26; and Haley, 23, who is currently in graduate school at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Trent and his wife, Kaitie, gave Bruce and Ann their first grandchild, Brecken, in March. Somewhat untraditionally these days, all three Bax kids remain in Jefferson City.
“We are so blessed,” says Ann. “We encouraged our children to follow their hearts, and the fact their hearts brought them back here makes us so happy.”
While the Baxes may not have faced the types of societal challenges of other couples, owning a business, maintaining a marriage, and being parents is a tough job regardless. They’re proud to have raised loving, generous, and open-minded children. Bruce and Ann attribute their parenting success in part to their own parents.
“Our parents were very good role models,” says Bruce. “We’ve raised our families the way we were raised.”
Really, it all comes down to love.
“Family is everything. We live our lives to be there for each other,” says Ann. “We taught our children that you have to love yourself first. Only then can you truly love someone else.”