This article was originally published in June 2015.
Newlywed Gabrielle Union is still feeling love’s bliss as her first wedding anniversary with Dwyane Wade approaches. The Wades recently opened up about marriage and raising kids with Tylenol’s #HowWeFamily initiative. We caught up with our girl crush during her recent trip to New York City to get details on her wedding and discuss the importance of defining family on your own terms.
ESSENCE: So many of us already feel like a part of your family. What made you say “yes” to sharing more?
GABRIELLE UNION: Between my own immediate family and my mom being a senior adopting small children, your family’s validity is constantly questioned. You’re asked to explain yourself and your very existence, because it doesn’t fit into the box of what American families should be. What’s great about Tylenol’s How We Family campaign is that it’s all about being inclusive. We should all be committed to inclusion. I come from a family that believes there’s a space and a place for everyone. Our family is always ever changing and evolving. Society needs to catch up with us. I don’t need to explain why my cousin lives here or my aunt is staying with us. Our family is because we are. We’re good enough just the way we are. This campaign is about celebrating every incarnation of family that is possible and just letting people know that by birthright. If you use the hashtag #howwefamily, you can see our family story.
ESSENCE: You are part of the largest African American family in Nebraska. What is that like?
UNION: I’m part of the dozens of cousins. We are the largest Black family in the state of Nebraska, which may not be the hardest thing to be. We are definitely one of the largest in the Midwest. Our annual family reunion is nearing a hundred years. We have a week of activities every year in Downtown Omaha. I took Dwyane a few years ago. It caused a bit of a ruckus. His dad, mom, brothers and sister all came. We believe in both of our families. You don’t just marry the one person, you marry the families. Now The Wades are part of the dozens of cousins.
ESSENCE: Are you still feeling like a newlywed?
UNION: I do. I hope this feeling lasts the next fifty years. It’s a good time for us. It’s actually a learning curve to get used to how happy he is. He’s one of those people that likes to say “my wife.” “Well, have you talked to my wife? Let me ask my wife. Where’s my wife?” He’s that person. It’s cute. I love how happy he is, but it’s definitely taken a minute to get used to someone who’s that happy.
ESSENCE: What’s one of your favorite wedding memories?
UNION: There’s a thousand. Our wedding video just came in so we get to relive it. We’re trying to figure out a way to share it with the world, now that everything is over. Our best friends married us, Essence Atkins and her husband Jaime Mendez. A lot of weddings that we went to in the two years leading up to ours had John Legend singing “All of Me.” So for our wedding we had a different piano player start to play and sing “All of Me” then John comes out of the back. He taps the guy on the shoulder and goes, “I think I got it.” He sings our actual wedding song, “You & I.” At the reception we came out to “All I Do is Win.” Luda grabbed the mic and did his verse. We had a gospel choir. African dancers started things off.
ESSENCE: We can’t wait to see! How did you prepare for your marriage?
UNION: We asked a lot of questions and we keep happy married people around us. People are like, “What’s the secret?” I’m like, “The secret is understanding there is no secret.” You just got to figure it out every day. We have other friends in Miami who have been married a long time that are happy. Not the sort of people who just tolerate each other. We want to be around people who really truly love each other, that are highly functioning happy couples. We keep a lot of those in our circles.
ESSENCE: You all have these two incredibly successful careers plus a family, what’s your strategy for governing a hectic lifestyle?
UNION: Our lives change day to day. Sometimes hour to hour. We lead with respect. In our house, we have house rules that are posted everywhere, so if Grandpa Wade, my mom or one of our sisters is watching the kids, you can’t try any funny business because the rules are posted and everybody sees them. Luckily, we don’t have kids that try us like that. If anything, it’s a missed homework assignment here and there or there’s always a good eye roll, which deep down I kind of appreciate.
ESSENCE: How have you found your rhythm as a stepmom and what do the boys call you?
UNION: We had a lot of debate. No one enjoys the term “step” in our household. The terms mom and dad should be reserved for your mom and dad. That’s how we roll in our house. The transition was really seamless because he had custody for years before we actually got married. They call me Nicky, which is what my family calls me. If you lead with respect and compassion, and always doing what’s best for the kids and respecting and protecting their peace of mind like it is the most precious thing in the world, it makes that transition go a lot easier. When adults start inserting adult problems and BS onto kids, that’s when you run into problems.
ESSENCE: You all have been forthcoming on the highs and lows of relationship and your family. What advice would you give to women on making it through the lows?
UNION: My parents were divorced after thirty years of marriage. I’m sure someone was to blame, I’m sure there are fingers that could be pointed all across the board, but I have no idea. They never made it my problem. What they did was put us first. My mom just moved around the corner from my dad in Arizona so the grandkids wouldn’t have to be separated during the summers or at holidays. I’m sure that may be uncomfortable. All they did was provide a solution. That’s where I sort of picked up the baton and ran with it. I stay focused on what really matters. Even with my ex-husband, we didn’t have kids but I loved his family and he loved mine. If you put their peace of mind a priority, you don’t need to air every piece of dirty laundry. It’s nobody’s business. You move on, but you have respect. That’s the biggest thing. You respect the kids, you respect the family. You can’t lose that way.