Review by Lyz Rudolph-Michaels
An entertaining read of complex, emotional substance, Dani Alpert’s memoir, The Girlfriend Mom, tells the story of a childfree woman who falls for a divorcee with two children. During their eight-year relationship, she struggles to find her role in his children’s lives, eventually falling for them too. Ultimately, Alpert must also navigate her relationship with the children she has come to care about when her partner leaves her for another woman. In her book Alpert gives readers an unflinching look at her journey of coming to love the children she has no legal rights to and learning how to be a continuing presence after her relationship with their father ends.
As part of her journey, she writes directly about what kind of mother she would have been had she wanted her own children, and her role in the raising of her partner’s children. For example:
“To be clear, not wanting to have kids of my own did not mean that I had never fantasized about what kind of mother I would have been. Nor did it mean that I didn’t have strong opinions about how to raise Nicole and Tyler. I never quite put it this way for myself, and I certainly never said it out loud, but since I was sort of, kind of, also raising them (at the very least, I was acting in an assistant role), I wanted to instill in them some of my values and experiences.”
Throughout her memoir, readers learn how Alpert agonized over how to define her relationship with the kids and how she bravely acknowledges the baggage from her past this has brought up. Two examples of this include:
“Then who am I to Nicole? Friend? Another parent or adult figure in her life? And how am I supposed to talk to her-relate to her? Unbeknownst to Nicole, she was forcing me to unpack and re-examine my relationship with my parents; issues that I thought had been resolved were floating up to the surface.”
“What was so confounding and nonsensical was that a part of me resented Tyler-an innocent kid. It was only years later that I realized it was too painful to admit that my parents had come up short. When I saw Julian cutting Tyler’s food, I resented him for not only having needs but having those needs met. He was treated like the little kid that he was, and I was envious.”
We also learn about her partner, Julian, in this situation, and why Alpert ends up overthinking everything when it comes to his kids. Is she filling her role (whatever it is) well enough? Is she overstepping her bounds? Is she not stepping in enough? She writes honestly about these questions and her feelings when negative feelings arise.
Ultimately, her relationship with Julian ends, and Alpert feels adrift in the hurt of the breakup. In addition to the usual distress of the dissolution of a live-in partnership, the question of what becomes of the relationship she has with Nicole and Tyler looms. Her conviction to keep a place in their lives moved me, as did how she considers their needs paramount, despite her own emotional pain. As she writes, “I may not have been a full-time parent, but I was full-time emotionally, and it was now nearly impossible to turn that on and off.”
I was fully invested in reading this book. The subject hits close to home for me, and I appreciate Alpert’s candor with the messier parts of her inner journey. She mixes heavy emotional processing with a light and funny tone in her writing. Alpert never takes herself too seriously and starts each chapter with a pithy quote from pop culture sources. She also includes several lukewarm reviews after the usual glowing ones in the preamble. This made me laugh and gave me a sense of her personality before even beginning the book. Her perspective is not one I’ve seen before and I appreciate the venue this book creates for discussion.
Thank you, Lyz!
Lyz Rudolph-Michaels is a lifelong bibliophile from British Columbia. When not immersed in a book under a pile of cats, she can be found working with horses, in the garden, or on the water in her kayak.