Embracing “Quasi-Motherhood” With Humor and Empathy

Yona Zeldis McDonough: You never wanted kids, yet you became a quasi-mom to your boyfriend’s son and daughter; how did that change your feelings? 

Dani Alpert: Motherhood had never been an aspiration, and my strong relationships with Nicole and Tyler didn’t change those feelings at my core. However, I enjoyed playing the part of the quasi-mom. It brought out a maternal side of me that I didn’t know that I had—or wanted. I never pictured myself in a family like the kind that I had when I was living with Julian and the kids. Had I been militant about my choice not to be a mom and closed myself off from the kids at the get-go, I would’ve denied myself a transformative experience of loving a child and being loved by that child. Once I loosened my grip and took a giant step over myself, I opened my heart, and I followed my gut because you never know. 

YZM: Since your boyfriend and his children were Catholic, how did being Jewish factor into your lives together? 

DA: Our cultural differences were ever-present, whether it was the food that Julian cooked—pork loin, bacon, or holiday celebrations. Christmas, as usual, was always more festive than lighting eight candles. I did introduce Nicole and Tyler to my Aunt Dorothy’s menorah, and Tyler seemed to enjoy lighting the candles—he was also into flames when he was nine years old. Neither Julian nor I was very religious, but suddenly I needed to share my traditions and culture with the kids. By sharing my background with them, I hoped that it would bring us closer. We celebrated Hanukkah, and they attended their first Seder dinner at my parent’s house. These moments were meaningful, but at the same time, I was also aware that Nicole and Tyler weren’t my kids and that there were limits to what I could suggest and ask them to do. 

YZM: When things ended with your boyfriend, you still wanted to have his kids in your life, in effect creating a new definition of family. Care to comment? 

DA: The kids and I didn’t break up, and I refused to fade away. Julian and his ex-wife had entrusted me with their kids, and I couldn’t turn my back on them and disappear from their lives. My only concern was assuring Nicole and Tyler that I was not abandoning them. My decision to fight for them, and us, had everything to do with what I thought was healthy for their emotional well-being. I would do whatever I could to remain in their lives—if they wanted me to, of course. Lucky for me, the feelings were mutual. Navigating our new normal was challenging, and in the beginning, the visits were sad, but I wouldn’t give up on myself or the kids. I convinced myself that being in their lives was within my purview of being a Girlfriend Mom, although I wasn’t entirely confident. As long as Nicole and Tyler responded to my invitations, texts, and activity requests, I continued showing up. They were integral in my recovery—like two little lifejackets. I’d lost their father, and I couldn’t bear not having his kids in my life. I’m confident that I needed them more than they needed me. 

YZM: At first, you viewed your boyfriend’s ex-wife as an enemy; later, you came to be friends? What does this say about the expected (and often adversarial) roles women play with each other vs. what can actually happen between us? 

DA: If you look at movies, like Stepmom, or any Lifetime Movie of the Week, the new girlfriend or second wife are hussies or gold-diggers, and the ex-wife is either evil or crazy. Neither of these scenarios was my experience. When I first met Marie, yes, these movies were playing in my mind, and right on cue, I inspected her; was that a pimple? Were those real? I was looking for any imperfection to tamp down my insecurities. And I did brace myself for her once-over, but it didn’t happen. She wasn’t anything like the evil ex-wife, and I swore off Lifetime right then and there. I often wondered why we couldn’t be friendly for the sake of the kids, but I stayed quiet and fell in lockstep with Julian, absorbing his negative opinions of Marie as my own because I wasn’t the parent. 

However, things changed after Julian, and I broke up. I had to reach out to Marie because Tyler lived with her. In the beginning, it felt like I was on supervised visits. And then, our relationship shifted. We started talking, sharing disjointed stories, vulnerabilities, emotional non-sequiturs, laying bare years of stifled self-doubts, and misconceptions. Her empathy made my head hurt. I’d spent years constructing narratives about her based on empty statements from our ex. And I was wrong. We’re friends with a shared history and a great love for Nicole and Tyler and because we genuinely like one another. It says a lot about who we are as people, and it makes perfect sense that we consider each other family. I also know how lucky I am. It could’ve easily been an Ex-Wife Killer–situation.    

YZM: At the end of the book, you write To Be Continued; are you planning to return to the story?

DA: Yes. I think (hope) readers will want to know what happened to me, Marie and the kids. There are years of emotional development that I’d like to explore. And of course, the funny and bizarre embedded in our unique family dynamic.