Article By Dani Alpert
How did I feel when my boyfriend Julian and I broke up after nearly eight years and the fate of my relationships with his kids, Nicole and Tyler, unknown? It felt like I’d been fired, asked to pack up my belongings and leave the house key under the mat.
For years, my identity had everything to do with Julian and the kids. I contorted, knotted, and sacrificed, investing my time and emotional energy into our relationships. And over time, I fell in love with them, only to see it all implode. I remember my first thought was, “What happens now? What happens to me and Nicole and Tyler? Could I still call myself the Girlfriend Mom? Was I the Ex-Girlfriend Mom?”
The kids and I didn’t break up
It didn’t take long before deciding that the kids and I didn’t break up, and I would do whatever I could to stay in their lives — if they wanted me, of course. I consciously chose to date Julian, even though at the time, I was happily child-free by choice. Keeping a child fed and alive can be daunting to parents of biological kids, but asking (expecting?) to be responsible, at least in part, for a boyfriend’s children, is something else entirely.
I’d uprooted myself from all that I knew, to start a life I knew nothing about. I made sacrifices, and compromising was the new black. For years, I tortured myself worrying if I would (or could) love someone else’s kids. I was living outside my comfort zone and doubted my decision to join this family already in progress. I wasn’t a stepmom, and I wasn’t only a girlfriend. My role was undefined and uneasy, and I anointed myself the Girlfriend Mom.
I was teaching Nicole and Tyler manners, proper television volume etiquette, and why comedy comes in threes. If you would’ve told me that this is what my life would look like, I would’ve said there was a better chance of finding out that I was adopted and that my biological parents were The Captain and Tenille.
In time, I’d gotten the hang of the parenting-light lifestyle, and it was enjoyable. I’d fallen in love with the kids, and when Nicole walked onstage to receive her high school diploma, I was sitting in the bleachers thinking, “My daughter’s graduating.”
Ironically, Julian called it quits just as I was taking flight. It wasn’t a traditional divorce, and I couldn’t angle for joint custody or court-appointed visitations. It was unfair because I didn’t have any rights — legally, or otherwise, and I wondered what would happen to the kids and me. The questions and uncertainty were devastating and gut-wrenching. After all the kids and I had been through over the years — impressionable and informative years, I might add — it felt like I was disposable. Did my now ex-boyfriend expect me to walk away and forget this ever happened?
Not considered part of the family
There isn’t anything in the law books protecting a Girlfriend Mom. Why aren’t I considered a part of the family?
It was uncharted territory, and I was neither Lewis nor Clark. The thought of walking away from Nicole, and Tyler felt like abandonment, and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want them to abandon me either. We spent years connecting and bonding, establishing consistency and continuity. The privilege of living with and loving someone else kids affected my decision to stay and fight for them.
It was a mutual decision, which was great, but no one knew how, or if it was possible, let alone what it would look like. My ex and I were no longer on speaking, forcing me to reach out to his ex-wife, Marie, if I wanted to schedule visits with Tyler, who was living at home. Nicole attended college in New York, and seeing her was relatively easy. Marie and I didn’t have a relationship — save for the occasional nod on the soccer field. The “playdates” with Tyler were complicated and frustrating and often left me feeling like an outsider when asking Marie for permission to see her son.
It’s been seven years since the breakup heard around the world, and my relationships with the kids and Marie continue to flourish and evolve. Nicole and I take annual trips, exploring the world together. She and her boyfriend live in my old stomping ground, L.A., and it makes me feel closer to her than I already do. Tyler and I see each other when we can, and we text every week or so. To this day, my heart flutters when he tells me that he loves me or thanks me for being in his life. As for Marie and me, our friendship goes beyond talking about the kids: We sing, hike, and promise to try speed-dating, acting in the role of each other’s wingwoman.
The arrangement works, but it was hard-won, a journey littered with buckets of tears. However, there were healthy doses of humor in those buckets as well, and I wouldn’t change any of it.
Dani Alpert’s first headshot was her mugshot taken after getting arrested for tagging in the New York suburban town where she grew up. She’s been trying to reclaim those glory days ever since. After attending NYU Film School and the American Film Institute, Dani spent 25 plus years working as a screenwriter, stage performer, producer, and director. Her Lifetime Television film parody “A Really Intimate Portrait . . . of a Complete Unknown” was a festival breakout, lauded by both critics and audiences. Her writing has appeared in publications including Medium, theWoolfer, HuffPost, Babble, Pilates Style Magazine, Stepmom Magazine, and the Hollywood Journal. She’s spoken at lifestyle conferences and been interviewed on nationally syndicated radio shows. Her memoir, “The Girlfriend Mom,” is available everywhere May 5, 2020.