The founder of a popular parenting website made a surprising announcement to her millions of followers this week.
Jill Smokler, who started Scary Mommy in 2008, has announced that she and her husband, Jeff Smokler, are divorcing after 17 years of marriage. The couple, who have three kids together, also revealed that the catalyst for their split is the fact that Jeff is gay.
But the revelation didn’t come overnight. The pair, who are both 39 and live in Baltimore, Maryland, tells PEOPLE that their love for each other led them to keep Jeff’s secret for more than a decade.
“Over the last 15 years, we’ve struggled with what we kept a secret from everybody else,” Jeff says. “And as non-conforming as I think our marriage was, I think our divorce is equally non-conforming. We want to show folks that you can do divorce in a way that not just puts your children first, but can come from a place of love. And in our case, there has never been a shortage of love.
“In sharing our truth, we hope to help other people.”
Jill adds, “I signed on for this. It was our secret and we were in it together. I could have opted out before we had kids. I had that opportunity, but I couldn’t wrap my head around this feeling that this was my person. I didn’t want to walk away.”
Jeff and Jill met during their first week as freshmen at Washington University in St. Louis. And they both knew from the start that they had met their match.
“Jill and I are soul mates, and I knew that very early on,” says Jeff. “She just completed me.”
Jill agrees, adding: “I didn’t have it in my head that I wanted to meet ‘The One’ the first week of school. [But] it was very clear that it wasn’t going to be a casual relationship. It was intense and consuming. I just felt like he was my person.”
After five years of dating, the couple wed in 2000, and it wasn’t until two years into their marriage that Jeff started to understand (what he perceived at the time to be) his bisexuality.
“The first person I talked about it with was Jill. I really believe I was bisexual then, and it wasn’t something that was all-consuming,” Jeff says. “But over the years, my sexuality became much more a part of who I was. For many years, Jill and I viewed it as a piece of me that we had to deal with, but I think we both silently knew over time that it was becoming a bigger piece of me.”
But what never changed over the years was Jeff’s love for Jill.
“What’s amazing to me is how in love a gay man could be with a woman,” Jeff says. “I was in love with Jill as much as anybody could be in love with anybody. And for the first seven years of our relationship, that was enough, it truly was.”
The couple says they never swept their issue under the rug. They talked about it openly and honestly over the years and even saw a therapist. But they weren’t ready to go public with their secret until now.
“I actually think that this evolved in the way that it should have, in a way where we thought the kids were at a point to be ready, we felt we were at a point where we were ready, but I certainly don’t have any regrets about marrying or staying married as long as we did,” says Jill.
But what scared them the most was preparing to tell their three kids — Lily 13, Ben, 11, and Evan 9 — which they did last Friday.
“I was waiting for it to all come crumbling down once they knew, and I was terrified of their responses,” Jill says. “We’ve spoken to a therapist about the best way to address it with them and we decided that just being honest is the best approach.”
The couple told their daughter first, with Jeff doing most of the talking.
“Her immediate response was to get up and give him a great big hug and tell him how much she loved him,” Jill shares. “It was just such a compassionate and mature response.”
Jeff adds, “We told our sons immediately after and conveyed the same message to all three that the conversation isn’t over. And that Mommy and Daddy are going to be happy now and happier people make better parents.”
Jeff now lives in a house three miles from the family home. The kids stay with him three nights a week and their daily routine has remained relatively unchanged.
“We will still have family dinners. We will still go on family vacations. We will still be a family, it’s just a different kind of family,” says Jill.
Adds Jeff, “They have their moments of sadness and being quiet but they also know that they can talk to us about anything.”