June Favorites!


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I'm so excited for this post, you guys.  It's been several months since I've done a Favorites post (hello, crazy life!) but I have lots of good stuff for this one and I'm so pumped for it!

IT IS SUMMER NOW, Y'ALL!!!  I couldn't be more excited and what better way to kick it off than to show you my most recent favs?

So what have I been loving this month?  Here we go...

Food & Drink

-I'm skipping a favorite food this month, because MY favorite discovery was also Christopher's favorite, so I *guess* I can let him have it for his section ;) ... Check it out later in the post!

-Recently I've become a big fan of protein shakes as a good option post-exercise. But a lot of the shakes on the market are HOLY EXPENSIVE!  So I did some research and I found this little gem of a protein powder in the "Decadent Chocolate" flavor.  It's tastes delicious with almond milk, which is how I like to make these types of drinks, and is way cheaper than many of the alternatives out there at the moment.  Give it a try and tell me what you think!


Nothin' to see here, folks... 

Clothes & Accessories

-ALRIGHT.  One of my absolute favorite things about hot weather is that I can wear dresses without leggings underneath.  It's like everyone's favorite day of the year around here when it's finally time to bust out the sundresses!  I purchased this one from amazon at the end of April, but have finally been able to wear it more since the New Hampshire weather has begun cooperating!  I was admittedly a little nervous purchasing a dress from amazon, but I found the sizing to be accurate and the quality to be awesome!  I'd definitely recommend if you're in the market for a darling dress!

-I finally bit the bullet and bought a PopSocket and, you guys, MY LIFE HAS CHANGED.  This thing is so convenient and easy to use and I've loved the ease (and cuteness) it's added to my phone!  This is the one I got for myself, and we got this one for Jess for her birthday tomorrow. (Shhhhhh! She doesn't know this yet!)


Home & Lifestyle

-I've heard about wool dryer balls for literal years, but never took the plunge.  Last week sometime I finally bought a bag (these ones!) and I already love them!  They FOR SURE reduce our dryer time, and I also just feel a lot better about not putting a ton of weirdo chemicals on the clothes that we wear every day!

-We purchased some Amazon Basic Sheets for our bed last year in white and absolutely loved them, so when Jessica's bed clearly needed some new, fresh sheets, the first place I looked was amazon!  I'm super excited that we were able to find these spa blue ones (which apparently now have a 4-5 month wait list?!  Wowza!  I told you these sheets were amazing!) and I know she's going to love them.  They're inexpensive, great quality, and amazingly soft.  I will definitely be looking here the next time we need any bedding because these things are AMAZING.


Fun & Games

-The Loaded Questions Game.  You guys --- you need this game!  We bought the car version for our trip to Gettysburg in April and loved it, and then found out that my mom actually has the full board game version and we played it together on Father's Day.  It is SUCH a simple premise (you anonymously answer random questions and try to guess who said what) but it's really quite fun and you end up learning a lot about each other in the process!  I highly recommend either version if you're in the market for an awesome, simple, but super fun game!


Christopher & Jessica

-Christopher: It's Jessica's birthday this month (the day before mine, actually!) and to celebrate I took a few of her friends out and about!  And when we came home?  Chris presented THIS INCREDIBLE REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER CUP ICE CREAM CAKE that he saw at the store!  You guys... It was as incredible as it sounds.  THERE WERE CHUNKS OF REESES IN IT.  This cake was decadent and delicious and incredible and we all loved it, even though the "frosting" was actually hard chocolate and I had to awkwardly hold a candle over it when we sang Jess the birthday song. #worthit


-Jess - Speaking of Jessica's friends, one of her best friends actually got her probably one of the top birthday presents of all time... A life-sized cardboard cutout of Gordon Ramsay.  Yes, I mean it.  Ye, it was amazing. YES, it lives in her room and accidentally scares her numerous times a day. ahahaha



Precious & Treasured

-So as you all may or may not know, Miss Jess leaves for her summer trip to her mom's this week.  Tomorrow, actually.  And I'm very nervous and very sad even though I know she's excited, so there are just LOTS OF FEELINGS happening right now!  With Jess' birthday and the last day of school and all sorts of events and activities happening, I've just had the most amazing time hanging out with Jess and her friends and our family before she leaves.  Although it's a bittersweet time, having these amazing memories stored up will definitely help me get through the month when she's away from us.


What about you?  What has been your favorite thing or experience from June?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!



Hi, I'm Grady! Welcome to my blog :) A little about me? I'm a smitten newlywed and brand-new stepmom living in New Hampshire. My day job is boring on paper but great in real life (just like Dunder Mifflin!), and when I'm not working I love to spend time with my family, perform in or manage productions at the theatre, and eat ice cream while listening to yet another financial management podcast.  I write about my marriage, step-parenthood, and whatever else is going on.  Be sure to follow me on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, and subscribe to my blog!

Dear Dad



Thank you for being there.

For car ride karaoke and judgement-free conversation and embodying "home."

For giving me both the best table manners and the weirdest personality of anyone I know.

Thank you for your kindness and understanding and for always answering the phone when I called at 2am crying from college.

And thank you for always picking me up the next day.

Thank you for defying stereotypes and never holding back "I love you"s.

Thank you for loving my mother and my siblings and me and showing it in a million tiny, consistent ways every single day of my 28 years.

For James Taylor and texting on your flip phone.

For being a beacon of calm in a world of chaos.

I am who I am in huge part because of you, and I will never, ever be able to repay you for that.

Thank you for everything.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy. <3


The Stepmom Club Series: Amelia!



Happy weekend, my friends!

I'm excited to share today's feature on The Stepmom Club Series!

Amelia's here to share her stepmotherhood story with you all!  I'm so grateful for the honesty and care she was willing to share in this piece about her beautiful little family. (Also get ready for some of the sweetest pics of all time! Serious heart-eye emojis, y'all. <3)

(Would you like to be part of the project?  Fill out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

And without further ado, here is Amelia's story...





-What is your name and general location?
Amelia - originally from New England and we’ve now been living in DC for almost three years.


-How many stepchildren do you have? (And what age and gender, if you’re comfortable sharing) If you have biological children, feel free to let us know about them here, too!
One step-daughter who will be ten next month (where have the years gone?!).



-Can you tell me a little bit of background about your stepparenting story?
When Jeremy picked me up for our first date, he said he had two things to tell me: 1) he smokes (we both quit years ago now) and 2) he has a daughter. Once we got to the bar, he pulled up pictures of this tiny little girl with long blonde hair hanging out in a tree. His love for her was beyond apparent and it was incredibly endearing. We pretended our dating was casual for the first couple months so meeting Chloe was not on the table, but once we acknowledged that we were both serious about the relationship, I met her almost immediately.

The arrangement at the time was that Jeremy had limited visitations a few times a week and they steadily increased to include alternating overnight weekend visits, but we were never 50/50.

A few years ago we made the difficult choice to move about 6 hours away. Everything about the move has been exactly what we hoped for (better jobs, great city, beautiful home, closer to both our hometowns), but that does not take away how difficult it is having such limited time with Chloe. That is balanced by how much we are able to provide her, teach her, and show her as a result of living in the Capitol. DC is packed with museums, festivals, concerts, sports, and so much more that we both believe are important for her to see and experience as she grows up.

As I write this, we are only a few days away from her next visit to kick off summer break and I could not be more excited to cook together, pick veggies fresh from the garden, visit the zoo, play in the sprinkler, and snuggle up for movie marathons.



-What does your stepchild call you?
Chloe asked me once if she could call me mom. I told her no because she already has a mom, but that we could come up with something else for her to call me. It took some time, but eventually we fell into the rhythm of her calling me ‘Meal-Meal’ and me calling her ‘Chlo-lo’ or ‘Lo-lo’. They’re our special names for each other and I think it’s a perfect balance for the two of us.


-How/When did you first meet your now stepchild(ren)?  Did you run into any difficulties bonding with them? (right away or just in general)
Jeremy invited me to come over after work on one of his days with Chloe - a short visit that would give us a chance to meet without too much going on or a lot of pressure. I remember driving over there that night with horrible butterflies in my tummy. I loved this guy... what would happen if his daughter didn’t like me?

Chloe was four and I was 21; after being shy for about ten whole minutes, we hit it off beautifully. I had pink, purple, and blue in my hair, I had piercings, I had tattoos (like Daddy!) - I was a different kind of adult and I think she liked that. I’d never really spent that much time around children so I wasn’t quite sure what to do, and I stumbled a couple times, especially in the first few months, but I got the hang of it.

I started joining them on their trips to the park, going out to dinner, visiting the beach. Then I started attending the soccer practices, T-ball games, and school concerts where I met Chloe’s mother. After about a year, I moved in with Jeremy and we started having overnight weekend visitations. I have been very fortunate to have such a positive relationship with Chloe from day one.

Over the years, Chloe has learned she can count on me, but there are some things she just wants Daddy for. They have a very close relationship, but are not able to see each other as often as any of us would like, so sometimes I need to step aside and let their bond take priority. This has been painful sometimes when my immediate reaction was something along the lines of “but I can fix the boo-boo too! I want to nurture and comfort you to show you how much I love you.” But I’ve also learned to try to see those opportunities as a break. I don’t need to do it all, it’s okay to let Jeremy handle those things solo sometimes, and he deserves those moments for just the two of them as father and daughter.

Selfishly, this is one of the biggest things I lost in my relationship with Chloe when we moved away: there are very few opportunities for the two of us to have solo time anymore. I am making a point this weekend to take her away for an hour or so right after she gets up to DC so that the two of us can pick out a present for Father’s Day, but moments like that are rare now. Most of the time it’s more important for the three of us to stick together as a family whenever possible.



-How do you and your partner handle discipline/rules within your family? (Is it 50/50?)  How do you and your partner make sure you are both respected by the child?
Chloe has always been a very mature and well-behaved kid so discipline isn’t a huge issue for us. Simple corrections when she’s being too loud or rambunctious are usually all she needs. Meeting her at such a young age, she had no issue beginning to take direction from me as she does any other adult guardian (coach, teacher, etc.) when I needed to ask her to calm down, pick up her toys, or get her booty in the shower.

I tend to feel like I’m more observant of messes she leaves or things she might’ve forgotten to do, but if I mention something, Jeremy always has my back with making sure she knows that we share our expectations of her, not that I’m the lone authoritarian.

Jeremy usually takes the lead on important non-disciplinary related conversations - checking in on how life is at mom’s, discussing her relationships with her peers and friends, introducing her to the larger world around her. When I am around during these conversations, I take my cues on whether to join in or not depending on the tone of the discussion. Sometimes J and I will discuss later on and we may revisit a topic again if we find other important points to examine with her.



-Do you participate in communication/relationship with your stepchild’s other biological parent? (Not your partner)  If so, how much and how do you maintain that relationship?
Chloe’s mother, thankfully, never made me feel unwelcome in Chloe’s life and I am forever grateful for that. We are polite when we’re in proximity to each other, I know I can text her and ask what size Miss Growth-Spurt is wearing now, she sends us pictures occasionally, and I have a lot of respect for her, but we are not friends. And I think that’s okay. A neighbor once let it slip to me that Chloe’s mom is glad I’m in her daughter’s life, so I think our respect for each other is mutual.


-How do you decide what things to do when you don’t have the child (when the child is with their other parent) and what things you want to wait to do until you have the child with you?
Visits with Chloe are special now because they’re more limited due to our distance from each other. We take time off work, we plan little adventures, we check to see what concerts or games might be happening during her visit. This time we will be going to a comic convention so we can geek out over Doctor Who, Star Wars, and everything else.

That being said, one of the things Chloe loves about time with us is being lazy; she has a lot of activities and playdates and parties when she’s at her mom’s so I think she enjoys having some time that is not so scheduled when she is with us. We are happy to provide a space to decompress, stay in our PJ’s all day, try a new video game, watch a movie, and just spend time together.



-Hardest/Most Difficult stepmothering memory?
As many other stepmothers know, Mother’s Day is painful for an array of reasons.

I struggled a bit early on with feeling like I was pushed to the back burner anytime Chloe was with us - some of that was based in reality and some of it was my own insecurities, both of which improved with time and effort. I love Grady’s thoughts on this here and what an earlier SMCS feature, Courtney, said here - specifically the “Knowing what you know now, would you still do it” question). I believe keeping our relationship healthy makes caring for the kid easier, acts as a positive example of a healthy relationship for Chloe, and offers stability in what could otherwise feel overwhelmingly unstable.

Also, not one solid memory, but more a series of unpleasant moments revolve around our interactions with other parents. Birthday parties, sports practices and games, school events. While the fathers generally seemed welcoming to everyone, some of the other mothers did little to hide their distaste for Jeremy, and subsequently me once I joined the picture. This was compounded by the fact that I am a fair bit younger than J and his ex-wife, which seems to make these types of situations even worse, evoking the image of a younger woman sweeping in for a trivial or superficial relationship with an older man, which could not be further from our reality. (And I am grateful that Chloe’s mother has never given me reason to believe she viewed me in that light.) I’ve heard other stepparents lament about similar experiences and I’ve seen this repeat itself when another child’s parents divorced and the father was similarly ostracized. It is not overt or malevolent, but it is perceptible and unfortunate. I try to focus on the simple fact that we’re all there for the kids, whether its bio parents, step-parents, extended family, or family friends.



-Best/Funniest stepmothering memory?
Chloe can be a sassy little beast and sometimes a quip rolls right off her tongue that will have her father and I in stitches.

Not exactly a specific memory, but I’ve always seen the ways Chloe reflects her father, both physically and in personality, so it was heartwarming to notice as she began adopting things from me as well. It started small, copying a way I tease her father or talk trash when I’m losing at Mario Kart, and grew from there. She’s picking up my love of dogs, her favorite color shifted from pink to turquoise, she loves to put her hair up in a messy bun the same way I always wear mine, and she recently begged to dye the tips of her hair bright blue, reminiscent of the style I wore when we first met.

Jeremy has a house on the coast in Massachusetts that is shared among his extended family. A few years ago we were finally able to convince Chloe’s mom to let us take her up there for a week. It was our first vacation away with all three of us, and Chloe’s first time since right after she was born that she was able to visit the house that holds such an important place in J’s heart. We had a week of gorgeous weather, visiting with friends, and family time - I cannot wait until we’re able to do it again. (This may or may not just be an excuse to look through and share a couple pictures from that week. :) )



-Any particular resources (books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc) that have helped you along in your stepmothering journey?
I’ve never really sought out resources like this but once Grady began speaking openly about the topic, I found it incredibly comforting. I still don’t really pursue other resources, but I thoroughly enjoy reading the SMCS each time a new one comes out and keeping an eye on the #StepmomClub Facebook page.


-What advice would you give your former self if you could send a letter back in time?  Please write a short version of that letter here.

Get ready girl.

Basically, nothing is going to go according to plan so you might as well throw your expectations out the window and get ready for a helluva ride. This relationship will not be what you expect. The next few years will not be what you expect. This guy’s proposal (*spoilers*) is going to be the last thing you expect. Becoming a step-mother will be nothing like you expect.

Things are going to change, sometimes instantly and sometimes imperceptibly over a long while.  Some of these next steps are going to be painful, but they will be balanced by contagious laughter, personal growth and successes, the love of your family, and unexpected adventures and experiences.

Check in with yourself as you go, don’t be afraid to to ask for what you need, be honest about your feelings and struggles, take a moment to be proud of yourself sometimes, and do your best not to take trivial things too seriously or trivialize the things that matter.

You got this.



-Do you ever get jealous that you aren’t the child’s biological parent?
No...not of the biological part. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could see myself mirrored in her the way I see her mother’s freckles or her dad’s eyes, but my initial jealousy over that waned as I began to see her picking up her own pieces of who I am.

There is some jealousy because our time with her is limited and likely always will be, but I think anyone who shares a child with another household has that to a degree, no matter the arrangement. It would be amazing if we could have her full time and not need to split her with a whole other family, but in reality that would strip away the important ways her mom (and stepdad and their entire side of the family) has helped shape her into such an amazing little human.

And I admire the relationship she has with her father. But I cherish my unique role as something different in her life. As she continues to grow and inches ever closer to her teen years, I expect being the matriarch of our home will change our relationship, but I am optimistic that it will be for the better given the solid foundation we’ve created so far.



-What do you say when people ask if you have kids?
“I have a step-daughter.” I often feel compelled to give further explanation of our situation but I am realizing that is not necessary; I do not need to downplay my role in her life.


-What do you say when a stranger (waitress or something like that) refers to you and your spouse as mom and dad? (ie “Ask your mom and dad”)
Chloe has never shown any discomfort with this so we just let it go. Chloe calls Jeremy and I her parents when telling stories about us, just like she calls her mom and stepdad her parents when telling stories about them.



-How are you preparing for when the child might someday say “you aren’t my real parent” or if others say that to you?
This is hard for me to pin down a clear answer in my own mind. Chloe is a very gentle soul and works hard to avoid hurting people’s feelings so this is difficult for me to imagine. It is hard to know what to expect from her teen years, but should these words ever be directed at me, I hope I will be able to let it roll off my back - I remember the angst of my teen years and I know sometimes immaturity can lead to saying hurtful things you do not mean.

If an adult was ever rude enough to say something like that to me, that tells me all I need to know about the quality of their character; they can take their judgments of my family and stick them where the sun don’t shine.


-Was your now partner having a child or children a pro or a con when deciding whether to date and ultimately marry them?
Chloe has been nothing but a pro. She has been the greatest surprise life has ever given me. I certainly never expected to become a stepparent but I have loved it so much. I count myself incredibly lucky to be a part of her life. Our family feels complete when she is with us.



-Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to get into this relationship?
As if you have to ask.


-Tell us three interesting facts about you that DON’T have to do with stepmothering.
-My dream is to be able to adopt **all the dogs** and give them a home and love and snuggles. For now it’s just our two mutts and a fat cat though.

-I love food and I love to cook - it’s one of the things that brought Jeremy and I together when we first started dating. And yes, I am one of those obnoxious people who posts pictures of ingredients, meals, and our vegetable garden on social media. Not sorry.

-I’m an intersectional feminist hippie striving to crush the kyriarchy and save the planet.




Thanks again, Amelia, for sharing your stepmotherhood story today!  I'm so grateful for the honesty and grace you have, both within your interview, and in your life as a stepmom!

Did you like reading Amelia's interview?  Want to read more in this series?  Check them all out here!

(Don't forget that if you're interested in sharing your own stepmotherhood story just out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

Thank you, my friends!  Have a great weekend!!

3 Tips for Getting Out of Debt

This post contains affiliate links, which means that the price of the item won’t change for you, but I receive a small commission of the sale. This helps keep my site up and running. Thanks!


As I've mentioned on the blog before, Christopher and I are working on getting completely out of debt.  And at this point, you guys, we're pretty darn close!  And while it feels like it's been a long road in a lot of ways, the reality is it's been less than two years of working on this together, and we've kinda been crushing it!  So I thought I'd hop on here and share just a few things that have helped to keep us on track and jumpstart our debt free goal!

(For context, we are working through "the baby steps" and are on step two of the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover program, which has been working amazingly well for us at this point!)

-Make a budget and stick to it!

Now I know, I know... this sounds like the most obvious, seriously lame piece of advice out there, but YOU GUYS MAKING AND HAVING AND USING A BUDGET HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING.  You've gotta understand, a "budget" is not an assessment of what you've spent once the month is over, it's a plan for your spending for the month before it evens begins.  We love the EveryDollar app which I've mentioned previously, but really whatever works best for you is perfect!  (Truthfully, I used to budget 100% with pencil and paper until Christopher came into the picture, and it worked well for me!  We've since transitioned into using the app, but whatever you can find that you'll actually STICK TO is perfect!)

The key to a good budget, in my eyes, is all in the user -- can YOU actually stick to what you say you're going to do?  Can you be intentional about not going above in the categories you've decided on?  Can you actually watch your spending and make sure you're on track with your budget?  Honestly, budgeting is all about you.

And the thing about budgets that I hear all the time is that they're restrictive and don't let you have fun.

Y'all, let me let you in on a little secret... our monthly budget literally allocates $100 for coffee.

Yup, you read that right. Two zeros on there.  One hundred dollars.

FOR COFFEE.

But guess what?  I LOVE coffee and I LOVE being able to go out and buy a coffee to start my day, and I get a lot of value from having that daily cup, so we put it in the budget!

Now obviously this means other categories (like entertainment, restaurants, etc.) have to have much lower dollar amounts allocated to them.  But that's okay because this is what works for us!

Maybe you think I'm a crazy person. Maybe you hate coffee.  But maybe you LOVE and get a lot of value from going to the movies - well then build that into the budget, my friend!  If you completely deprive yourself of anything and everything you love, you're so much more likely to deviate from the budget when things get hard!! 

Now obviously you can't make EVERYTHING you love into a giant spending category, but choose your one thing and make sure it's in there!  Budgeting doesn't mean you have to start hating your life, y'all. ;)



-Try a "No Spend" Month!

Okay, so I don't know about you, but we do, on occasion, tend to impulse buy things that we just frankly don't need.  Even for categories within our budget - say an obvious one, like groceries - we'll go to the store and buy way more than what we went there for!  Sometimes I just see something that I like and I just "need" to get it.  And if there's room in our budget, I will.

Now don't forget what I said before, let yourself live your life within a budget, absolutely, but that doesn't mean that just because you have some money in your "Supplies" budget, you should start buying every seasonal scent of Mrs. Meyers in existence. (No? Just me?... oops.)  

But sometimes I get into the habit of using up what's in our budget, just because I can.  And now that, my friends, is where a "No Spend" month comes into play!

You don't need to do this forever, obviously, (hence "month") but it can be a nice experiment to try for a short period of time.  Decide on a time frame, and then purchase only what you and your family deem "essentials" for that month.  You still get to decide the categories, but this might be a good time to nix the "Home Decor" category, just for a little while.

I actually did a similar thing this year for Lent - I stopped buying things that were not consumable (aka food and drink) or otherwise essential to our family (aka hand soap, medicine, etc.).  And to make it even more fun, I started a note on my phone where I'd write down something that I was having the urge to impulse buy, but didn't because of this challenge.

YOU GUYS!!  I knew I sometimes had a tendency to do this, but I HAD NO IDEA HOW MUCH.  I've always been a thoughtful spender for larger items, but DANG if this "impulse avoided" list wasn't a dozen lines long after the first week!  It surprised me so much how quickly this list was growing, and how much money I was likely saving just by writing it down and not purchasing it in the moment.  

It was such a short period of time, honestly, but we saved a fair amount of money during those months and, probably more importantly, it shined a light on the spending I sometimes do without thinking. (Hello, Amazon Prime!)



Oh, and for the record, after Lent was over I ended up purchasing one and only one of the things off this list (Say You Won't Let Go by James Arthur... it was just too dreamy to resist!) ...turns out, the rest weren't really necessary to me anymore.  Go figure.


-Don't wait until the end of the month to pay down your debt!

Now this tip probably sounds totally minor, especially compared to the other ones, but this has made SUCH a massive difference in our ability to pay down debt that I had to share it.

For awhile, when we first began paying down our debt, I was quite nervous that something would come up mid-month that we'd "need" the money for, so we'd wait until the end of the month to put whatever extra we could onto our debt payments.

But here's the thing you guys: we have an emergency fund.  Like, we literally have a fund for this exact purpose.  So I was basically waiting on paying off debt because of a ridiculous fear.  But you know what would somehow happen by the end of the month?  A lot of our money would've randomly disappeared (Hello, Amazon Prime again!).  We were actually putting less towards debt than we would've been able to if we'd paid it off when we had extra income from our paychecks in the first place!

Changing this one tiny thing has lead to literally hundreds of additional dollars being thrown at debt, and I can't even imagine doing it the other way now. 


These are just a few things Christopher and I have been using to pay off our debt, but they have truly made a huge difference in the speed and efficiency with which we've been able to make this happen!

Are you working on getting out of debt, too?  Do you have any tips or tricks to share?  Let me know!!
Hi, I'm Grady! Welcome to my blog :) A little about me? I'm a smitten newlywed and brand-new stepmom living in New Hampshire. My day job is boring on paper but great in real life (just like Dunder Mifflin!), and when I'm not working I love to spend time with my family, perform in or manage productions at the theatre, and eat ice cream while listening to yet another financial management podcast.  I write about my marriage, step-parenthood, and whatever else is going on.  Be sure to follow me on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, and subscribe to my blog!


The Stepmom Club Series: Jo!



Happy weekend, my friends!

I'm excited to share today's feature on The Stepmom Club Series!

Jo has an incredible, unique stepmom story and perspective that I think needs to be shared, and I'm so grateful that she was willing to tell her story here today!!

(Would you like to be part of the project?  Fill out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

And without further ado, here is Jo's story...


-What is your name and general location?
Hi! My name is Jo, and I live in southern New Hampshire.


-How many stepchildren do you have? (And what age and gender, if you’re comfortable sharing) If you have biological children, feel free to let us know about them here, too!
I have an 18 year-old stepson named Quinn, and my husband has two stepcats (Percy and Link).


-Can you tell me a little bit of background about your stepparenting story?
Here comes the long answer! My husband (Norman) and I met four-and-a-half years ago when I was hosting karaoke at a local bar and he came in to sing. I'll openly admit that I pre-judged him semi-harshly, but the minute he started singing I turned into a Looney Tunes character with my eyes popping out of my head and my heart comically beating out of my chest. We chatted a little that night and on and off when he visited the bar over the next few months, but we both misread each other's platonic friendships and didn't realize we were both single. Then, unfortunately, he moved an hour away and we completely lost touch.

Fast forward a number of months to me sitting on the couch doing my best imitation of a Cathy cartoon, and I got a text from another karaoke host friend saying, “Norman’s at the bar and he says he won't sing unless you come down!” Grumbling, I threw on some not-pajamas and dragged myself to the bar, and I'll be damned if he wasn't even cuter than I remembered! I ended up inviting him to my 30th birthday party the following week, we finally went on our first date a month after that, and we’ve been together ever since. We pretty much skipped right over being engaged, but we did make things legal in a surprise wedding at that very same karaoke bar a little over a year ago!

So, where does Quinn fit in all of this? Well, Norman actually told me about his son on that reunion night at the karaoke bar. I couldn't believe he had a teenage son, but I think I was even more surprised to learn that there was a 10-year age gap between me and Norman! That was also the night he told me about Quinn’s Autism. Sweet, goofy Quinn has pretty severe Autism with limited verbal skills and a decent amount of self-injurious and tantruming behaviors. He needs 24/7 supervision, so he lives full time at his school. Norman used to have shared legal custody with Quinn’s mom but when Q turned 18, Norman became his sole legal guardian. We’re now in the beginning stages of determining the best plan for when Quinn ages out of his current school and needs adult care.

Professional Photos by Jasmin Hunter Photography

-What does your stepchild call you?
To start Quinn always called me “Jo,” then one day Norman very sweetly lamented the fact that there wasn't something more special Q could call me. Very shortly thereafter, Q independently started calling me “JoJo,” which no one has ever really called me, so that has now become his special name for me.


-How/When did you first meet your now stepchild(ren)?  Did you run into any difficulties bonding with them?
Neither Norman nor I remember the details exactly, but a few months after we started dating we all went out to dinner together. I think this is where the pros and cons of having an Autistic stepkid first became apparent - we didn't have any of the typical bonding difficulties, but that’s partially because Q doesn't bond the same way a neurotypical kid bonds. The first few times we met I'd say he was pretty indifferent toward me and barely acknowledged my presence, but I remember one day Norman left us in the car together while he ran an errand. Q started pointing at my phone and pleading for “YooToo” (YouTube) and “Craypan!!” I had no idea what he wanted to watch, but kept trying various words and videos until I finally realized that “Craypan” was his was of saying “Squarepants,” and that he wanted to watch Spongebob. I think I earned some major points with him for solving that, and from then on I felt like he acknowledged my presence much more directly. Now I get hugs and smiles, and even the occasional “I luff you Jo-Jo!”



-How do you and your partner handle discipline/rules within your family? (Is it 50/50?)  How do you and your partner make sure you are both respected by the child?
In our situation, we rarely have to do much major disciplining. He’s generally on his best behavior when he’s with us because he loves being out of school and seeing his dad, so the school ends up taking the lion’s share of disciplinary actions. That being said we do have to correct his behavior or language some times, and Norman both supports me initiating corrections, and backs me up if Q doesn't respond appropriately. The one thing I haven't yet experienced is a full tantrum. At school, Quinn pretty regularly tantrums to the extent where he needs to be restrained. If he were ever to do that with us, I'd definitely let Norman take the lead since I think that would be the physically safest option for all involved, but I'd jump in if asked.


-Do you participate in communication/relationship with your stepchild’s other biological parent? (Not your partner)  If so, how much and how do you maintain that relationship?
I do not. One of the best decisions we made was for me to proactively block Norman’s ex-wife on Facebook before accepting friend requests from his family members (many of whom are still FB friends with her). By doing things that way, I could avoid the awkwardness of ever receiving a friend request from her, and as far as she can tell I'm not even on Facebook. Perhaps there wouldn't be any drama, but this way there definitely isn't any! That being said we have met, but both times were very short interactions. Sometimes I wish we could all be friendly co-parents, but this approach seems to be the best for our situation.



-How do you decide what things to do when you don’t have the child (or when the child is with their other parent) and what things you want to wait to do until you have the child with you?
We don't have too much difficulty with this, but sometimes we test things out to see if we think they’d engage Quinn before we bring him along. The harder thing for us is finding consistent visiting times because we both work a ton and his school is over an hour away (in the middle of nowhere). We’d love to have him closer to us so we could see him more and do more fun activities, but he’ll remain in his current placement until he’s 21 (another two and a half years). We’re also working on setting our apartment up so that he could safely do some overnights at home with us; we currently only do overnights at hotels since hotel rooms have a single entry point that we can block to make sure he doesn't wander off. Last year we took him on a mini-vacation to Universal Studios, and he did so well that we’re taking him to Disney World this year!


-Hardest/Most Difficult stepmothering memory?
There’s not one specific memory, but the hardest thing for me has been those times when I can sense that Quinn is in physical or emotional pain, but he can't communicate why. He very simply can't communicate much at all to us, and that can be so hard. An acquaintance once complained about their child talking too much and asking too many questions and Norman said, “Do you know what I'd give for my son to be able to ask me a question or just tell me how his day was?” It broke my heart.


-Best/Funniest stepmothering memory?
Norman and I were driving somewhere with Quinn one day and he said something that sort of sounded like “C is for cookie.” We decided to run with it and started singing the Cookie Monster song from Sesame Street. When we got to the final “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me…” Quinn belted from the backseat, clear as day, “Oh, cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C!” We were so shocked we almost had to pull over! Once we got past the joy and tears we tried a few other Sesame Street songs and we discovered that Q loves to sing and dance; plus he knows tons of songs! I keep hoping that maybe someday we can teach him to link little songs to wants or needs to help him communicate, but until then I'm more than happy to have sing-a-longs to Disney’s greatest hits every time we get in the car.



-Any particular resources (books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc) that have helped you along in your stepmothering journey?
The Gradybird Blog #stepmomclub! Honestly, it’s the only consistent resource I use because I'm a pretty private person and it’s not easy for me to share my story with others. That being said, I'd love to find an Autism group that's as positive and accepting as the #stepmomclub.


-What advice would you give your former self if you could send a letter back in time?  Please write a short version of that letter here.
Not to cop out here but I rather believe that, for better or for worse, my former self did the best she could. Sure she made some mistakes but maybe without them she wouldn't have eventually met the love of her life, so I don't want to upset her journey with my hindsight. That being said, I wouldn't mind sending letters to both my present and future selves to remind them both to work less and enjoy their families more!



-Do you ever get jealous that you aren’t the child’s biological parent?
I don't think I'm jealous that I'm not Quinn’s biological parent, but I do often wish that I had been able to be part of his life a lot earlier, if that makes sense. I came along when he was already in his late teens, and I feel like I missed out on so much. Norman and his family have been awesome in recognizing my role in Q’s life though, and there are some great people at Quinn’s school who try to make sure I'm recognized in special ways. I think that support has made me feel valued for the part I do play, which has helped to keep me from feeling jealous of someone else's part. But would many things be less complicated if I was Quinn’s biological mom? Absolutely!


-What do you say when people ask if you have kids?
I typically say I have a stepson if someone asks if I have kids, but there are times when I refer to Quinn as my son to simplify communication.



-What do you say when a stranger (waitress or something like that) refers to you and your spouse as mom and dad? (ie “Ask your mom and dad”)
We don't correct it and, to be honest, usually it makes me smile.


-How are you preparing for when the child might someday say “you aren’t my real parent” or if others say that to you?
Is it weird to say that I'd be thrilled if his communication skills developed to the point where he could sass me like that? I don't think that’s really in the cards for my stepmom experience though. I will say, however, that last year I was in a conversation with some coworkers about their children. When I started to chime in about Quinn by referring to him as “my kid,” one of my coworkers cut me off and told me that it didn't count because Quinn isn't my son. I felt like I had been slapped. All I could do was stammer a bit and walk away. I've often thought of how I might handle a similar situation if I'm ever faced with one again, and I have yet to come up with anything that I think would both make me feel better, and would help change the other person’s frame of mind regarding stepparents.



-Was your now partner having a child or children a pro or a con when deciding whether to date and ultimately marry them?
I guess it was sort of a pro? I've never had a strong biological need to have kids, but I've also never been fully set against it, so it’s kind of a happy medium between the two. I also grew up with two stepparents, so the idea of being one wasn't a foreign concept to me. To be super honest, the trickier thing for me was deciding if I was okay with the fact that Norman had a vasectomy after Quinn was born. I effectively had to decide if I wanted the option of bio kids at some point, or if I felt I could be satisfied without ever being a biological mother. I'm very confident in my ultimate decision against having children, but we have both agreed to leave the foster and/or adoption doors open.

I'd be lying by omission, though, if I didn't admit that I also had to weigh out some major pros and cons regarding becoming a stepmom to a disabled child. When most parents become parents, they expect to nurture their tiny humans to a pretty standard level of independence. Quinn will need a lifetime of special care and expensive medications, and he will never be independent. That’s a lot to voluntarily sign up for. Arguably, that’s a pretty big “con.” But having both Norman and Quinn in my life is worth facing those challenges. They’re my “pro” :)


-Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to get into this relationship?
100%. I love my little family more than I thought possible. Cats and all.


-Tell us three interesting facts about you that DON’T have to do with stepmothering.
- I stay pretty busy managing a 2200 capacity concert venue that hosts nationally recognized music and comedy acts
- I'm a giant trivia nerd - Norman and I have won a number of trivia tournaments, including two years on the winning team at the NHPR Trivia Smackdown
- I collect rare Disney World artifacts (latest addition to the collection is an original construction blueprint from the Haunted Mansion!)


Thanks again, Jo, for your willingness to share your stepmotherhood story today!  I'm so grateful for the insight you've shared. You and Norman and Q and the cats are the cutest little family! <3 


Did you like reading Jo's interview?  Want to read more in this series?  Check them all out here!

(Don't forget that if you're interested in sharing your own stepmotherhood story just out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

Thank you, my friends!  Have a great weekend!!