Stepmonster No More Meet two mothers who cherish the stepmoms in their children’s lives Stepmother. Often preceded by the word “evil.” It’s Cinderella’s fault, she of the ragged dress and thankless tasks, set to spend all eternity heeding the wishes of her father’s new bride and her two awful daughters. Of course, that’s just a fairy tale. Or is it? When a mother and father split or divorce, a natural jealousy occurs when dad takes a new wife. Suddenly the kids have a second mom to cater to their every whim, and that leaves a mother feeling left out. But in some instances, rare as they may be, moms and stepmoms choose to work together for the best interests of the kids, and often become friends in the process. Celeste and Justine When Celeste Gutierrez of Kenner was first introduced to her ex-partner Mike’s girlfriend, there was no denying the initial awkwardness. Celeste and Mike had not been amicable since their separation, which had made parenting of their seven-year-old, Cambrie, a challenge. Yet, when Justine Crooks of Metairie began to date and eventually marry Mike, the situation changed for the better. It did not take long for Celeste and Justine to form a rather unconventional friendship. (l-r) Tate Fournier, 7, Justine Crooks, Harper Richard, 5, Mikey Crooks, 10 months, Cambrie Crooks, 7, Celeste Gutierrez. Having two children from her previous marriage, Justine could empathize with the struggles of a single mother. “We both had our first child young,” Justine says. “We had to grow up early, and so we had something in common there. We just clicked.” Living just five minutes from each other, Celeste eats dinner at Justine’s house several nights a week, and the blended family spends holidays such as Christmas and Mother’s Day together. There is no set custody schedule for Cambrie, so she is free to go to either house at any time. While everyone jokes that Justine and Mike should build a mother-in-law suite for Celeste, they are serious about staying united as parents and making Cambrie feel comfortable. “If this was going to work, and if the situation with the kids was going to work, we were going to have to all parent together,” Justine says. And it seems to be working, as both women say Cambrie has never been happier – a big change from how she was before Justine came into the picture. Recently, Justine and Mike had a child of their own. Celeste was at the hospital and one of the first people to hold their son. Sometimes Celeste picks up not only Cambrie from school but Justine’s two older children as well. And the mom-stepmom duo often take all of the children on fun outings such as the movies. Friends are puzzled by their closeness and ask how they make co-parenting look so easy. “It’s not that hard when you all are willing to get along,” Celeste says. Any feelings of jealousy that Celeste may have had towards Justine with regard to Cambrie have dissipated, she says. Celeste is now able to offer advice to other moms with similar circumstances. “Don’t let the insecurity of someone else taking your place interfere with the ability to build a relationship with that person,” Celeste says. “At the end of the day, Cambrie knows that I am her mom, but it is nice to know that she has another mom figure taking care of her.” Karla and Kristen Karla Sansoni of Marrero and Kristen Griffin of Westwego had a very slow and, at times, shaky start to their relationship. Nearly four years passed before they could even have a cordial conversation. When Kristen married Karla’s ex-husband, Corey, she did not have any children of her own, so becoming a stepmother to Alise, now 10, and Austin, now 14, was a new adventure. Though it was difficult at first, Kristen now understands Karla’s initial apprehension toward her. “As a mother, it must be a very hard pill to swallow knowing that there is another woman involved in (her kids’) lives,” she says. The turning point finally came when Karla saw that Kristen had Alise and Austin’s best interests in mind. “Even through the rough times, she never took it out on my children,” Karla says. “She has never treated them any differently.” (l-r) Austin, 14, Corey, Hunter, 6, Kristen, and Alise, 10 It’s important to Karla for her children to feel comfortable in the presence of both families. The entire group is together at the ball park most weekends in the summer, and she does not want to be a divided family on opposite ends of the bleachers. Alise and Austin have siblings from each of their parents’ current marriages, and they all look forward to the times when they can play together. As for Kristen, she takes pride in being a stepmom and has even been mistaken for Alise’s mom when they are out together. She never corrects people, and she and Alise always share a laugh about it. But, Kristen never tries to take Karla’s place as Alise’s mother and understands that Karla should make any big decisions in her life. “I want to be the best stepmother that I know how to be to them, but I know my boundaries,” Kristen says. “I do not want to be their mother, because they have one.” Looking back, Kristen says she could not have imagined being a stepparent, having seen the struggles of her friends going through messy divorces. All that has changed now, and Kristen feels like she is exactly where she needs to be. “To be perfectly honest, I could not envision my life any different than it is right now,” she says. Sarah Bell Herndon is a freelance writer and mom to Will, Emma and Josephine. She is a frequent contributor to Nola Family.