“We are the best of friends”
Shelby Hilliard is a mom to a daughter and a stepmom to Latisa Valdez’s four children. Over the years, their relationship has blossomed into best friend status; however, they admit that it wasn’t always easy.
Below, these moms discuss where it all began; what the stepmom/mom dynamic has been like for them and what motivated them to make it work.
Hi Shelby and Latisa! Please tell us a bit about your family.
Shelby: Our family is a very rare, yet beautiful family of nine. Steven, Latisa, Greg, the five children and I. We are a family that co-parents so well that we became best friends, and try to do a lot of things together with our children. We want to make sure that the children know they are our main focus.
Latisa: We like to think of our family as one whole family – a family of 9! We love our unique situation. Our family just grows with love every day! It becomes stronger and stronger as the days pass.
Do you recall how you felt when you met each other for the first time?
Shelby: When I first met Latisa I was nervous; I wanted her to like me. I wanted her to feel comfortable with me being around her children and possibly becoming their stepmom.
Latisa: I was kind of surprised at first on the day we met because she was so much younger than Steven. I had mixed feelings about him with another woman at the time. Even though I was with someone else, it was still hard to see him with someone new; it wasn’t jealousy it was more of a realization that our marriage was actually done for good. I knew it was, but that day just made it real for me.
Latisa, many mums admit to a variety of emotions at the prospect of another woman becoming a part of their children’s lives. How did the idea of your children having a stepmom initially make you feel?
Latisa: It wasn’t easy getting along at first, as I still had anger and resentment towards Steven, but over the next two years we finalized our divorce and we actually had a talk. Slowly we started to co-parent, with all 4 of us then co-parenting together.
Shelby, a phrase that stepmoms commonly hear is “you knew what you were getting yourself into when you met him”. Do you believe this to be true? Is being a stepmom what you imagined it to be?
Shelby: No, I do not believe it is true. Yes, I knew he had children when I met him and yes, I knew it was going to be hard. No, I didn’t realize that there was a lot that I would have to adjust to, learn and feel. When you are a mom you know how your children operate from years of experience. When you become a stepmom of four children, you have to learn how all four children operate at once. It can be overwhelming and joyful at the same time. I don’t feel as if anyone can ever truly know what they are getting themselves into. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, understanding, love, and a few moments where you feel like you’ve failed at everything. Being a stepmom is more incredible than I ever imagined it would be. No, I didn’t grow them in my tummy, but they grow in my heart. Every day I get to watch beautiful children grow and learn. There is no greater feeling than that.
What would you say is the best thing about being part of a blended family?
Shelby: The best part about being in a blended family is the love that I receive that I wouldn’t have had if not for this family. I get to help parent four children whom I would have never met if I hadn’t been open to the idea of becoming a stepparent.
Latisa: I would say the best thing about being a blended family is the fact the children can see how much we all love each other, and that a blended family can work. Even though I hope that my children get married and never have to face divorce, being a blended family doesn’t have to be a bad thing! The children get to see us interact with each other and our friends and family. They get to see everyone show them unconditional love at the same time – not just when they are at dads or just when they are at mom’s house.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your roles as stepmom and mom?
Shelby: The hardest part about becoming a stepmom had to be gaining the kids’ trust and earning their respect. As much as people want those things to just happen, they don’t. You have to put a lot of time and effort into showing them that you truly care about them and you respect them also. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
Latisa: The biggest challenge for me as the mom is that there are times when I want to talk to Steven about things first, but I always worry about Shelby’s feelings about it. I would hate for her to feel any less of a parent to the children when I want to talk to him about things. I want her and Greg involved as much as we are, but there are some things I feel as a mom that I need to talk to their dad about first. So for me, it’s making sure no one gets hurt by this action and making sure we are all on the same page when co-parenting.
Why do you think that more commonly than not, one or both women in the stepmom/mom dynamic struggle?
Shelby: I think women struggle with the situation because it’s hard. It’s not easy; there are no directions on how to do this. It takes work and lots of it at that. We just usually tend to give up if it’s hard. I think that’s what people don’t realize, it’s not going to be easy right away. There are days when I thought I’d never understand or get it right, but I kept fighting. We had to fight, cry, work, and cry some more to get to where we are today. Never give up.
Latisa: From what I see, some women struggle to let their pride go. It’s easier for me to co-parent, but generally, no one really wants to see another woman acting as a parent in their child’s life. However, if women could stop and think about how their children feel and not use the child against the other parent, it would make things a lot easier. Additionally, if they could take the time to sit down with the new woman in their child’s life, they may actually surprise themselves and realize they could have a great friendship ahead of them.
What advice have you got for stepmoms/moms that do not get along?
Shelby: I understand that all co-parenting situations are different, but I would encourage others to try to get along. I’d say that you should find it in your heart to try and set your differences aside and co-parent for the sake of your child/children. It is much better for a child to have parents who can get along than to see parents who fight all the time. Children notice things and if they only ever see their parents fighting, they are going to feel as if they are to blame. I encourage you to consider your kids’ feelings in this situation, as they didn’t choose to grow up in a split home. If there is no real reason why you can’t get along, then why not take the first step and reach out to one another? I don’t think you will regret trying to get along, you’ll only regret not trying. Having another person on your team at all times is so much easier than feeling like you’re alone when you have the kids. The feeling of knowing that if something goes wrong all you have to do is pick up the phone and call the mom/stepmom and they will be there to help you is amazing. All a mom truly wants is to know that her children are taken care of and loved just as they are when they are in her care. And all a stepmom wants is to care for her beautiful bonus children and love them as if they were her own. I know not all situations are as loving and caring, but if you are a mom who just wants her children to be cared for and loved and the stepmom wants the same, why fight? Why not just let it go, and see how happy everyone can be?
Latisa: My advice to them is to STOP! Stop fighting with each other. If you are using the child/children against one another, then stop that too! Take the time to get to know one another. Do things together with the children and listen to what the other person has to say. Ask each other how the other one feels about certain things. Find a common ground. Definitely, do not let the children disrespect the other parent. Let go of your pride and learn to co-parent. Pray for one another. Come together not only for the children but for yourself as well – it can be done! Even if you need to see a counselor to just break the ice. Find something you both like – I promise it makes life so much easier! I couldn’t have asked for a better stepmom for my children and in all honesty, I couldn’t picture my ex-husband with anyone else. Shelby loves my children and Steven wholeheartedly! When I have ever needed someone, Shelby is quick to help no matter what.
Why do you think your friendship has been so successful?
Shelby: We all knew from the very beginning we wanted to get along and do what was right for the kids. Because as tough as divorce can be on adults, it’s even harder for children. We started out doing small things with/for the kids such as birthday parties, school events, then it turned in to doing things all together as one big family. The more we did together, the more we realized we got along great. From there we became friends, then best friends. It wasn’t always easy, and that’s the part people don’t always realize, but it was worth working hard for. We want all of our children to always know that we will do whatever it takes to put them first in every situation.
Latisa: Shelby and I have become the best of friends over the years. Both Shelby and Steve have been there when I’ve needed them. The last 2 years I have been in and out of the hospital having multiple surgeries and not once have they said no to help and not just with the kids. Greg and I truly love both of them and the baby. During Christmas 2015, Greg and I received the best gift in this friendship – Steven and Shelby asked us to be the godparents to their daughter! The love just continues. All because we had a talk and Steven and I had to forgive each other first. That was most important for our friendship to begin. We also put aside the negative comments and feelings. It’s not easy but it’s definitely worth having such a loving and happy family.
Finally, is there anything you feel you’ve learned about yourself since becoming a blended family?
Shelby: I have learned to let things go, and not take things so personally. I have learned to laugh at myself; that love comes from many different places, and that it is possible to be a happy blended family. I came from a blended family and I wish things would have been this easy when I was a child. I learned forgiveness, and I was never really good at forgiving people before. Once you’re the one in the blended family it becomes easier for you to see the struggles that were once faced.
Latisa: What I have learned from being a blended family, is that there is so much love to offer! It has not only brought Shelby and myself closer together but the relationship I had with Steven for the longest time was full of so much anger. But now we have a new respect for each other and we have found a great friendship not only as mother and father of the children but as friends and one big family! We all have a special bond and honestly, it was never imagined, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.