“’You are not her mother. You will never be anything more than a glorified babysitter.’ These were the words written to me in a MySpace message (yes, THAT long ago!) by my stepdaughter’s mother before I had ever even met her or my now-stepdaughter. In fact, I had only been dating my now-husband a couple of months.
And so began my story of how my husband and I blended our family. Two daughters from my previous marriage and his daughter from a past relationship. When my husband and I started dating, my daughters were 6 and 3; his was 1. Our girls are now 21, 18, and 16.
My husband and I were ‘two lost souls who made each other whole.’ We were both very lost in life when we met. I was fresh out of a marriage with an abusive alcoholic, and my husband was enjoying the vitality of his youth as a young 20-something man, especially when it came to women. Our courtship was fast and furious, and we married about a year after we met.
What we did not know then, but we know now with certainty is the calmness we brought to each other’s souls would serve us well as we invested energy into our girls and blending our family. We had no clue the years of chaos we were about to embark on. God had a plan, and he knew we were stronger together, hand-in-hand. God knew we were about to endure emotional hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis, sometimes simultaneously, as irrational actions by the ‘other’ parent in each of our girls’ lives would result in years of high conflict court battles.
Not long after my husband and I married, my stepdaughter’s mother moved to a different town, quite a distance away—against the court order. My stepdaughter was two at the time, and her mother did not believe her dad would make the drive to see his daughter. Well, he did, even when the drive took an hour in both directions because of snowstorms. My stepdaughter would come with a bag of food packed—including dinners—with notes saying, ‘Hayden is not to eat any of Jana’s cooking. She can only eat what I pack for her.’ You guys—this was the reality we were living in.
At the same time as we were dealing with chaos with my stepdaughter’s mother, my ex-husband, who had lived 1500 miles away moved into our town when my husband and I married, stating he’s ‘not going to be replaced as a dad.’ He was not emotionally stable and had a DUI hit and run in the town he lived in just weeks before he moved to be close to us.
I am going to pause for a moment to share what my husband and I learned at that moment in time, which is that holding healthy boundaries can make unhealthy people a bit batty. And that together, we are unstoppable. Both were super important lessons as we launched into two intense custody cases at the same time.
The courts in the custody case for my stepdaughter forbid the mother from contacting either my husband or me; she could only communicate with a court-appointed parenting coordinator. The final straw was a single night in which she called my husband 14 times in less than 10 minutes demanding I not be at our own home when she picked up her daughter or she would be ‘calling the cops.’ I’m sorry, what world is this in? Oh yeah, that was our reality. We were to the point where every voicemail was recorded to a CD for the trial judge to listen to because the things being said were so unbelievable. The only way a judge would believe us was for him to listen for himself.
The courts in the custody case for my daughters forbid their dad from overnight visits until he had mental and alcohol evaluations done. He was permitted limited daytime visits. Right before Christmas 2007, my daughters were picked up by their dad for a scheduled visit. About a half-hour later, I received a text from him no mother wants to receive. The kind that stops you dead in your tracks and sends chills from head to toe. The text said, ‘I will not be bringing the girls back to you, and you won’t be seeing them again.’
Indescribable panic set in, and I had a hard time even formulating thoughts to tell my husband what the text said. My girls were gone for five excruciating days. Five days when I did not know where they were. Cops were involved, and because this happened during a holiday, judges and attorneys were on vacation. Ultimately, an emergency hearing ordered the girls home immediately, and my ex-husband’s attorney knew where he was.
Fast forward through the court hearings, my stepdaughter’s time with us increased significantly, and my daughters had limited visitation with their dad. My stepdaughter’s mother continued to make statements to me about never being anything more than a ‘glorified babysitter’ and that my daughters would never be considered sisters to my stepdaughter. At this point in time, the girls were 9, 6, and 4. My husband and I had been married a couple of years.
With court hearings out of the way, we could focus on building and bonding our family. I so desperately wanted to have a baby with my husband. He had more wisdom than I. There was concern about how our girls would feel being in a blended family and introducing a sibling who got to have both of us as ‘mom and dad’. We decided to invest our energy in our girls and give them the best life possible.
Blended families are not easy on a marriage or on the kids. There’s jealousy, insecurities, and confusion all the way around. There have been plenty of days I wasn’t so sure I could do it anymore. My husband would always tell me, ‘You are the best thing that has happened to that little girl.’ God has a funny way of replenishing your strength at just the right time to make it through another day.
By 2012, my ex-husband essentially had non-existent contact with my daughters. That year, he permanently disabled himself when he ran his car into a light pole while driving drunk—BAC was .26. We filed for my husband to adopt my daughters. My ex-husband got a public defender and fought us in court. The judge denied the adoption petition, and less than 30 days later, my ex-husband again moved 1500 miles away. He was never fighting for what was best for the girls, he was only fighting against me.
As kids embark on their teenage years, they begin to form their own thoughts and opinions. My stepdaughter made the decision to live with us full-time a couple years ago. I believe the consistent, stable influence my husband and I have had in her life gave her the confidence to own her voice and opt out of an unhealthy situation.
My husband and I have blended our family without a guidebook or checklist. It’s been more like maneuvering through a maze in the dark, without a flashlight, when the previously mentioned tornado, hurricane, and tsunami hit at the same time. My husband and I always made sure we put each other first—weekly dates nights and our faith saved us. Communication and boundaries are key.
Our blended family story is not all sunshine and rainbows, but we do see sunshine and rainbows more so now than we did in the early years. When my youngest daughter turned 18, my girls asked my husband to do an adult adoption. And, I recently asked my stepdaughter how she preferred I introduce her, as my stepdaughter or as my daughter. She stated she preferred ‘daughter’.
The fact that those who meet our family now have no idea we are a blended family tells me we did something right. It’s not perfect, but the love flows freely on the good days and on the bad. Our family is perfectly imperfect, just as God intended.
And my husband and I? Still crazy in love. Truly. Madly. Deeply.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jana Erny from Post Falls, Idaho. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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