I remember meeting Jonna years ago in our workplace and boy, am I glad I did! She is full of vibrant life and wisdom and truly someone I admire! I am so thankful for her willingness to share her story today on what it’s like to be a step-parent. Her loving attitude and honesty is appreciated and I know you’ll walk away wishing she was your own Ms. Jonna…or at least your therapist! :) Love ya friend, thanks for sharing!
Mom is always a titled I wanted. I thought I would be just like my mom, 4 kiddos by the time I was 30 years old. Well, 30 came and went, as did 31, 32, 33, and then at 34 the unexpected happened; an 8-year-old girl named Jaylee and a 10-year-old boy named Hunter, let me marry their dad. Well, to be honest Hunter first made me eat grits first. They are from the south, and he thought that was an important rite of passage. Then, just like that, I went from being a single 30-something to a “step-mom” of two! Jaylee likes to calls me her “2nd Mom” and I have never been so honored, although they actually call me Ms. Jonna 95% of the time (again it’s a southern thing). Before I share more of my story, I want to say it is my story and everyone’s process on becoming a step-parent is different, not right or wrong, just different. If I compared myself to other step-parents or moms in general, on a consistent basis, let me tell you I would be one hot mess. It is not worth it! Grow and learn from others, but do you and figure out what works the best for you and your family.
There are few things I feel I must acknowledge that has made my journey of being a “2nd Mom”/step-mom/co-parent a wonderful life growing experience for me. First, I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and prior to meeting my husband and his children I sat with many blended families. This helped me to have somewhat reasonable expectations, but also made me talk with Eli, my husband, prior to marrying him about both of our parenting expectations. He will tell you he had to take every personality test known to mankind, which is true. However, it was easy to see that our values about parenting and what my role in parenting would be were aligned. For me I knew I could not move forward in our relationship if I was not supported as an active co-parent when Jaylee and Hunter with us. This made things a lot easier for me, as I knew I would always have his support when it came to how I parented even if it was different than his approach at times.
The other part that I cannot acknowledge enough is that Jaylee and Hunter’s mom has always supported my relationship with them…huge. We text each, send pictures to each other, she supports my time with the them even if Eli is away for military training. I know without her support my relationship would not be where it is at today with Jaylee (12) and Hunter (15). I know this alone makes my step-parenting experience unique, but I hope it can also be helpful to other families that might be in similar situation that it is possible. I would add while I am actively involved, I also am respectful of the fact that I am not the final decision maker. Meaning, ultimately for bigger decisions, it is up to Eli and the kids mom to work through the details and come to an agreement. I support that process but I chose not to be actively involved out of deep respect for their parenting decisions.
Most of my friends tell me how lucky the kids are to have me. Well, that it is an amazing compliment but let me tell you, with all seriousness, I am the “lucky” one. I was talking to a friend recently who went through an extremely difficult season with me in my 20s. I remembered being in that season where I struggled accepting where my life was at versus where I thought it “should” be, which I would now define as grief. However, as I gave myself permission to let go and grieve what I thought my story “should” look like and focused on allowing a different, possibly better story to happen, my perspective shifted, as did my theology. I became less judgmental, more accepting. I let go of some pride, focused on learning how to be where I was rather than always on where I wanted to be, and became simple became open to all the possibilities of life. Now, please do not think I have arrived or perfected the art of living this way, but I would say doing some of this work prior to meeting my new family was needed or my heart would have never been opened to this being my story.
I have now been married to Eli for 4 years. My relationship with Jaylee (12) is so special. Jaylee has reminded me to be care-free, to be confident in who I am, to be strong, but also to be sweet. She has reminded me how awful middle school can be, as we both will say she is in survival mode. We love our trips to Target and Starbucks and friends if you thought I talked a lot she puts me to shame. She is creative and we both are obsessed with Pinterest. Now, when I found out I was pregnant with a girl, I worried about Jaylee and how she would respond once the baby was born. She was not very excited about the pregnancy, to say the least. However, I made the conscious decision that once the baby, Felicity, was born I would not force any interactions and let Jaylee get to know her sister in her own time and way. I still remember the day that Jaylee made a fort in her room and that she let Fefe hangout in there with her. I felt at that moment they became sisters. The more I get to know Jaylee (we are always getting to know each other, right?) the more I learn to pace with her rather than me set the pace. For example, I took her school shopping and last night she looked up at me from the living room floor and said “Ms. Jonna I love you.” Maybe it is because I bought her new clothes, but this girl loves quality time and she reminds me how important it is to slow down and invest my time with her, she is so worth it.
Hunter Dean is what we call the challenger of the family. He is a deep thinker, even though it might not be cool to admit it. For example, have you ever played the game “Would you rather”? Well, you ask each other questions like “Would you rather eat 10 pizzas or 10 tubs of ice cream?”, usually silly questions like that. However, one day Hunter was with me and my dad and his question was “Would you rather take out Isis or have prevented 9/11 from happening?” What?? Obviously, a military kid, and after some intense dialogue he said he would have prevented 9-11 so his Dad wouldn’t have been gone so much. Now that’s intense, but we have conversations like this all the time and I love it. He is also the most affectionate teenager I have ever met and even more he is confident about being that way. One of my favorite parts about Hunter is he will be doing something completely independent from the rest of us and stop to say “I love you”. Every time he or Jaylee tell me this, I know this was the story I was meant to have…to be in their lives and to have them in mine. Hunter loves trying to beat his Dad in anything, thinks it is hilarious when I try to play video games, and we love to be goofy together. It has been amazing to watch him grow from a boy to becoming a young man these past few years. He now offers to help do things around the house and his current goal is to play LaCrosse professionally or become a Lawyer. I personally think he would drive me crazy as a Lawyer due to his annoying talent to persist in his arguments, it is exhausting. He is now several inches taller than me and opens jars for me. We talk about everything or at least I think we talk about most things. He came to me the other night stating, “Ms. Jonna, I don’t understand girls”. We talked for almost three hours but I said I don’t understand them myself and I am one, but that’s what makes us so great, right?
Now, do we fight? Yes. Have we made each other cry? Yes. Do they roll their eyes at me? Yes. Do I roll my eyes at them? Yes! We are still a family with our ups and downs and trying to figure out how to parent them in each stage they go through. I told them I was writing this article and asked them what advice they would give a step-parent. They both said they would tell other step-parents to be involved and treat them like they were theirs. Now, as I stated earlier, I am a therapist and I have worked with a lot of children/teenagers where this is not necessarily what they would want. However, I have found asking them questions like this makes them feel that their voice is important and that they get a say in how their family system looks. We are now in the teenager years/toddler years and I often find myself saying “Ufta”, drinking more coffee than ever before, and falling asleep before I ever actually finish a cocktail. It is not always easy, but I could not love Jaylee and Hunter more and I am so thankful for them being in my story and letting me be in theirs.
Jonna aka Ms. Jonna aka 2nd Mom aka Mom
Jonna is creative therapist, entrepreneur of ideas, and thinks she is either a 7 or a 4 on the Enneagram. She has been married to Eli for 4 years, and a co-parent to Jaylee (12) and Hunter (15). Jonna and Eli’s baby girl, Felicity Brave, is now 2 ½ years old. She enjoys renovating, meaningful relationships, and self-growth. As of this month she is opening her own private practice in Portage, Michigan. You can connect with her at @eandjrenovate or @bravecounseling_coaching
PPS – If you’re ever looking for a devotional on living life while in a waiting season, check out the devotional I co-authored called ‘In the Wait’!
PPPS – Check out the other contributions from this series, including What It’s Like: to experience multiple IVF cycles, raise a child with special needs, use an egg donor, be a DIY-er and home style blogger , be a NICU nurse, Live fully in singleness while still hoping for marriage, suffer with endometriosis. experience depression, start a company, have a micro preemie, lose a parent, be childless not by choice, have a spouse with a chronic illness, fund raise for fertility treatments, have a traumatic birthing experience, take a natural route with infertility, be on a reality show, go through the adoption process, have male factor infertility,be a stay at home mom, be an entertainer, be given a Down syndrome diagnosis for your child , experience multiple miscarriages, have a surrogate, experience a late pregnancy stillbirth, be a police officers wife, be a working mom , be a breastfeeding mother, have weight loss surgery, donate and adopt an embryo, be on a reality show, go through the fostering process, throw a themed dinner party , have PCOS, have had a cancer diagnosis, be a high school teacher, and love someone who’s experiencing infertility. Stay tuned for many other amazing topics to come every Tuesday and Friday here!