The Stepmom Club Series: Jaime!

Happy weekend, my friends!

I'm super happy to have you all reading today's feature on The Stepmom Club Series!

Jaime is a young stepmom with an extremely interested, complicated stepmotherhood story.  I'm so grateful that she's willing to share her background and journey with us 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 Jaime's story...

-What is your name and general location? (South, New England, etc)
My name is Jaime and I live in Northern California.

-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 2 “bonus” girls -- Rhema, almost 10 going on 17, and Callista, 6 1/2. I'm also currently 27 weeks pregnant with our little boy.

-Can you tell me a little bit of background about your stepparenting story?
Oh boy. This is the fun part! So my story began when I about 24; I was still dealing with some pretty traumatic life experiences and finally,  after a tree fell on & subsequently destroyed my house, I moved in with an old friend of my ex-fiance’s (we’ll call ex-fiancé “Steve” for the sake of this post) and her husband. I threw in the part about the trauma and the tree not for pity but because A) those things both contributed to my Panic Disorder w/ Agoraphobia (which I still struggle with), and B) you needed to know about my Agoraphobia to know just how big of a deal it was for me to move in with roommates - it was HUGE. But I needed a place and they needed help with their two little girls, so I pretty much became their nanny.

I had met Steve’s friend (whom we’ll call “Amber”) a few times throughout the years but we really became close after I moved in. Best friend close. Even now, I can admit she helped me get through a lot. (Steve opted to couch surf with friends until we could find a place of our own, but he was still pretty much a constant around the house.)

This is where it starts to get a little weird but please, bear with me, there is a point. Anyway, to be honest, Amber and I were both already pretty sexually open-minded people at that point, although she'd been married for a few years and I'd been with Steve for the better half of a decade. Not that I'd ever cheated on Steve or even wanted to - he was my first love & first partner - but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me that thought maybe monogamy was reserved for the truly repressed. I realize how egotistical, among other things, that must sound now but at the time… I don't know, I guess I was young & stupid & never truly considered the consequences of the “free & liberated” lifestyle so many of my hippie friends (none of whom had ever even had a long-term partner, I realize now) had been preaching to me. It's so embarrassing to admit that now. Not because I was so incredibly naive or because I was with another woman or even because I was in a polyamorous relationship, but because I realize how selfish it all was.

Looking back on everything, I realize not only was I troubled, but my relationship with Steve had been pretty troubled as well long before I ever moved in with Amber's family and I was looking for a way to fix it. To fix me. I was willing to do pretty much anything, which ultimately led me to a place of just total stupidity, doing and allowing things I never would've dreamed of just months prior. So as you may have guessed, Amber and I began a romantic relationship and for awhile, things were good. Neither of our partners seemed to mind -- on the contrary, Steve was shockingly supportive and Amber’s husband, who owned his own business and worked a lot, seemed to be relieved (I later found out this was due to in large part to a long history of her lying about extramarital relationships with male partners). We were completely open with them about everything and we all talked about polyamory like it was this totally common thing that just happened to some people, like catching a cold or acne. But everyone seemed to be getting their needs fulfilled and besides, we were so progressive! I know. Cue the eye rolls because apparently, in the haze of my own selfish emotions, I missed a lot of what was going on around me, too. Shocking, I know.

Fast forward a few months to the punchline, when I realized that Amber and Steve had been using me and my naivety to hide their own indiscretions; that they weren't just close childhood friends who hung out alone a lot, but had in fact been the ones in a relationship since before I'd even moved in with Amber and her family. And apparently, they didn’t need me as their cover anymore because they’d fallen in love and suddenly found that monogamy didn't sound so crazy.

Amber’s husband David was the first to make a move. He filed for a divorce from Amber and she and Steve took one of mine & his 2 dogs, moved in with Steve’s dad for the time being, and cut off almost all contact with me.

At this point, realizing our options were limited, David and I got an apartment of our own together so he could continue working his job full time and I could continue taking care of and being there for the kids. Although we’d never really been close prior to our respective relationships ending, I guess there's something about your partner cheating on you with a good friend right under your nose that brings people together because David and I quickly became best friends. It was so comforting to have someone to talk to who didn't just stare at me like I was confessing to murder or they were questioning my IQ or who would say “WHAT?!” at least ten times in between every word I spoke.

And that's how it was for awhile. David and Amber tried to handle things outside of the courtroom at first and Steve and I tried to remain friends -- we all did. Well, we tried to remain civil at least. There was still so much pain & anger that between the two of us, David and I, we would have to take turns taking Amber’s phone calls and even then David’s calls with her tended to end up with a hang-up.

But when they finally got their own apartment, we moved into the same complex so we could be near the girls, who were both still so tiny (Rhema was only about 4 and Callie was almost 2). Although this was genuinely one of the worst times of my life, I have to say I'm glad we were there.

At the time we weren't sure if it was because of “the break-up” as we referred to it, or if something else was happening, but sh*t (stuff? Sorry, I have the mouth of a sailor) started getting weird. Amber would send the girls over to our door and then her and Steve would hop in their car and be gone sometimes for weeks on end without letting us know where they were or when they'd be back. Things were starting to go south real fast and when there's already broken trust, even small things start to seem suspicious. What little civility had remained began to deteriorate and David and I decided that living in such close proximity was just making it worse. Anytime they knew we were home, they'd drop the girls off and be gone, which wouldn't have been a problem had there been communication but by this time there was none and the animosity was just piling up.

So, David applied for college in a city about 3 hours away, something he'd always wanted to do but couldn't previously because our town only had one university and it was a private Christian one. I got another nanny job in the same city and we moved.

We would get the girls every weekend and it was nice to be able to take them to the city for fun. We both missed the girls terribly and didn't entirely trust leaving them with Amber and Steve but I think we both figured that was our anger getting in the way. I guess we were right to not trust them, though, because we’d only been in the new city for about 6 months when we got a call that Amber had been pulled over for driving drunk with the girls in the car. The cops allowed the friend she was driving with to take the girls home and we were notified only later when Amber called us, afraid we'd already been contacted by Children’s Protective Services.

Now, I should mention that up until this point David and I had strictly been best friends. There had been a few drunken hook-ups in the beginning, the sloppy “I just got my heart broken” kind, but it was now just about two years since “the break-up” and somehow, real feelings had begun to develop somewhere along the way. Honestly, I think watching him be a dad is what got me. I’d grown up with a pretty abusive father myself, and it was just incredible and fascinating for me to watch David and his girls. It was clear that this big, 6’ tall lug of a man turned to a pile of mush when those little girls were around. He adored them and they adored him.

And while this is what ultimately made me fall for him, this was also the thing that kept us from taking that leap from friendship to relationship. We were both still suffering from major trust issues and had to be cautious, ESPECIALLY because of the kids. The girls referred to me as their “Auntie J” and neither of us wanted to upset their lives even more by getting into a relationship with each other if it wasn't going to last, so it was when David got this call that basically let me know he was moving back to fight for full custody, he was in love with me, and he wanted me to be a part of their family.

I had just a few days to decide if this was a commitment I could make, as I'd had plenty of promises broken to me as a child and I didn't want to do that to these kids I'd grown to love so much. So, in the end, we paid a few thousand dollars to break the lease on our apartment, moved back to the city the girls were in, and David filed for emergency custody the next day. From that point on, we were a couple. We were a family.

-What does your stepchild call you?  If you also have biological children, how does the role of titles (ie mom and dad) work in your family?
Not long after David and I moved back and he was granted emergency custody, Amber and Steve decided to move to Tennessee to live with Steve’s family. One night after a visitation, she dropped the girls off with us and left. We didn't hear from her for months, and though we didn't know it at the time, she wouldn't be back in ours or the girls’ lives until the oldest, Rhema, was almost 7.

One morning, about 6 months after Amber had left, I was dropping the girls off at school when Rhema turned to give me a hug and with tears in her eyes timidly asked “Auntie J, can I call you Mommy?” My heart stopped. It was both breaking and bursting for this tiny little thing who suddenly seemed even tinier. Before I could ask her what or why or anything else, she said that the other kids all had their mommies drop them off at school and when they would ask her who the lady was who dropped her off she was embarrassed to not be able to say it was her mommy.

It was a split second decision and one that I hadn't been able to discuss with David so I suggested “Mama J” instead, since she already had a mommy. That seemed to satisfy her and from that day on that's who I became. Her little sister quickly followed suit, though we made sure never to push the title on either of them and I made a point of trying to remind them that as long as it was respectful, whatever they felt comfortable calling me was okay.

Today, years later, I’m usually just “Mama” or “Mommy” and so is Amber, generally just depends on whose house they're at. Sometimes after a visit with her they’ll throw the J in again, and they'll also sometimes refer to her as “Mama Amber” though that's never something that was even discussed. I refer to Amber as “your mom” when talking to the girls and I'm pretty sure she refers to me as “Mama J”.

-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)
Because I had been their nanny first, and because I met them when they were both at such young ages, there's never really been any difficulties with bonding. There was a period of time when Amber first moved back from TN that the girls became kind of distant but I figured it was just their mom being back and them feeling torn between loyalties. I feel like that was more on the adults, though, and the fact that we were now all dealing with each other through judges and lawyers had all of us -- especially the girls -- pretty confused.

Amber’s (and Steve’s) issues with addiction have also made things pretty difficult at times because David and I are the ones cutting visits short or back whenever there’s a failed drug test or something like that, and then we’re also ultimately the ones who have to give the girls an explanation. I think they're too afraid to ask their mom the hard questions sometimes, because as Rhema’s told me, she's afraid her mom will get hurt and leave again.

Thankfully, things have gotten somewhat better as the girls have gotten older, so I'll actually often hear from the oldest that she feels safer or more comfortable talking to me about certain things, like puberty or boys or her body. That could just be because her dad and I both come from medical families, though, and speak very openly about bodies and body parts and healthy, kid appropriate relationship stuff, whereas Amber tends to still refer to their vaginas as “hoo-has” and stuff like that, haha.

-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?
We’re totally 50/50 when it comes to discipline. To me, discipline is a part of loving those kids and it's a way to show them how much I love them. If I just let Dad handle all the hard stuff, I worry they might question whether or not I even actually care if they get a bad grade or if they grow up the right way. Thankfully, David has always backed me up 100% on this, and most of the time we’ll wait for the talking part of the consequences until we’re both present.

By now we have pretty set consequences for things like not doing their homework and stuff, so they know what to expect from both of us. If it's something new, we’ll usually let them know we need to discuss the consequences together and then bring them in on the conversation once we've reached a decision. As far as respecting both of us, they know we expect them to respect ALL of their parents (and grandparents, teachers, etc). For example, recently David and I were at a school function and Amber showed up and the youngest kept shushing her, so David and I both let her know that was inappropriate and disrespectful, and Amber later told us she has a hard time being the bad guy so she was really thankful we stepped in.

-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?
Very little. I'll be polite at school functions, but other than that we’re FB friends (and even that's a recent development) and that's about it. I used to try a lot harder but not long after she returned from TN there was an incident that occurred where Amber actually accused me of child abuse (the youngest had gotten a bruise from falling off her bunk bed... we’d taken her to see David’s dad who’s a doctor, let Amber know about the situation when it happened, everything we should have done…). This was at a point where she was still “in a bad place” as she put it and has since apologized to David but not me personally, even though I'm the one she accused. Both her and her mom wrote statements and took pictures to the court during the custody dispute (but not immediately when they saw the bruise) and even though she admitted in her statement that neither girl said I'd ever so much as hugged them too hard, she still went forward with the accusations. Because of that, the girls were interviewed multiple times by social workers and therapists, and my career working with children was put at risk.

Needless to say, that put a huge strain on our having any kind of relationship… plus, with all the issues we’d already had, and now that David and I are about to have our own baby, I just can't have that kind of unhealthy person in my life. Sometimes I think about trying again (like this past Mother’s Day she had told David she'd like to invite me out to lunch with her and the girls because the girls want to be with both of us on Mother's Day and that made me kind of sad) but then I get scared thinking about how unpredictable she can be and I just can't. Maybe someday after there's been a longer period of stability on her part….

-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?
The girls are with us all but 2 weekends a month so this usually isn't an issue. If it's Amber’s weekend and there's something special we think one or both of the girls might like, we might try to make arrangements to switch times or days but it's usually just best to leave things as they are. Holidays we usually let bio-mom have the actual day and we celebrate either beforehand or whichever day we get them back, we try not to make a big deal out of stuff like that.

-Hardest/Most Difficult stepmothering memory?
Being accused of child abuse and having to prove my innocence. Dealing with the girls’ emotional issues after their mom’s sabbatical has also definitely not been easy and trying to figure out if the youngest, Callista, is just acting out or has ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) or is on the Autism Spectrum has been horrific. She's had some major behavioral problems and sometimes that can get pretty scary.

Also, we lost a baby last Summer... I miscarried at 15 weeks so the girls already knew and were excited about their little sibling and getting through that was really rough. But we actually ended up letting the girls choose his name and they went with “Chance” because they said he had given us a chance to be a stronger family and appreciate each other more, and that was just… so incredible and beautiful. They still talk about him, like they'll talk to my tummy now like they're telling their new baby brother about Chance and that melts my heart.

-Best/Funniest stepmothering memory?
Honestly, I have tons. We've had “girl time” which is pretty much any time Dad isn't around (or the one time we dressed dad up - see photo below, haha), and dance parties since they were tiny and I love those. I recently got to take the oldest on her first roller coaster and that was a blast. Right now, being pregnant with their little brother has been really fun because they're constantly wanting to talk to him and give him hugs & kisses, and they got to feel him kick not too long ago -- the looks on their faces when he did were just priceless! haha

-Any particular resources (books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc) that have helped you along in your stepmothering journey?
Augh. No. I spent the first couple years of our relationship scouring Barnes-n-Noble & Amazon for stepmothering books constantly but I could never find anything that really fit my situation, and it's only been recently that I've discovered more stepmom type blogs. Those have been helpful, though, at least when it comes to feeling like I'm not alone.

-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.

Dear Jaime,
This will be the hardest thing you'll ever do. You were right to question this commitment because honestly, it's really f-ing hard. You'll be expected to give more than you ever have while being looked at like you're trying to do too much, like you're trying to replace these girls’ mom. Just when you think things can't get any harder, you'll find out bio-mom and ex-fiancé are pregnant at the same time as you and think it's great you're all still “so connected!” when really, you know they're just doing it because they want the attention you're getting, too.  
Don't let yourself get caught up in resentment or bitterness or anger or comparisons. You can't make anyone else be who they're not, and you shouldn't worry about doing so. They’ll all have their own consequences in time. When it all boils down to it, you’ll come out of all this with the most loving, amazing man you've ever met (those two did you a favor!), the most beautiful, so-smart-it's-scary, imaginative, loving, fun little girls who drive you nuts and love you immensely, and the family you've always wanted. Nothing near perfection, but absolutely perfect for you. It's all worth it. You were right.
(Just keep swimming…)

-Do you ever get jealous that you aren’t the child’s biological parent?
Absolutely, like when people compliment me on how beautiful and smart they are and I wish I could take credit but I can't so I just smile and say thank you. Mainly frustrated though, like when someone finds out I'm “just” the bonus mom and so they’ll begin to treat me differently or look at me differently and it's like, I’ve raised these kids, too!

-What do you say when people ask if you have kids? (if you’re a stepmom with no biological children)

-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”)
Nothing. No need, they don't need our life story.

-How are you preparing for when the child might someday say “you aren’t my real parent” or if others say that to you?
Honestly, I'm not. I guess if that ever happens I'll ask them to define “real parent” because all the sh*t I've done feels pretty real to me.

-Was your now partner having a child or children a pro or a con when deciding whether to date and ultimately marry them?
It's what made me fall in love with him! However, the pre-existing relationships with his ex-wife/the bio-mom & ex-fiancé/soon-to-be-stepdad definitely made it more of a con. Would've been SO much easier (or, actually possible) to cut them out of our lives if the kids didn't exist.

-Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to get into this relationship?
Now, being pregnant with my little boy and things being smoother than they've been in years, yes. If you'd have asked me that a couple years ago that would've been a hard no. Maybe wait a couple more and ask me again ; )

-Closing Question: Tell us three interesting facts about you that DON’T have to do with stepmothering.  Also, please leave any blog or contact links below if you’d like that information to be featured here.

  1. I LOVE animals (my dream job is a primatologist).
  2. I can debate practically anyone into a corner.
  3. I am in a band with my fiancé & baby-daddy. I play the violin, the guitar, & I sing.

On FB: Group -- Empowering, Educating, & Uniting (soon-to-be-blog which can be found by joining that group as well!)

Thanks again, Jaime, for your openness, vulnerability, and strength in sharing your stepmotherhood story today.

Did you like reading Jaime'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!!

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