Mothers and daughters do it all the time: take a quiet stroll, have a little heart-to-heart. So it was that on Oct. 6 Lynne Spears and her daughter Britney walked on Ramirez Canyon Road on a sunny afternoon in Malibu, not far from Britney’s home. Lynne pushed her grandsons Preston, 2, and Jayden in a two-seat stroller, while Britney, in dark sunglasses, ambled alongside. The whole thing lasted just a half hour, but what mattered was that it happened at all. Says one passerby: “They seemed to be trying to have some quality family time.”
Just days after temporarily losing custody of her children Oct. 1 – and not long after her 1-year-old son Jayden began to walk for the first time – Britney took an important baby step of her own by agreeing to meet with her mom, with whom she has been feuding since early summer.
Originally set for their hometown of Kentwood, La., but later switched to California, the reunion began when Lynne, 52, and Britney’s sister Jamie Lynn, 16, traveled from Kentwood to Los Angeles Oct. 5, touching down around 8:30 p.m. At first, things did not go smoothly. Unable to find Britney at her Malibu home, Lynne became visibly upset and turned to paparazzi for help, pleading, “Please find my daughter.” The Spears women finally arrived at Britney’s Beverly Hills house around 3 a.m. and then spent several days with her in her Beverly Hills and Malibu homes – their first real get-together since Britney, 25, tried to bar Lynne from seeing her boys after a string of shattering arguments started their estrangement in June.
A Spears source tells PEOPLE the family reunion “has been going really well. They’ve been having family dinners where everyone gets together – Lynne, Britney and Jamie Lynn. They’re building their relationships again.” The source describes the first moments as “dramatic” for the singer as well as for her younger sister, the star of Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101. “Britney pretty much hated her mom for a long time, and to see her all of a sudden after months was a big deal. Poor Jamie Lynn had to balance those two sides, her mom and her sister. It was just weird.”
Bringing Britney and her family back together, though, took more than a little doing. As the star’s life spiraled further out of control, her family in Kentwood watched helplessly and worried for her safety. Lynne “has been really down about it,” says one family friend. “You can tell that she’s been thinking about it all the time, but she hasn’t wanted to talk about it.” After a while, Lynne couldn’t even get a call through to her daughter.
“It’s been very difficult for her family to watch” what’s been happening with Britney, says another source close to the family. “They’ve wanted to see her. Any reluctance came from Britney.” That all changed after an Oct. 1 ruling, which – ostensibly because of Britney’s drug use and erratic parenting – ordered that Kevin Federline retain physical custody of their children until further notice. (She would be granted monitored visits two days later.) Britney’s two closest friends and companions, Sam Lufti and Alli Sims, seized on the devastating decision to push for a family reunion. “Alli’s been trying to convince Britney how important family is and how necessary it is for them all to be together during this time,” says someone who has recently spent time with Spears. “Britney swallowed her pride and realized, ‘I need my mom.’ ” Another Spears insider says, “Britney was hitting rock bottom, losing her kids and constantly needed people to be there for her, so Sam convinced her to see her mom. It’s a step in the right direction. Britney wants some change.” Lufti had even persuaded Lynne, who reportedly angered Britney by criticizing her skills as a mother, to get some counseling herself before the reunion.
On the morning after Britney’s mother and sister arrived, a bodyguard for Federline dropped off the boys for their first visit with their mother since she lost custody Oct 1. Originally, Britney wanted the visit to take place at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, but Federline’s lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan nixed that idea. “When there are parenting coaches,” says Kaplan, “part of what you want the coach to observe is the minor children in the home setting.”
Instead, Britney spent most of Oct. 6 at home with her sons and a court-appointed monitor before returning the boys to Federline’s bodyguard around 4 p.m. She had another supervised visit with Preston and Jayden Oct. 9. The visitations “are going perfectly,” says Britney’s lawyer Sorrell Trope, who adds that Britney has submitted to more than one random drug test, which “have come up negative.” (Kaplan insists the drug test results are unknown.)
Even before her mother’s visit, say sources close to Britney, she was determined to win back 50-50 custody of her children. “When Britney’s not with them, she’s always talking about them,” says one of Britney’s friends. “She’ll say what they mumbled that day, what they did. She’s a very proud mother. She’s taking all her orders seriously and doing what she’s got to do. She wants to be with her boys more than anything.”
Besides sharing Preston and Jayden with Lynne for the first time in months and sitting down for family meals, Britney seemed to most enjoy the time she spent with her sister Jamie Lynn. They drove around Malibu in Britney’s Mercedes CLK 350, giggled as they ordered takeout at a Taco Bell drive-thru, stopped for orange drinks at a Shell gas station and had sushi and salad in Bel Air. “Britney was very happy and laughing with her sister,” says a waiter who saw them eating an early dinner at the Sushi House Unico on Oct. 7. “Last time she was in here she was very upset, so it’s nice to see her smile again.”
Britney even got to see how far her family will go to protect her. When a woman cursed out Britney in the parking lot outside the Sushi House Unico, it was little Jamie Lynn who got between the woman and Britney and yelled a few choice words of her own. A video of the encounter promptly made the YouTube rounds.
The incident was a reminder that Britney’s life isn’t likely to get back to normal any time soon. Her latest record, Blackout, is due to arrive in stores on Nov. 13, and its first single, “Gimme More,” quickly hit No. 1 on iTunes and No. 3 on the Billboard charts. But whether or not the record will signal a career comeback remains to be seen; a music video for “Gimme More,” released on Oct. 5, hardly wowed critics still dazed by Britney’s drowsy performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards Sept. 9.
And her legal woes are not fully behind her either: On Oct. 9, an L.A. Superior Court Commissioner ordered that Britney be formally booked and fingerprinted no later than Oct. 25 for a recent misdemeanor charge for an Aug. 6 hit-and-run accident that involved a parked car (yes, there will soon be a Britney mug shot). She faces jail time if convicted, but her lawyer J. Michael Flanagan hopes it won’t come to that. “We’re working toward a resolution of the case,” says Flanagan, “but we don’t have a firm deal yet.” Britney is also due back in court on Oct. 26 so that a commissioner can check on her progress in the custody case. “If she passes all of her tests from here on out, Kevin would be very pleased,” says Mark Vincent Kaplan. “But nothing so far has happened to alter Kevin’s request to the court.”
If Britney should eventually regain partial custody of her kids on the heels of her reunion with her mother, it might be tempting to think that she has finally turned a corner, but no one who knows her will dare to say that now. All that her friends from Kentwood are hoping is that some much-needed quality family time has, at least, pointed Britney in the right direction. “She has always listened to her mother before, and if anyone can get her attention, it’ll be Lynne,” says one friend. “Britney is just a mama’s girl at heart.”
• By Alex Tresniowski. With Pernilla Cedenheim, Jennifer Garcia, Ken Lee, Mary Margaret and Daniel J. Vargas in Los Angeles and Alicia Dennis and Steve Helling in Kentwood