I became a stepmother at 22, and love has seen us through

By Clara How, Jan 06, 2021

At 19, Alicia met the man who would be her husband. At 22, she became a stepmother. In her words, she “had to step up”, because there was now another person she had to be responsible for. Why did she take this leap of faith, and at such a young age? She tells us that it was for love. Love for her husband, but possibly more so, love for a little girl who would become her step-daughter. 

Today, Alicia is 27, and stepmother to 8-year-old Aeshlyn, and her biological son, 2-year-old Joash. She may have eased into her role of being a stay at home mum, but challenges in marriage and motherhood ever remain. 

This January, we open 2021 with stories of hope. We want to spotlight people who have shown bravery in the circumstances that life has thrown at them, and have kept going. We begin with Alicia, whose story is that of evolution: of falling in love, of juggling work and caregiving, and walking the lines of being mother, stepmother, and wife. It is a journey that she charts on her Dayre account, at @alicialyzsia. Through it all, she chooses to stay hopeful. She chooses to keep the faith in her husband. She chooses family. 

Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of a terminated pregnancy.

* * * *

When Jeffrey and I first started talking, I didn’t know that he was married, or that he had a child. He had added me on Facebook as we had mutual friends, but never actually met. When he messaged me to say hello, I didn’t think that anything would come out of it. I didn’t think that we would be good friends, much less that we would date. He just seemed like a nice guy. 

I was 19 and working as an intern at the Night Safari when we first met. I had posted on Facebook that I was craving cupcakes, and Jeffrey offered to bring me some. That was how we exchanged phone numbers! He turned up with a box at 11pm, and hung around till my shift ended at midnight. I could tell he was hoping that we could grab supper, but I didn’t want to miss my free shuttle bus home — going out with him would mean paying midnight surcharge on a cab fare. So I shooed him home.

One of the first photos we took together.

One of the first photos we took together.

That night I started looking through his Facebook profile more thoroughly to figure out what kind of person he was. To my surprise, I saw an old status about waiting at the hospital for the birth of his child. There and then, I asked him over WhatsApp if he was married, or had kids. Initially he denied it, but soon came clean. 

He was still legally married to his ex-wife but they were separated, and he had an eight-month-old baby daughter and a two-year-old son. Due to circumstances his son lives with his ex-wife and they don’t see each other often, while his daughter was solely in his care. He didn’t plan on telling me this early on in our conversations, fearing that I might not want to speak with him.

Of course, it was hard for me to accept. He seemed like a really sweet guy, but we had only been talking for three days. Would I want to advance things further? Dating him would not just be about him and I — there was another person to consider.

What shook me was the name of his daughter. Four months before meeting Jeffrey, I had terminated a pregnancy, and subsequently went through a break-up. I did not feel like I was ready to take care of a child, but I grieved the loss. I imagined the baby to be a little girl, and named her in my head. When I realised that Jeffrey’s daughter’s name was incredibly similar to what I imagined my daughter’s name would be, it almost felt like a sign. 

I have always liked kids, and I told Jeffrey that when the time was right, I would love to meet his daughter. A month later, he asked me to be his girlfriend, saying: “Are you willing to give Aeshlyn and I a chance to be a family?”  I knew that when I said yes, I was agreeing to be responsible for another human being. Once we became exclusive, I started playing a more active role in Aeshlyn’s life. 

At that point in time, Jeffrey was working as a chef on an 8am to 5pm shift. His helper was the full-time caregiver for his daughter, and by the time he came home, he didn’t have much time to interact with her. When I heard about this situation, I wanted to help. I started to take a more active role in Aeshlyn’s life, like visiting his place to play with her, taking her and the helper out for trips to the mall, or to visit Jeffrey after work. We even went to a baby spa!

Date nights used to be grabbing drinks from Starbucks and heading back to Jeffrey’s place to play with Aeshlyn.

Date nights used to be grabbing drinks from Starbucks and heading back to Jeffrey’s place to play with Aeshlyn.

A few months later, the home that Jeffrey was living in was sold, and he would have to find another place to stay. I told my mother that I had a friend who was a single dad with a baby — would it be possible to rent out my room to them, and I move in with my sister? 

My mother, of course, figured things out pretty quickly. For some time I had been mentioning Jeffrey and Aeshlyn in passing, and she knew that there was more to this “friend”. She asked to meet Jeffrey first, which made us nervous — Jeffrey has tattoos and pierced ears, and I worried that he would not make a good impression.

They met and had a conversation, and my mother told him: “Now that I know that you have this problem, and we have the ability to help, how can I not?”

Like me, she wondered about the timing of my meeting Jeffrey. Out of all the men I could have met after the abortion, I fell in love with someone who had a baby. We agreed on a trial run, where Aeshlyn would stay with us on Sundays until we got accustomed to the arrangement. A few weeks later, Jeffrey and Aeshlyn moved in with me — just four months after we got together. 

I know it sounds silly, but at the time, I hadn’t fully thought this decision through. I never sat down and considered what moving in with my family would be like, or how hard it would be to look after a thirteenth-month-old baby throughout the day (and night).

When I looked at Aeshlyn, she made me want to try, and to put in effort for her. Aeshlyn was so precious to me, and I wanted her to have a family. I didn’t want her to lose a mother figure again.

Celebrating Aeshlyn’s first birthday!

Celebrating Aeshlyn’s first birthday!

As for Jeffrey, he was the first person to show me that relationships were about two people putting in the effort. It sounds naive, but for all my previous relationships, I was always so blinded by love that I was able to overlook how one-sided they were. I’ve always been the person who gives my all in relationships, but I didn’t always get it back. With Jeffrey, I saw that this was a man who was finally giving me the love I think I deserve. Because of both our pasts, we had learned from our mistakes, and we tried not to repeat them. 

As much as I loved both of them, the transition after moving in was hard. I was 20, and it felt like I had to grow up overnight. I was in my last semester at the polytechnic, and I was juggling trying to look after her and go to school. Every morning I would rush out of the door with my school bag and Aeshlyn, to bring her to the nanny who lived in the same block. After school, either myself or my mum would pick her up, and I would do my homework after she went to bed. Now that I think back: I was trying to look after someone else’s kid when I could barely look after myself! 

My graduation photo in May, 2014.

My graduation photo in May, 2014.

Thankfully, Jeffrey and my parents taught me how to look after a baby. Without their support, this journey would not have been as smooth sailing. I’m glad that I took this leap of faith — I figured that if you’re already falling, why not flap to see if you can fly? 

Jeffrey and Aeshlyn stayed with my family for over two years, and in that time, we did everything together. Jeffrey and I worked hard to make sure that Aeshlyn had everything she needed, and Jeffrey put in the hours to pay for her school fees, the nanny, and rent and utilities. I had always been thrifty, and was used to working two jobs. But now Aeshlyn was my motivation.

Our first overseas trip was to Genting Highlands. Jeffrey and I have a dream of travelling the world alone together, though we know that it can only happen in ten or so years when the children are independent.

Our first overseas trip was to Genting Highlands. Jeffrey and I have a dream of travelling the world alone together, though we know that it can only happen in ten or so years when the children are independent.

We already felt like a family, and once Jeffrey’s divorce was finalised, we got married two days after our two and a half year anniversary, on 29 February, 2016. He would later tell me that he loved how genuine I was, and that he saw a future in us. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, and for us to grow a family together.

Jeffrey proposed on my 22nd birthday, in December 2015.

Jeffrey proposed on my 22nd birthday, in December 2015.

Those two years of waiting for his divorce to be finalised were stressful and emotionally draining, because I was terrified that Jeffrey might not be granted custody of Aeshlyn. I couldn’t bear to lose her, and I wanted to fight so that she would stay with us. All I could do was to tell myself that things would work out, and the divorce proceedings would come through.

On the day we registered our marriage on 29 February, 2016.

On the day we registered our marriage on 29 February, 2016.

On my wedding day, all I felt was relief. Finally, we would be able to have a new beginning, and that was exciting.

Today, I am 27, and a mother of two. Aeshlyn is now eight years old, and I have a son of my own, called Joash. I am a stay at home mum, and because of Jeffrey’s hard work as a watch trader, we now own a flat, and our own car. The children want for nothing.

Aeshlyn and Joash, 2019

Aeshlyn and Joash, 2019

While I’m grateful for many things, life doesn’t stop issuing challenges just because we’ve crossed hurdles. 

I’m constantly learning about marriage and motherhood. When the children were younger, motherhood was easier — I just had to feed them and clean them. Now that they are growing up, as parents we need to guide them in life, and teach them to be kind and appreciative.

While there’s no right or wrong when it comes to parenting, I do worry that my kids are like my report cards.

At our gender reveal party in February 2018.

At our gender reveal party in February 2018.

Joash and Aeshlyn are so different in personality. I always wanted a biological child of my own to experience pregnancy for myself, and I figured that we already had the experience of having an older child. Looking after Joash was so different that it shocked me. Aeshlyn had been so obedient as a toddler, and would just sit quietly and play with her toys. Joash is much more restless, and harder to manage.

Aeshlyn was there for my maternity shoot in April 2018.

Aeshlyn was there for my maternity shoot in April 2018.

We also had Joash at a much different stage of life than we had Aeshlyn. Back then, Jeffrey and I were united in our goals. We headed out to work, and the focus was to earn money. At night, we would come home, and spend time as a family. Now that I’m a stay at home mum, my centre of attention has moved to Joash, and it does get lonely when it’s just us at home.

My current goal is for all of us to spend more time together, and for Jeffrey to be more present. His goal, on the other hand, is to work hard to make sure that the children and I have everything we would want. Now that he’s turned 30, one of his goals is to buy a condominium for us.

I understand his goals, but I’m a much simpler person. All I want is his time, and for the kids to see him more often. Because I’m the parent who’s always at home, my role is to be the disciplinarian, and they see daddy as a playmate. I tell him that he needs to spend more time at home, so they know that time with their dad can be more than just play. 

As for Aeshlyn, now that she’s older and has a mind of her own, she’s not as obedient. We had been deliberating on when to tell her the truth about her biological mother, but on her seventh birthday party, a neighbour’s kid blurted out that his parents had said that I wasn’t Aeshlyn’s “real mother”. That night, we sat her down.

I said: “I did not give birth to you, but I celebrated every single birthday with you. I was there when you took your first steps. When daddy and I got married, you were there with us. You share our surname, and you have all your family who loves you. My family is your family, and nothing is going to change.”

Initially she didn’t understand, so I showed her a picture of her mother and said that if she ever wanted to meet her, it would be her choice. So now that Aeshlyn knows the truth, I have to be more tactful in what I say when I discipline her. I worry that she might think: “You’re not my real mother, why are you asking me to study?” It’s hard to navigate, and as she gets older it will only be more challenging. I know that she is young, and might not understand the concept of sacrifice. I look forward to the day when she is older, and she will appreciate what her father and I have done for her.

I never expected children to shake the foundation of my marriage, yet the truth is that it has.

Communication is still something that we are working on; I remind him that when he comes home, he needs to ask me about my day. I also remind myself that everything that he does, and all the late nights that he keeps are for this family. We are working on remembering that each of us have our roles, and they have their own difficulties. 

There are friends who hear about his late nights and are doubtful about what he gets up to, but for me, I have never questioned his faithfulness. Jeffrey has said that this family is his motivation, which reassures me. I see how hard he works, and his friends tell me the same. Even when I get frustrated at him, at the end of the day, I’m still excited for him to come home. I cannot imagine my life without him.

After every argument, Jeffrey is always the one who tries to make amends first. He always says that we must hold on — we have already been through so much. We know that we love each other, and I know that my home will always be with him.

Photos provided by Alicia. 

 

Writer’s Note:

My name is Clara, and you can find me at @clarahow on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I’ve written about family: losing them, loving them, and the difficulties that come with not being able to choose the ones closest to us.

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