Meet Jonelle Jones
Designer & Owner of Haute Wanda and Designer for StepMom Magazine
Stepchildren: 4 Stepkiddos – (almost) 15 yr. old girl Kaylee, (almost) 10 yr. old boy Nathyn, (almost) 13 yr. old boy Jacob, and 11 yr. old girl Madison… (*side note: three of them have birthdays in the next several weeks – YES during the holidays! Gah!)
What is your stepmom story? How did you become a stepmom?
I met my stepkids 6 1/2 years ago after my husband (then, boyfriend) and I had been dating for a few months. They were energy personified and they brought a lot of joy into my life right away. (Along with unknowns, fear, responsibilities and CHAOS!) And I jumped right into it! We officially became a stepfamily two years later, adopted some dogs and found our way in the world. Most of it is a blur of fun adventures, chaotic day-to-day life events, and stumbling through how to be a strong stepfamily and a healthy stepmom. Now, they’re all in the double-digits and only a handful of years from being out of the nest. We learned a lot of things the hard way, walked through some very challenging times, and learned how some simple principles can make a huge impact on everyone’s security and happiness.
How has your relationship with your stepchildren changed over the years?
It seems like stepfamily relationships are constantly evolving, flexing and growing. I stepped very, very softly in the beginning of my relationship with the kids. We went at their pace. I was blessed in that they liked me from the start! But even then, the first few years were…“weird” would be a good term. We were a family, but we didn’t know each other. We spent a lot of time together, but we weren’t bonded yet. It was an unusual place of being accepted by one another, but also not quite knowing what that meant.
There was a noticeable evolution around year 4 as our connections became more authentic and our memories began to be shared. We were a little more relaxed around each other and had a lot of fun. They were also getting older and more interested in conversing about life, which changed how we related to each other. It was fun to watch them grow! Looking back, I think I was still overly cautious with them. I dreaded making a wrong move, but to them I’d been around a long time and wasn’t going anywhere. They’d accepted me into their family, but I was so scared of failing them that I kept more distance than I probably needed to.
In the last year, we went through another noticeable evolution. It’s like we all let out a big exhale. Now everything is “normal”. What I mean by that is, we are a family and we’d all tell you that matter-of-factly. We’re comfortable with each other, I’ve gotten more comfortable in my stepmom role, and we’ve built a shared life together. We still deal with the complexities of stepfamily life, but we’ve learned how to do so with minimal discomfort.
Like I mentioned, it seems like it’s always evolving. As they mature and become more independent, eventually they’ll leave the nest and start their own families. I’m looking forward to watching them continue to grow!
What is the best thing about being a stepmom?
The best thing about being a stepmom is my kids. They are undoubtedly the silver lining. They are funny, generous, loving, and just amazing unique individuals. Getting to be there for them, offering a different perspective, listening without judgement, laughing with them, encouraging them, and being an example for them….that certainly does make all the hard work more worthwhile. Whenever I hear myself in their silly banter, get a sweet text, or see them make good choices – my heart swells with a pride like no other.
Can you share a special time that you had with your stepchildren?
I feel so lucky to say there are many! I am grateful to have gotten to spend some really fun times with them. One memorable night happened early early on, when we had escaped upstairs away from dad to play Apples to Apples. We were blaring music and everyone was in silly mode, getting along and having fun. And dad was nowhere to be found in the mix! I definitely took a moment then to scan the room and soak in their smiles, laughs, and silly dance moves. It was the first of many silly times we’d have together. Also, this past year, we took the kids to Colorado for the first time. Even with all the stress a vacation with kids can bring, we had a blast and shared so many memorable moments!
What is the hardest thing about being a stepmom? What has helped you get through the difficult times?
I’d say the hardest thing about being a stepmom is the process of learning that stepfamilies are different and that life situations will be different, and then learning how to deal with that. Figuring out how to live happily in a family system that is unexpected and atypical takes a lot of intentional hard work. As your family members become more comfortable with each other and you get into a groove, it definitely gets easier, but there are still times where you have to remind yourself that your family situation is complex and readjust your perspective and your strategy. It’s not always easy, but it IS possible!
Early on, I only had one stepmom friend, so I found the bulk of my of support and education in StepMom Magazine and their community forum. It became a big part of my step-success and I was honored to become part of the StepMom Mag team a year ago and begin paying it forward to help other stepmoms. Along with designing the magazine, I wrote my first article, “Holiday Traditions: The Stepfamily Investment That Yielded Unexpected Returns” which was published in the recent November issue. In it, I reflect on how my clunky, imperfect attempts to create warm fuzzies early on in my stepfamily eventually paid off in ways I didn’t expect.
Along with the great resources in the magazine, my husband and I eventually sought the help of a Stepfamily Therapist. She was able to help us both understand that what we were dealing with was not only normal, but just as challenging as it felt. She helped us shift our perspective and gave us tools to navigate tricky situations. It really was a turning point for our relationship and for me personally as a stepmom. Becoming a stepmom can be so disorienting and unfamiliar at times. Having someone explain the psychology to us helped us separate our emotional selves from the logistics of our situation, and find some harmony.
Another thing which helped me navigate through the tougher times was spending time and energy growing my own business and creating my own thing. What I’ve been able to put into both my design business and into creating hand lettered product is an investment I get to see a return on, even if only in satisfaction of my accomplishment. It’s not tied to anyone else or dependent on anyone else’s schedule or whim. That’s a breath of fresh air and immensely fulfilling.
(And, if I’m being honest, I may also have developed a very strong friendship with red wine… 😊)
You make some beautiful hand lettered prints especially for stepfamilies. What inspired you to start making these prints ?
Honestly, I initially created them for myself. When I first took up hand lettering, several years ago, I was inspired by a Richard Bach quote: “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each others’ lives.” It was early on in my stepmom journey, and the quote resonated with me. There’s something about having a beautiful quote like this in your home that provides a subtle sense of security for everyone. It helps say things that are sometimes hard to say in our own words.
I put it in my own home without knowing if it would even be noticed by anyone but me. (And that was okay, because it inspired ME.) But one day, my stepdaughter wanted to discuss the Bach quote. Ironically, she was more concerned about how her siblings weren’t showing her respect rather than the complexity of her relationship with me. (Ha ha!) But, it made me realize she had taken notice and thought about it. And I knew then that these could potentially be meaningful pieces to other stepmoms and stepfamilies. I hope to continue building out this line with more inspirational quotes and product that can be gifted to stepmoms. It’s not always easy to find something that has the right words for our situation, and I want to change that.
What advice would you give to new stepmoms?
It’s so hard to narrow this down! Having been in the stepmama role for some time now, I’ve learned a lot from my own mistakes and collected a lot of advice along the way (and I’m still learning!) If I had to summarize, I’d say:
- Take it slower than you think you need to – It’s so hard to learn this any other way besides trial and error but as you do so, if you start to feel resentful, crazy, tired, or angry, that’s a sign you’re probably doing TOO much TOO fast!
- Make self-care time a priority – I repeat: a PRIORITY. Yes, even before kids. You cannot be a good wife or stepmom if you don’t take care of yourself first! If you take the time you need, it will make the time you give that much better.
- Find a stepmom tribe and connect with them regularly – Even if you can only find one to start (or if they’re all online), having someone to relate to will make a huge difference! Seek out stepmoms in all walks of the journey so that you have different perspectives. It can be really helpful to hear from a stepmom who’s been doing it for a decade!
- Learn, learn, learn all you can about stepfamily dynamics! – And do so from reputable resources (like StepMom Magazine!)
- Schedule a date night each week with your husband and guard it with your life (and make sure he does too!) – You won’t reach perfection, but prioritizing the time to even sit and make eye contact for longer than 5 minutes can do wonders.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a stepfamily coach or therapist – Sometimes both you AND your husband can benefit from hearing a professional third-party perspective not only validate your experience, but provide tools to work through and begin to master stepfamily challenges.