Three Marlenas


I’ve been lying to all of you. I don’t have three daughters. I have six. My sixteen-year-old, eight-year-old and seven-year-old girls are two-faces, just like this guy, The Dark Knight’s Harvey Dent.

I met my wife four years ago, today, May 13, 2008. What followed over the next six months was a whirlwind in every sense of the word. We started a relationship immediately. My daughter met her two daughters. We told their three respective other families that we were getting married in November. Then we all started living together and created our blended family. It was the kids idea to not use the “step” word. The only steps in our house go upstairs to their bedrooms. While my wife and I expected after-school special like melodrama, what happened was something a lot more realistic. The girls adapted. They kind of settled whatever issues that were out there, on their own. As a result, they spun off completely separate personalities when they were with their other families and, as we’re being told, as their schools.

Our house, and how my wife and three daughters interact with each other, is an adventure. We’re loud, funny, obnoxious, caring, loving, dramatic, and talkative. Good grief do we talk. But when the girls are away from us, they seem to act different. My teenager is quiet, withdrawn, and extremely shy out of our sight. The middle girl, a tomboy, ass kicker, and get in the dirt fun-loving girl with us is borderline girly and much more reserved and sweet away from us. The youngest, a loud, funny, one of kind personality who basically runs our house with her attitude is sweet, demure, angelic when not in our company.

Getting the girls to talk about their lives away from us in an exercise in futility. They just prefer to keep that business away from our business. I brought our middle daughter home last Thursday after several days away. She was wearing pretty hairbows and a skirt. We quizzed her on what the heck she was doing in a skirt. She brushed us off and by the time she left us she had dirty fingernails, dirty socks, and her hair was flowing wildly waiting for her next good time.

Most of my the interaction my wife and I have with other blended families comes from the internets. I’m not sure if my girls two-face ways are normal. I do know they like it that way. Each of them frowns and gets very quiet when they leave us. I’m not sure if that’s their way of letting their mom and I know they’ll miss us or if its them going into survival mode personality to be with their others.

AS my wife and I negotiate how to recognize the day we met because it falls on Mother’s Day, a pay period that sees us broke, and while our kids have something school oriented everyday we have to be available for, I’m struck with wonder about how my girls feel about our four years together. I made sure the teenager had her newest flavored Doritos (why must they have 327 types? Is that necessary), my seven-year-old got to lay down with her mom at bedtime, and my wife was happy. I just hope that we continue to grow together. I’m anxious to hear how those of you in blended families deal with your kids’ attitudes and personalities.

I used to think Three Marlenas by The Wallflowers was about a guy in love with a bad girl who wouldn’t settle down. Then I started to interpret it as a girl who has three sides to her personality to get by in a complicated life. None of my daughters are named Marlena. But I bet they can relate to this song. Here’s The Wallflowers.

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64 thoughts on “Three Marlenas

  1. It’s been my experience that all kids have a “home face” and an “away face.” I suppose it’s only more complicated when home and family have more than one definition, but your girls are in good hands with parents like you and Deana.

  2. tinfoilmagnolia

    Happy “I met ya” day. Mitch and I have our 18th anniversary on Monday. The day we met? So long ago I can’t remember, summer of 81 maybe?

  3. When kids can be themselves with you – and I mean all of the good, the bad and the truly ugly, that’s how you know you’re doing it right. It’s only when they are secure in your acceptance that they can experiment with who they want to be and how they want to be seen.

  4. Ours was a bit tumultuous. I was 10 when my mom and step-dad met/married. It was a whirlwind. He made her happy. And he’s a wonderful guy. I was the oldest daughter with the personality of a brick shithouse. My step-brother is only 4 months younger than me. With a pHD in electrical engineering, lets just say the two of us got into some pretty heated “I’m-right-no-I’m-right” arguments. I even chased him around the backyard with a knife once. It was way fun. I definitely had the “You’re not my fucking dad!” attitude. Because my sisters and I had been alone with our mom for 5 years. It was the 4 of us against the world, no men invited! And there came this man sauntering up and taking our momma. Which, of course, he wasn’t. I was horrible. I turned into a teenager. I was horrible just for the hell of it. I found out years later that my step-dad was the one who constantly calmed my mom and told her my shenanigans weren’t really that big of a deal. Go figure. He’s my dad, though. All the way. My youngest son is named after him 😉

    • so far. Deus, we;’ve avoided those kinds of conflicts. The girls seem content with hanlding issues on their own. That’s great about your stepdad. I hope Tay & Gosoe feel that way about me.

  5. So Lance, are you the same person at home as you are at work?; in gatherings with your friends?; Strangers?… I think most people have a core foundation that they just are, and a plethora (I would say many more than just three) of masks, costumes, personas, etc… when they are in different situations. If you think of it like you might when writing a story, the voice shifts, when the audience requires it. Just my two cents worth… take what you like and leave the rest 🙂

    BTW, they sound wonderful and are cute as heck! 🙂

      • Okay, so there is no “edit” or “delete” and rewrite here, so forgive me for adding so many different “replies.”

        First of all, I neglected to tell you what a wonderful write that was. It was heartfelt and had my attention from start to finish. I love the name you gave it, it made me laugh out loud when I got to the part that explained the title.

        A psychologist and psychological theorist: Gordon Allport (1897-1967) believed that we came from a foundation of 16 core personality traits. This was a new way of looking at personality, prior to his experiments it was thought that there were thousands. Allport developed what was/is called the “Trait Theory,” which used tests designed to understand the core nature of a person’s personality by rating them at certain strengths.

        There were cardinal traits that Allport believed were part of the core of a human being, and something that stayed with them for their entire life, but were rare and usually apparent later in their lives. Then there were “central” and “secondary” traits. The central traits were things that most people would describe a person with: outgoing, talkative, shy, intelligent, etc… Then there were the secondary traits that Allport said were most often situation induced. I think this is where the masks, and personas come into play. It’s not really a different face so much as it is a particular presentation of the personality that only pokes its head out when certain triggers are in place. A good way to see this is in the behaviour of people when they get behind the wheel, many people change in a way that is contrary to their general personality when they get behind the wheel of a car. (And Atlanta is one of the best examples in my personal experience!)

        Okay enough psychobabble. Wow, see what happens when you get me talking!

        The other thing I neglected to mention is that I am the oldest of 13 siblings, one of which is a “full blood brother”, but I threw out the “step” and “halves” a long time ago too, and they all count the same to me.

      • gotcha…that was really interesting to read. I think my girls have really good coping mechanisms.

        that’s great about your family…wow 13

  6. I have three boys. The older two are my “steps” (same here, we don’t use the word) and both have three faces. They have a “home face,” “school or friend face” and a “Grammie face.” My youngest, being obliviously autistic only has his “autism face.” (and that’s ok. It’s one of the happiest faces I have ever seen.)

    I think it’s normal for kids to do this, whether they are from a blended family or a traditional one. Don’t sweat it, Lance. If your girls are healthy and happy and you and your wife are happy – it’s all good.

  7. Gina

    Really love The Wallflowers. Like the song. Don’t have a blended family but my kids act a bit differently with other people…Sometimes…Thank God for that but they are 19 & 21. We aren’t done but they are fully hatched, I’d say. Best of luck moving forward.

  8. I was a divorced mother of a 9-year-old girl when I met and married Lex. There was that window of total fun until she became a teenager and then naturally kept lots of stuff to herself. But when she came out of the closet, I was the first one she told… and we went out for ice cream to celebrate her sharing her whole self. We went home, she told Lex, same story. So for us, “blended family” simply means “family.” We did move into an entirely new place when we married, so that we could all have a fresh start.

    Riley gets along well with her dad, who also remarried. Neither Rob nor I had any more children, but Riley is so cool and talented and gorgeous (yeah, I know), I don’t think I could have STOOD for more coolness, etc. in my life.

    Lance, your 100-word poem to a song you’d chosen? Hell, I chose my own and it’s on my blog, with a link back to this one for kicks! Check it out, and tell your wife Happy Mother’s Day. Also, we never used the word “step,” either. Amy

    • I kept this comment because it was first. Sorry, they went to spam.

      That’s great about your family. I try to be cool but I’m not, in any way.

      Its fine you went out on your own with your 100 word song this time. I post a new one Tuesday nights at 7pm.

  9. If it helps any, we’re constantly scratching our heads over hearing of our children’s “courtesy,” “outgoing nature,” and “respect for authority.” C often asks the teachers if we can trade ours for their “ours” =)

  10. Even my little boy is different in varied situations. At home with us he’s a clown, but outside he’s shy and reserved. I guess it just depends on the comfort level.

  11. I’m not part of a blended family but I’ve noticed how different my kids are when they are away from us. My oldest spent a week with my parents and they marveled at how self sufficient and independant he was while he was there. I was shocked considering he can barely put the toilet seat down at our house. Haha! I do think it’s a great testament to your success as a parent when your children let it all hang out at home. It means you’ve created a safe, non-judgmental, comfortable place for them to be. Good job 🙂

    • Thanks for your kind words Delilah. when I first wrote this I was aggravated at my kids personality differences. With these comments I’m feeling better as a parent and understanding my girls more.

  12. raisingivy

    Lance, you rock as a person, writer and dad! I don’t have a blended family because my husband’s girls were already grown when we met, but he is a wonderful addition to my boys’ lives, and I think they are to his.

  13. I really appreciate this idea that teenagers are one way at home, ESPECIALLY in a mixed home, and another at school, ESPECIALLY in high school. Because that is realistic. Can you please write a letter to my insane cousin who became a stepmom about the same time you married your wife and has taken every single normal part of adolescence in her stepboys as a personal offense, including being completely unable to believe that the most awesome of kids, her stepson, who is quiet, polite, loving, kind, gentle, funny, considerate, charming, and a pleasure to have around is also the same child who is standoffish and doesn’t like her at home. She IS bossy and controlling and selfish and whiny. I know this as her cousin. She takes that apparent difference in him, and literally, I swear to god, said – with SINCERITY – and arrogance – “I think he may be a psychopath”. That’s part of the reason (I didn’t say it in case she reads that post) for my humorous post this week. This wonderful kid who I would adopt in a heartbeat, she thinks has the makings of a serial killer just because as a teenage boy abandoned three times by women in his life, he doesn’t get along with her but is well loved by teachers, parents, friends, and family. It makes me hurt for him.

    I’m glad you guys have worked it out so well. Oh how I wish I had adopted him before she married the dad. He deserves better.

    • posh, i have weak moments where I take things very personal. I know Goose and Tay love me just like Bug does, but sometimes I wonder and that’s when I act and think like an idiot.

      I’m sorry your cousin is insecure in her role. That’s not good.

  14. So similar to my own story although my husband had no children and I had 3 daughters. It worked from the beginning the girls instantly liked him. My eldest two who still have contact with their bio father have recently told my husband that they both think of him more as Dad than their own Dad and that they are very grateful to have him in their lives. We had those “don’t tell me what to do you aren’t my father” moments but in the end it all worked out well.

    • I know or I should say I think that two of my daughetrs feel that way, but I know they’ll never say it until they’re adults.

      Im glad your girls found a great man.

  15. dberonilla

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post!
    Our family is also blended, and along with our 2 year old and 6 month old boys, I have a 6 year old bonus boy.
    My husband and I have also been together for 4 years, we met when our 6 y/o was just barely 2.
    We have also noticed the boy changing when he was going back to his Mom’s house, or when he was just getting back home with us. We assumed it was a natural adjustment period combined with the fact that he is legitimately bummed when he has to leave his brothers. Now I am wondering if it’s something more than that, and I thank you for the perspective.
    Thanks for the post, it’s always a pleasure to meet more blended families!

  16. No blended family for me ever, so I can’t relate to that. But I think kids are like people – most of us have different personalities in different situations. It is odd to me though when I see that in my son or hear about him from teachers.

  17. Lance, i loved this. I loved this because this is just what I needed to read today…just what I needed to help me with some problems I’ve been facing lately.

    At work, I’ve had to have an “away” face. I’m not superbly happy in my job, and getting through the day has made it necessary for me to be a different version of Katie to my coworkers. Cynical and depressed Katie has to leave her shit and baggage at home, because I “must have a great attitude”! And so, I find that my work personality and my home personality are becoming more and more different.

    Truth is at work I’m unhappy. At home, I’m happy. But I can’t show my unhappiness at work, so I have to pretend to be happy. It sucks, but it’s sometimes necessary.

    I can see why your girls my have “two faces.” Sometimes being away from those you love drives us to do weird things.

    • I’m so sorry for you Katie. Im fortunate. I’m in a position at work where I can determine things, as a boss, so when the stree sget overwhelming I can call shots on reducing it. I’ve been in your position in a job and in my first marriage and its brutal. My heart aches for you

      thanks for reading, commenting and just expressing yourself. I hope it gets better.

  18. yes, doritos. it’s like goldfish. must there be so many kinds? what a lucky family to have each other – and to respect each other enough to let your girls be who they are, when they need to be.

  19. My first date with my husband was on Mother’s Day, and since the MD date changes all the time we just say Mother’s Day instead of the date. Easier to remember. Of course, neither one of us is big on celebrating dates and whatnot. You make maintaining a blended family sound easy. And yes, I think most kids and adults have the two-face thing going on. I think I may have more than that.

    • yeah, the more i read everyone’s comments I’m thinking this is a good thing not a bad thing. Blogging does help sometimes. thank you. Happy first date day,

  20. This was a really interesting piece to me, because while I see that most people have different versions of themselves, they aren’t usually sooo different. I can understand your worry, but i think the good news is that they feel comfortable and happy with you and your wife. I also think that I might have really liked a double life when i was a kid—a time and space to try out some of the “Me”s that I thought would be cool. You’ve got me thinking, Erin

    PS—Love that song!

  21. This is very interesting. My 6 year old’s father lives across the state (always has) so he has two very seperate lives and two completely seperate families with very little interaction with each other. I’ve always wondered if he is the same at his father’s house or if he is different. I’ve always wanted to be a fly on the wall from time to time just to see…

  22. I love when I go to parent teacher conference and they tell me how wonderful and well behaved my kids are … how they never talk back and are always nice and always do what they ask …

    I want to say … ummm … you do have the right kids there right? 🙂

    • right….or when people come up to me ina store and compliment me for my girls being well behaved. i want to list everything they dod at home

  23. I find that interesting because I see my daughter doing this – one way here and another way elsewhere. Sometimes the personalities cross over and overlap. I wonder if it’s a way of adapting to different environments.
    What a great post and what a great family. There is so much love here – you can just feel it when you write about them.

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