“Never shrink” when writing a book that sparks a movement, an interview with authors Sara Connell & Tuniscia Okeke
Never shrink. Not everyone will understand or appreciate your vision and that’s okay because it is your gift to share with the world. Dream big and own it.
As part of my series about “How to write a book that sparks a movement,” I had the great pleasure of interviewing Tuniscia Okeke.
Tuniscia Okeke is the CEO of Blending Our Love, Inc., and author of Empowered Stepmother Grow, Glow and Thrive Harmoniously In Your Blended Family. In this book, she invites stepmothers on a transformational journey of self-empowerment to regain their voices and discover their identity in a blended family dynamic. The family vlog “Tea with Tuniscia O” shows a candid look inside the love and connection shared between her and her stepson Ike. Journaling their families victories and strategies to co-parent successfully with Ike’s biological mother.
She’s a wife and mother of three children, two of whom are adults.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
While other children were preparing for college, I was preparing for motherhood as I became pregnant with my first child a few months after my high school graduation. By the age of 19, I was a single mother with two beautiful children. Life was coming at me fast and it was my responsibility to ensure my babies had the best life regardless of my young age. I attended classes at night and worked at a law firm by day. After graduation, I became a paralegal and with the encouragement and guidance of the attorneys and partners at the firm, I purchased my first home at 24.
As a young woman, I was a quick study and realized people were willing to give guidance to those who were ready to accept it. So I raised my hand frequently and welcomed the wisdom. I’m grateful to all those who didn’t count me out because I was a “teenage mother.” Time has revealed they didn’t count me out because I believed in myself and used my motherhood to catapult me forward instead of holding me back.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life?
As a young girl, no particular book inspired me more than life lessons taught by others. My greatest lesson was embracing the art of failing forward.
My husband and I both had children prior to being married making us an instant blended family. Through trial and error, I realized the love we demonstrated through words and actions set the tone for our home. I decided to lead by example and start a new tradition. Every evening when my husband returns home from work, I stand at the door and greet him with open arms full of joy saying, “Welcome Sweetie!” I learned this by watching toddlers express sheer bliss and excitement to see their parents at the end of the day.
Showing joy and gratitude towards my husband daily changed the energy in our home. Now we all greet one another cheerfully. It’s a loving reminder “this is our home and we are all welcome.”
What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world?
When I became a stepmother, I discovered a secret society which came with a set of unwritten rules. One being, a stepmother’s involvement is determined by the comfort of the biological mother, regardless of the bond she shares with her stepchildren. There are millions of stepmothers yearning to thrive in their blended family and don’t know where to begin.
My stepson and I share a beautiful bond. However, co-parenting in the beginning, was not so successful. His mother had a list of rules for me to abide by. As I discussed this with others, I realized this was a trend. I shifted my thinking and posed the question, “What if his mother wasn’t intentionally “being unreasonable,” but she was simply following the status quo?” Something had to change, and it had to start with me.
The steps I took to manifest harmony in our blended family dynamic, is customizable to fit any family. Our co-parenting became so peaceful it went from custody battles to a family vacation. I wrote this book to spark change, and his mother wrote the foreword.
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
My hopes for writing this book was to empower stepmothers to grow, glow and thrive harmoniously in their blended family. Manifesting peace and harmony in the midst of the storm, an empowered stepmother is a peacemaker, not a doormat.
Did the actual results align with your expectations?
The results from the book were as I expected. Stepmothers were grateful to have someone “speak up for them and express their pain.” Although I discovered the shame and pain is deeper than I realized.
Uttering the word “stepmother” instantly changes the tone of a conversation and the judgment ensues. Many stepmothers suffer in silence feeling hopeless, alone and misunderstood. Most movies and literature depict stepmothers as wicked, jealous, evil homewreckers, set up to fail from the beginning.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement?
I knew we had created a movement when the messages and stories poured in from stepmothers, stepfathers, stepchildren, biological mothers and fathers about how the book shifted their perspective and resonated with them.
One story which stands out to me is from a young man with parents who divorced and both remarried multiple times. He shared how the book provided clarity, insight and understanding from the perspective of a stepparent. The book offered him some tools to heal some past wounds born out of the rejection he felt as a voiceless stepchild.
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
The most frequent message I receive is gratitude for my bravery to be transparent in sharing my journey through stepmotherhood. Here are a few quotes:
“The content is so raw and real and I related to so many scenarios coming from a blended family growing up!”
“As an advocate who has worked with Fatherless Children, teaching these values, for 34 years; I can verify that the strategies Tuniscia has beautifully laid out… definitely work!”
“It was so enlightening and EMPOWERING for me to flip through these pages and realize that I have my place in this blended family and I must own it!”
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book?
The most fulfilling experience from writing Empowered Stepmotherwas the support, love, and approval I received from my husband and children. Creating a movement to empower stepmothers starts with me thriving harmoniously in my home first.
Our oldest daughter who is 23, said: “Mom, there’s a passage in the book that really stood out to me and I read it over and over again.” So I asked why it resonated with her so much. She read it out loud, “I wish someone warned me my decision to use reckless words in the midst of my anger to “express my feelings” in front of the children would cause them pain beyond my ability to restore.” She continued to say “I was touched that you acknowledged where you went wrong as a parent and took responsibility for your actions, apologized and changed. It made me reflect on my own life and areas I should be taking responsibility for.”
Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?
Nothing negative. The drawbacks to a book that starts a colossal conversation are being vulnerable. Our family lives are sacred, so sharing my most painful moments while respecting the privacy of others is a delicate balancing act.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
A well-written book sparks our imagination allowing us to see our lives through their story. Viewing the world through the perspective of another is what connects us, whether we agree or disagree we are enlightened.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?
Being transparent contributed to the success of my book. I had to be honest within about where I failed myself and others and then forgive myself and ask for forgiveness. I wrote Empowered Stepmother as a love letter to stepmothers around the world. My pain, shame, and the healing journey unfold on each page.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career?
My challenge was being still in awkward moments. As I wrote and various past emotions sprung up I would need to go to the restroom, get a snack, want a nap, think of my to-do list anything to avoid revisiting those emotions. However, those were my most vulnerable moments walking away didn’t change the situation it only prolonged the process. I began to recognize the pattern and forced myself to remain present at the moment.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book?
1. Be open. Invite others on the journey while encouraging them to create their own destiny.
2. Own your vision. Be clear on your mission and remain focused. It’s your responsibility to give birth to your vision.
3. Do it scared. Fear is a natural emotion. We can use it as a boost of adrenaline or let it paralyze us.
4. Be patient. Toddlers don’t master walking on the first try. Gift yourself the same level of patience and compassion you would offer a toddler learning to walk.
5. Never shrink. Not everyone will understand or appreciate your vision and that’s okay because it is your gift to share with the world. Dream big and own it.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next?
The next movement could be the “We Are The Same Movement.” It’s exciting to meet someone who looks different than me and discover what we share in common. It’s an instant connection if only for a moment. This movement would spark children, teenagers, young adults and adults to discover what they share in common with their peers versus their differences.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.
About the author: Sara is an author and writing coach with a private practice in Chicago. She has appeared in Oprah, Good Morning America, NPR, The View and Katie Couric. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tri-Quarterly, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, IO Literary Journal, and Psychobabble. Her first book Bringing In Finn was nominated for ELLE magazine Book of the Year. www.saraconnell.com