Each episode of Thicker Than Water (airs Sundays, 9pm E.T. on Bravo) leaves tongues wagging and smart phones clicking. The reality series, which highlights a wealthy, bible-quoting, brown-hued, blended clan by the name of the Tankards, brings countless real issues— jealousy, abuse, neglect, blending families, hierarchies — to television screens every week. And the Tankard matriarch, Jewel, isn’t one to cower in the face of a dilemma. If this household has 99 problems, Mama Tankard’s lack of an opinion isn’t one.
But there’s only so much one can garner in a 44-minute clip of a family’s daily circus. EBONY.com sat down with Jewel Tankard to get the answers to the most pressing questions about her boisterous clan.
EBONY: The last few episodes of Thicker Than Water have lead up to Ben’s (your husband) biological children, now young adults, discussing their hurt over being abused and neglected. What happened to them?
Jewel Tankard: First, let me make it clear that this occurred before Ben and I were together. He was touring a lot and the people that he thought would be caring and nurturing for the children in his absence were not. There was definitely verbal abuse. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.
EBONY: Ben admits that he was “asleep at the wheel” when his children were younger and has matured into a better dad. He credits you for influencing him. What did you do?
JT: When you marry somebody you’re marrying the family. Every good mother, biological or blended, should be moving their husbands towards the children. I grew up with both of my biological parents and I remember my mom making suggestions to my dad. I think good women move their husbands towards the children mentally, emotionally and physically. If we’re going to be a big happy family the parents need to pay attention. And that’s what I did.
EBONY: You and your husband are millionaires, but the kids are very clear that you “run the Tankard bank”. Watching the show, it seems like you’re a little hard on your stepchildren when it comes to money. Why?
JT: There is nothing wrong with being a blessing to your children and helping them, but at the same time we have to teach them good financial stewardship. Just because they can have it doesn’t mean they can always get it. Statistics show that kids who inherit money do not keep always the wealth. I believe you don’t develop responsibility if everything is handed to you. My approach is lets talk things through, so we help each kid transition into adulthood.
EBONY: You’re a stepmom to four, but a biological mom to the family’s youngest, Cyrene. Does she have the same rules?
JT: Yes. Cyrene’s in college and called me from Howard University the other day asking for a new leather jacket that was $700 — I was like no ma’am. You’re in school. We have tuition. And I’m trying to give her a sense of responsibility.
EBONY: Now the young adults aren’t the only ones working through issues. You have two sisters, but you haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye with your youngest sibling Junice. What will we see as the season unfolds?
JT: You’ll see that we’re all imperfect human beings. You’ll see me really trying to understand and affirm my sister, and do my best to make sure no one feel interrogated.
EBONY: You seem disconnected from how Junice experiences you, which is as a dominating force. What is it like watching the show?
JT: I think she is correct; I’m definitely overbearing and bossy — but I’ve been that way my whole life! Most successful people have to be to a degree. At the same time, I respect her and she’s an adult. And I think you have to set boundaries. For example, if my parents called me a thousand times a day I may not answer the phone, but you don’t have to snap off on them.
EBONY: What have you learned about yourself from your fracture with Junice?
JT: The biggest thing I’ve learned is I have to affirm Junice. So many of these changes are new for us. We were all just cool. So I had to learn who she is right now and I’m sensitive to it.
EBONY: Despite all the drama, there has been some good news, particularly on the business front. What’s new?
JT: I’m getting ready to launch the Jewel Tankard talk show, which will be on the Impact network. I’m also getting ready to launch a nationally syndicated radio show. And JT: Ben has new music coming out, his album, Full Tank Volume 2, and a book coming out, Full Tank Life. He’ll be doing some thing on fatherhood and restoring those relationships. We’ve found that men some times don’t know where to start, but with a child it’s so easy, you tell them that you love them and show up, you can bond. Most of them have been waiting for that moment all of their lives.
EBONY: Speaking of kids, are you working on anything else as a family?
JT: Absolutely. We’ve launched a “Fighting For Your Family Campaign”. We’re doing a conference, and each of the children will present on different topics from legacy and business, to young love vs. lust. When we’re touring people are always telling us how the show has helped them, so we want people to see that there is no perfect family and we’re all a work in progress. Check out jeweltankard.org for updates on all of our projects.