‘What a ‘blended family’ would look like never crossed my mind. The beginning was TOUGH, and before it got better, it got worse.’: Mom shares journey to ‘beautifully blended family’

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“My name is Marissa Adams and my story, is well, long and full of extreme highs and lows. I was born and raised in California. Although I was born in Fresno, I lived in San Diego my whole life. I was raised by a single mother, and I met my dad for the first time when I was seventeen years old. My mother has a mental illness, and my father is a former marine and a recovering addict who spent time in and out of prison my entire life. In 2005, at the age of twenty, after dating my boyfriend at the time for a little over six months, I found out I was pregnant.

This was a life-altering event for me because 1) I didn’t really want any kids and 2) I doubted my ability to even conceive children. Prior to this revelation, I had been living a life full of what I consider irresponsible behavior and decisions—but hey, I had lots of fun. Be that as it may, once I found out I was pregnant, I completely turned my life around. I went out and got a job and began the path to becoming a more responsible adult in order to (in my mind) be more equipped to be a mother.

mother stands with her three children, two daughters and a son
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

Her father on the other hand, not so much. He changed nothing about the way he was living his life. He continued to party, drink, and do drugs. He refused to get a job because he was an aspiring rapper and fashion designer. He spent his days and nights in the ‘studio’ and at fashion school. Thankfully, his family would step in to help out. They bought clothes and diapers and also threw me a baby shower. I decided that working my minimum wage job was not going to be enough, so at eight months pregnant, I returned to community college.

This was a feat only made possible through the help and support of my mother and my daycare provider Mrs. Alston. Mrs. Alston was the lady who helped raised me while my mom went to school and work. She was my mom’s daycare provider, and once I gave birth to my daughter, she became my daycare provider. She was a Godsend. Having her around reassured me that no matter what, my daughter would always be safe and cared for. The benefit of continuing education was that it allowed me to advance at my job.

With advancement came more hours and better pay. I was able to move out of my mother’s one-bedroom apartment and into an apartment of my own. Once my mother left the city, I was left to truly find myself. I enrolled my daughter in the preschool I was teaching at and continued to work and go to school with my daughter right alongside me because it was easier to not have to run around back and forth from daycare and school.

In 2011, I was urged to join social media via Facebook by my twin sister and one of my good friends. Prior to this, I was anti-social-media because I was anti-trends and anti-strangers. I also enjoyed the anonymity that comes with privacy. I had changed my whole entire life and didn’t need anyone’s approval, validation, or attention. At any rate, I joined Facebook. I enjoyed being able to post pictures, especially selfies. I have always loved taking pictures. Very shortly after joining, I reconnected with an old friend. This friend of mine was my high school best friend. He had proposed to me in 2001, but I respectfully declined. We were great friends—best friends—but I knew I wasn’t ready for marriage. I was too young. Plus, he was going away to join the military.

Once he and I reconnected via Facebook, it was an amazing feeling. To finally be seen, heard, and appreciated just for being me was wonderful to me. This was a true friend of mine. And although we didn’t talk often between 2001 and 2011, he would always reach out to me over the years and profess his love for me. And I would always put him right back in the ‘friend zone.’ Eventually, he and I began talking daily. He began to share with me details about his custody and visitation arrangement and the relationship he had between his son’s mother and her family. I never developed an opinion about it either way.

husband and wife take a selfie together in the car
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

Over the years, I had developed the type of personality to not really have feelings about things that don’t directly involve me and/or that I haven’t experienced personally. I hadn’t experienced family courts yet. I hadn’t experienced the benefit of a father trying everything they could to be a part of their child’s life. I also had no experience dating men with children, thereby I had no experience dealing with what I call the ‘baby mama factor.’ So, I’d listen, but I couldn’t imagine what he was going through. It didn’t make any sense. And, naturally, it makes you wonder, what else is going on.

Being the caring human being that he is, Anthony (my friend) began inquiring about my child and my life as a single mother. I shared with him many details about the tumultuous relationship between my daughter’s father and me. It’s crazy as I recall the details of this ‘courting time’ because neither of was can really say how we ended up making the jump to a long-distance relationship and ultimately marriage within a six-month span—but it happened. I guess we found that we shared so many similarities with the experiences between us, our values, our parenting styles, and our children’s ‘other parent.’

So, in August 2011, after dating long-distance for a little less than six months, I and my daughter got on a plane for the very first time ever in life and moved to Virginia. I remembered being so scared and anxious. Despite giving my daughter’s father and his family ample notice of my plans and intentions to leave the state, as well as serving him documents for emergency custody hearings, I got served with family court documents the day before we were scheduled to leave. If anything, the course of events in the last 48 hours before we boarded that plane should’ve been an indicator of life as a ‘blended family‘—but honestly, I was not dismayed because I hoped the distance between my daughter’s father and myself would help make this transition smoother. After all, he was only doing the bare minimum with regard to caring and providing for her anyway.

It honestly never crossed my mind what a ‘blended family’ would look like. I think both me and Anthony just expected things to work out because we were friends, good people, and good parents. We knew we wanted the best for each other and our kids. I personally gave no thought to any drama or difficulties. I felt like we both reassured each other that we had our ‘other parent’ situation under control. Him, through the courts. And me, through the fact that my daughter’s father wasn’t very active in her life outside of the assistance of his family.

He lived with his mother, so when his mother would come to pick her up, he would get to see her. He was never really going out of his way to see her on his own unless he could have access to me. Once that stopped, he became violent, so it seemed absolutely fitting that he wouldn’t be an issue because I knew if all else failed, I too could get the law involved. And again, I had left the state.

The beginning was tough. The custody/visitation situation between Anthony and his child’s mother did not get better, in fact, it seemed to get worse. Despite having an active visitation order for weekly visits, my stepson’s mother would never have the child available during visits. Anthony would drive and sometimes walk to the maternal grandmother’s house and would be told: ‘She’s/they’re not here.’ In addition to this, my daughter had a tough time adjusting to life with an additional adult in the home. Prior to this, she had never been introduced to any males in my life outside of her father.

husband and wife ride horses together while on the beach
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

We also had never lived with anyone besides my mother. Additionally, we were both away from friends and family for the first time ever in life. It was a lot. She made it clear through her behavior and actions that she did not want to share with me. She would cry when Anthony would hold my hand or hug and kiss me. She threw a tantrum when he formally proposed to me in the store after buying a ring. If that wasn’t enough, we found out that the reason why Anthony was being told that his son and his son’s mother were not present for court-ordered visitation was that she had moved out of the state without notifying him.

There was no forwarding address or phone number and thereby no way for Anthony to remain in contact and/or continue to see his son. Initially, the courts were no help. Anthony would file ‘show cause’ after ‘show cause’ for the violation of the court orders by not having the child present—but there was nothing that could be done without any contact information. I started to believe that this was intentional, but I tried my best to stay out of it. However, watching someone you love so hurt became hurtful. It also made me angry. With so many absent fathers, I never understood why a woman would deny a man—a good man/father—the opportunity to be in their child’s life, especially a father with their son.

Eventually, the mother returned to the state. By this time, I was pregnant. The courts ordered summer visitation since she was living outside of the state. One day, my stepson came over with a burn across the side of his face right above his chin. When asked what happened he said, ‘My mom burned me with a cigarette.’ I was adamant about staying out of the back-and-forth custody/visitation situation, but I was also bound to report this allegation as a mandated reporter.

This made me extremely uncomfortable. I did not want to go on the record with CPS for filing a report based on what was disclosed. I was also worried that it would be perceived that I was trying to make things up for court. I expressed my apprehension with my husband, and he told the guardian ad litem (the assigned attorney for the child in family court matters). The guardian ad litem approached me and asked if I’d be willing to repeat only what I was told at the upcoming court hearing. I reluctantly agreed—my biggest regret to this day.

About a year after all of this, my husband was awarded full legal and physical custody of his son. The guardian ad litem made it a point to say that she did not suspect any abuse or neglect on the part of the mother. I remember it like it was yesterday: the judge said, ‘I am awarding custody to the father because of the mother’s inability to put the needs of the child before her own.’ I still remember the gut-wrenching cry of my stepson’s mother as she fell to the floor in devastation.

To this day, I still believe there were no winners in that situation. While I believe that my stepson is in the best place for his needs to be met, the fact that almost ten years later there is no resolve or growth between the adults in his life is bittersweet. Right after being awarded custody of his son, Anthony began being summoned to court by the maternal grandmother. Since 2013, there has only been one year that we have not had a court hearing for one thing or another. Most of which are false accusations by the grandmother. If found guilty, these accusations would result in my husband being put in jail. Thankfully, that has never happened.

step-father stands with his three children, all are wearing black empowerment shirts
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

From 2013 to 2019, my stepson’s biological mother was out of the state and made no effort to contact or visit her son while her mother was taking my husband back and forth to court for additional visitation time. Additionally, we have had CPS called into our home by the grandmother for allegations of abuse as well. None of the adults in my son’s life speak to each other (other than me and my husband of course). It’s heartbreaking and disappointing.

While there are so many other excitingly disastrous drama-filled stories I could tell even about my own inter-state virtual family court affairs with myself and my daughter’s father—I will decline. The fact of the matter is that our blended family has been much more impacted by day-to-day trials that come about as a result of the volatile vengeful acts of my stepson’s family only because they are local. We live in a state where the only family ‘we’ have is connected to our son.

blended family, parents and three children, sit at a booth in a restaurant
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

The fact of the matter is a lot of times stepfathers are praised while stepmothers are demonized. As a stepmother, it’s been my experience that other women often want to remind me of what is and is not my role for my son. I often take solace in the uniqueness of my situation—because while other ‘stepmothers’ are maintaining a relationship with a child that they may or may not see often, I actually am responsible for the day-to-day care and upbringing of my stepson since my husband has full custody.

Since we came together as a full-time family in 2013, we continue to encourage our children to maintain a positive relationship with their other parents. We also actively maintain any and all visitation schedules. We make it clear that there is never any ‘us vs. them’ and that they are to respect all adults no matter the connection or level of involvement. Be that as it may, Anthony and I have become committed to raising well-rounded, well-mannered children who are loved.

blended family stands in front of a photo wall, parents and their three children
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

Our goal is for our children not to have a childhood they will have to recover from as adults. We are active advocates for therapy. Each of our children has had their own LCSW to confide in and to provide support and resources for us as a family. We travel often. We remain committed to making meaningful memories with our children and raising them to have a better life than we had growing up. All that matters is, that now after eleven years of marriage and nine years of full custody we are one—we are a beautifully blended family.

blended family stands in front of Hitsville U.S.A. sign, three children and their parents
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

We are not perfect—we make mistakes, but we keep our children’s best interests at heart. If there is anything I could convey to anyone reading this or experiencing the trials of ‘blended bliss’ is to always put your children first. Always consider how things will impact them not just during the moment but over time. Do not try to overcompensate or defend your ‘status’ or family type or parenting style. Provide safety and security for your children by meeting their physical and emotional needs daily. Surround your children, your marriage, your family, your household with love and peace. And focus only on the things that you can control. If you’re doing it right, you’ll always have to be the bigger person. Which isn’t a bad thing when you consider that you are setting the example for conflict resolution and coping skills for future adults entrusted to be in your care.”

blended family stands together in front of a scenic view, parents and three children
Courtesy of Marissa Adams

This story was submitted to Love What Matters  by Marissa Adams. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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