TODAY Parents is covering all the different ways Americans are creating families outside of traditional boundaries and re-inventing the idea of family; see more from our New American Family project here.
In 2017, award-winning author Glennon Doyle announced she was engaged to retired soccer star Abby Wambach. The announcement came six months after Doyle revealed she was splitting from her husband of 14 years, Craig Melton.
In the Facebook post announcing their relationship, Doyle shared that her ex-husband supports her new relationship, and their children are "surrounded by so much love."
"We have family dinners together — all six of us — and Abby cooks," she wrote. "We go to the kids’ school parties together. We are a modern, beautiful family.”
Instead of a "broken home," as divorced families were once called, Doyle has written that her family is now whole, because everyone in it can now be their true self.
A 2022 Gallup poll found that the percentage of U.S. adults who identify as something other than heterosexual has doubled in the last 10 years, and predicts the proportion of adults who identify as LGBTQ+ will surpass 10% in the near future.
For the TODAY project "New American Family," TODAY Parents is looking at the evolving ways people create and re-create families outside of traditional expectations. We spoke to couples who are successfully co-parenting after one spouse embraced their true sexuality.
"He needed me, and we needed him. I needed him to stay and be part of our daughter's life."
Jessica Frew, 37, met her now ex-husband Steve Stoddard, 39, in February of 2004 and they were married by the end of the year.
Stoddard realized there was something "different" about him when he was 11, he said.
"But the way I grew up, it just wasn't an option to be gay. So I was totally in denial about the fact that I was gay, literally well until our marriage and until Jessica confronted me about it," Stoddard told TODAY Parents.
Both Frew and Stoddard were raised in the Mormon church, and were taught that being LGBTQ+ was wrong. That teaching was deeply engrained in Stoddard, and even when — six months into their marriage — Frew found a collection of gay pornography on Stoddard's computer and asked him about his sexuality, he couldn't say the words out loud.
"He was still very much in denial," Frew told TODAY. "And could not say the words to me at that point that he was gay."
"I hadn't even said them to myself," Stoddard added. "I kind of went numb."
After a year of counseling, Stoddard did come to terms with his sexuality, but he had never dated a man, wanted to stay in his marriage, and wanted to be true to his faith. So the couple stayed married and years later, had a daughter.
"I felt the same as Steve — this is our path, we committed to each other, we’re in this marriage, let’s make the most of it," Frew explained. "And that being said, we were happy. We had fun together; we enjoyed being together; we were good at communicating and allowing each other that space to process those things. I knew Steve needed the time to understand this side of himself, and I wasn’t in a rush to push him to deal with that. When he was ready, I figured he would."
"And you have to remember, we were part of this religion that taught that even if you were gay, or even if you had feelings of same-sex attraction, it wasn’t something you needed to act upon," Stoddard added. "You could still be in a happy, healthy marriage with a woman."
Two years after their daughter was born, they decided it was best to get divorced. Eventually, Stoddard left the Mormon faith. Frew, however, is still part of the Mormon church, and raises the pair's daughter in the Mormon faith.
"Steve had shared who he really was with me, and no one really knew until we got divorced," Frew said. "I had watched Steve struggle and fight to stay in our religion, to stay in our marriage, and I couldn't fault him when he decided to leave. It hurt — there was a lot of healing that needed to be done — but I wasn't mad at him."
Now, 10 years after their divorce, Frew is re-married and Stoddard is happily dating a man. The blended family often come together to love and support Frew and Stoddard's daughter, who is now 12.
Right after the divorce, Frew said, "Steve was in a really hard place — he was struggling to feel love and accepted and was honestly was suicidal at that point. I knew he needed me, and we needed him. I needed him to stay and be part of our daughter's life."
Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ people are at a higher risk of suicidal ideation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a study of young people in grades 7-12 found that LGBTQ+ children were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their straight peers. According to the CDC, "some risk factors are linked to being gay or bisexual in a hostile environment and the effects that this has on mental health."
"So we made a plan," Frew added. "We literally sat down and made a plan of how we ideally wanted this to look for each other and our daughter. We never wanted our daughter to feel weird that we're together — uncomfortable that both her parents are at her events. And that has morphed into a beautiful relationship we get to have.”
For Halloween 2021, their daughter dressed up as Cruella, while Stoddard, his boyfriend, Frew, and Frew's husband all dressed up as her Dalmatians.
"Just minutes ago we just came from (our daughter's) basketball game, where Jessica and I, my boyfriend, and Jessica's parents all sat together at her basketball game," Stoddard said. "There's no discomfort for our daughter for having to mediate her divorced parents' relationship."
The co-parents now document their journey and family adventures on their Husband-in-Law podcast, working to normalize non-heteronormative blended family dynamics, especially at a time when legislation aimed at stifling discussions about LGBTQ+ people and experiences is being introduced at various state levels. Frew is also offering a workshop for people who have had a spouse come out as gay.
"At least five times a week we get people reaching out asking for support or help, or people saying, 'Thank you so much, you have changed the whole dynamic of my relationship or divorce,'" Frew said. "It's just getting people thinking about any type of relationship different. It's realizing that you have that power in you, and so it's been a very humbling experience — to feel like we've been able to do that and provide that simply by sharing our story."
"He deeply loved me. He wasn't pretending."
Jessica Turner, 39, met her husband, Matthew Paul Turner, 48, in 2003. The editor of a magazine, Turner messaged him, prompting their initial meeting. Less than two years later, the two were married.
After having three children, now 13, 10, and 7, the pair started couple's counseling, where Matthew shared that he was bisexual — a revelation that continued to evolve as their counseling persisted.
"He was kind of doing his own exploration and understanding of his identity and saying those words aloud," Turner told TODAY. "In September, 2019, he told me he was gay."
In June, 2020, Matthew moved out.
"Matthew's and my love story was real, and he will tell you the same thing. Matthew loved me, and I think that is what made it so difficult for both of us — because he loves me. He loves me so. And there was a period where we wondered if a mixed-orientation marriage worked, where even though he was gay he wanted to remain married."
Turner adds that while her ex-husband did fall in love with her when they met, she does not believe he would fall in love with her today.
"Matthew understands more about who he is and who he is attracted to and how god made him to be, in a way he didn't understand when he was younger," she explained. "some of that was repressed, some of that came with how he was raised, but that doesn't negate that Matthew did fall in love with me."
Matthew said that when he was 4 years old, his family left a more "open-minded Methodist church" and helped start an "independent fundamental Baptist church — a very conservative sect of the Baptist" doctrine.
"That completely changed every aspect of our life," Matthew told TODAY. "We went from public education to private education associated with the church. We went to church three or four times a week — the church became the focal point of our entire lives."
He said he knew he was not straight, but his "religious experience did not allow" him to "even explore that as an option." Instead, he he said he tried his best to bury it. "My story is very common for LGBTQ+ people, where religion becomes the ultimate thing that keeps them in the closet."
According to one 2015 survey, 78% of LGBTQ+ homeless youth and 84% of transgender youth said their main reason for experiencing homelessness was being kicked out of their homes due to their parents' "religious views on sexuality and gender."
Matthew said he fell in love with Jessica when he met her, and shared that they had a "pretty happy marriage" for the most part.
"There were certainly times in our marriage when I wanted to talk to her — when I knew I wasn't living in an authentic state," he added. "But when your story impacts other people, you tend to work really hard to bury it."
Over time, Matthew said he started to lose himself, his joy and his personhood.
"I would bury myself into work or distractions, like television shows, and Jessica and I just lost the connection," he explained. "We went into therapy, and I fought it so hard in therapy." Eventually, Matthew could not fight it anymore, and he accepted his sexuality and shared it with his then-wife.
"After months of walking through it, we decided that our best option was to end our marriage and pursue what we needed to do next," he added. "And put our life and our focus on our children and do the best we can to love each other through this difficult part of our story."
That meant, to Matthew, taking a chance. He said coming out to his parents was the hardest experience of his life, and there was a real fear associated with coming out publicly.
Still, it was a priority for both co-parents.
“I wanted for us to be living fully in the truth and not have people making assumptions,” Turner said. And while Matthew has only had a few text conversation with his father since he came out, and his mom is the only person he has strained conversations with, "Jessica became a chief supporter of me being who I was made to be, and she really was a focal point of my strength."
Matthew said he never experienced any shame from his ex-wife, even though she was experiencing her own grieving process. To this day, it can be difficult for Turner to talk about it.
"Honestly, I loved being a wife," she said, her voice cracking. "I loved having someone who cared about my story and whose story I cared about, and doing life with them in a real intimate way in the same house."
Turner says she hopes to find love again, but in the meantime is enjoying learning just how strong and independent she can be, while also co-parenting with Matthew, who lives down the street.
"The kids see both of us pretty much every day. We share meals a couple times a week," she added. "We both attend the kids' sporting events; we've made it a point to have family movie night every Friday night at my house. And we're very communicative and on the same page about everything, right down to screen time at both houses."
"We're doing the best we can in this weird time of the pandemic, because certainly coming out during a pandemic is easiest," Matthew said, laughing. "On the flip side of that, the pandemic has given me time and space to become way more comfortable in my own gay skin. I anticipated the homophobia from certain people in my life — I didn't realize how much homophobia I had in my own self. I finally have the time and space to fully be comfortable in my skin."
“It’s an evolution, not a revolution”
Cody Alan, host and executive producer of CMT Radio, is a country music scene star. Raised in the Mormon faith, he met and later married his wife, Teresa, after going on a faith-based mission. The pair then had two children, Makayla and Landon, who were also raised in the Mormon faith.
But Alan knew he was gay at a young age — knowledge that contradicted his faith’s teachings. In 2009, he came out to his wife, and they later divorced. And in 2017, via a Facebook post, Alan announced his sexuality to the world.
“It’s an evolution, not a revolution,” Alan told TODAY. “It’s something I had to evolve and get comfortable with, because it’s terrifying. Even in 2022, and for me in 2017 certainly, it’s still a scary thing for people to step up and say their truth.” Recently, Alan detailed his journey in his book, “Hear’s the Thing: Lessons on Listening, Life, and Love.”
Alan said that being in the country music space, he didn’t know what to expect — there is a perception of “conservative thinking” dominating the industry.
“But for me, once I pushed the send button and threw it out into the world, I received so many positive feedback from artists and industry people,” he added. “And, eventually, the fans, who spoke out and spoke up for me.”
Alan said it was the person he was becoming at home, after work, that ultimately made him realize that he had to first be honest with himself about his sexuality, and then share that truth with his family, friends and eventually the world.
“I was a sad, unhappy guy when I wasn’t at work,” he explained. “I would come home from work as this happy go-lucky TV personality; beloved by the stars and having these great interactions; being funny and all the things you’re supposed to be as a charismatic broadcaster. And then I’d come home and realize I was never able to be myself. There was a sense that I was truly faking things, and that began to wear on my soul to the point that I was just sad. And that’s not good for my kids — to see that and feel that.”
Alan said that once he realized he was never fully able to be himself, another realization hit him: “You have to put yourself in somewhat of a priority position at times, in order to be good at life and family and love, and all the things. And once you are in that position, like I am now, you’re better at everything, because you can just be.”
Alan said telling his wife — was the hardest conversation he had ever had. Coming out to his children was also difficult, as was speaking to his mom — he wrote her an email first, then called her right after she had read it.
“The way I approached every single person I told was a little different,” he explained. “I also felt like the peace I had started to received about telling (my wife) started to help me feel like the weight of telling her would be a good thing, and that speaking to her would help me. And help her, because she would understand why I was struggling and why we were struggling, and we could together come up with answers.”
In addition to the internal acceptance, it was his relationship with his now-ex wife that made Alan want to be honest with her about his sexuality.
“I think it’s just really important to reach out to those who care about you most, and for me, that was her,” he explained. “I mean, we were married, we were best friends; we were raising kids together; she was the most important person in my life to speak to about any of my problems or issues. So why wouldn’t I share this most vulnerable, this most deep-down challenge, that I felt?”
Now, Alan says his ex-wife, family members, and children love the more authentic, honest version of himself more than the person he was when he wasn’t out as a gay man.
“My ex does have a boyfriend, and obviously I have someone, and my kids are all kind of dating and figuring their future out with potential mates,” he said. “We do get together all the time — we enjoy hanging out. We’ll go on vacations together, where we get one house on the beach.”
“We really accept each other, love each other, gratefully we enjoy each other’s company at this point,” he adds. “And there was already a sense of, ‘We’re going to figure this out together.'”