When she started writing five years ago, Lynne Spears planned “a book of poems and memoirs,” says the mother of Britney, 26, Jamie Lynn, 17, and Bryan, 31. “But, after so many things happened”—she laughs—”this needs to be a get-things-straight book.”
In an exclusive excerpt from her new memoir Through the Storm: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World, Lynne, 53, details her family’s surreal journey from Kentwood, La., to the harsh international spotlight. Chronicling everything from her ex-husband Jamie’s drinking to Britney’s breakdowns and Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy at 16, the book has whipped up its own storm: Rumors buzzed that Lynne was cashing in on her kids; critics questioned her qualifications for giving mothering advice. And yet she is open about her own mistakes. “Was I the perfect mom?” she asks, her eyes welling up. “No.”
Today, however, her estrangement from Britney is over and she is a doting “Me Maw” to grandsons Preston, 3, and Jayden, 2, and granddaughter Maddie Briann, 2 months. She says Britney and Bryan have yet to read the book but “Jamie Lynn loved it.” (She also refutes a report that Jamie Lynn sent a gift to Sarah Palin’s pregnant daughter Bristol: “Jamie Lynn wishes her well, but, no.”)
If she could do it again, would she let her daughters pursue stardom? “I think you have to let them follow their dreams,” she says. “I think it would be worse in the end if you didn’t.”
The interesting thing about Britney is that she was always—and I mean always—highly motivated to excel. She practiced singing and dancing so much it drove me crazy. I would say, “Baby, relax a minute, please—you’re making me tired!” She was unstoppable.
I’m always startled when I hear folks think I’m a pushy stage mother. I simply did not have the huge ambitions for her that I have been accused of having. Why did I say yes to Britney’s career? Easy: I wanted to help my daughter make her dream come true. What I didn’t know was exactly what her dream was: to be a pop star.
Tensions at home ran high during Britney’s early years. Frustrated by Jamie’s drinking (he has been sober since 2004), Lynne considered leaving him but stayed for the kids. In 1993 Britney, 11, landed a spot on The Mickey Mouse Club alongside Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.
Britney and Justin started dating when she was 18. I liked their relationship, although not every aspect of it. Early on, she and Justin had been having conversations about life, and she came to talk to me. “Mama, I just don’t know if there really is a right and wrong anymore,” she said. “I mean, is anything really wrong?” That’s about the time Britney started questioning her Christian faith. I do believe she will come back to her faith roots someday.
In 1998 after years of financial woes, Jamie and Lynne filed for bankruptcy. At the same time, Britney’s career was revving up.
Much has been written about how we were counting on our daughter to rescue us from financial ruin. Ha! When I think of our mind-set during those days, the idea is almost laughable. Jamie and I had no idea that Britney would have a hit record. More important, we never felt that it was our child’s responsibility to dig us out of that financial grave.
Still, as Britney’s star rose, Lynne began to feel she was losing some control. During the shoot for her first Rolling Stone cover in 1999, Lynne says the photographer took Britney, then 17, into her bedroom alone to shoot her in her underwear.
When I saw the cover, my heart sank and my face burned. How did this happen? Lines were being crossed. Yet I foolishly thought I was in control.
In 2000 Lynne quit her teaching job and joined her daughter on tour. Britney’s “… Baby, One More Time” had hit the top of the charts, but the family had a crisis: Lynne’s sister Sandra had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Two years later Lynne and Jamie divorced, and Jamie Lynn landed a role on Nickelodeon’s All That.
People always want to know, why did I let my younger daughter get into show business if I could see what effect fame had on my older daughter? I think they are assuming I was already acquainted with the bad press, the paparazzi, the utter lack of privacy. But at that time, it was pretty much all good.
Then on Jan. 3, 2004, Britney called to say she had married a childhood friend, Jason Alexander, in Las Vegas.
I was not pleased, to put it mildly. “What were you thinking?” I chastised. “That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard of!” It was reckless and out of character, which clued me in that something was going on. Almost two years after she and Justin had broken up, Britney was still wounded.
She was beaten to death in the press after her marriage to Jason was annulled and because her third album was not performing as well as the first two. She was starting to act out of her pain, and she had the money to party and jet-set to her heart’s content.
Britney began dating dancer Kevin Federline, 26, who had one child and another on the way with actress Shar Jackson.
I liked amiable Kevin because he was down-to-earth and kind-hearted. Of course, I wasn’t crazy about the fact that he was already a daddy, and that his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. I advised Britney to take it slow, but by September ’04 they were married.
Britney and Kevin welcomed a son, Sean Preston, in ’05; Jayden arrived a year later. Two months after his birth, in November, Britney and Kevin split.
I believe Britney had postpartum depression, which, added to the end of her marriage and the pressures of her career, brought her to the breaking point. So many things in her life hadn’t turned out the way she wanted.
In February ’07, two weeks after my sister Sandra died, I watched in dismay and shock as footage of my beautiful daughter shaving off her hair aired on national TV. The look in her eyes was desperately forlorn, angry and belligerent, all at once. I wept, praying almost incoherently that God would safeguard my daughter.
Stints in rehab followed, which Britney claimed her mom had “forced” her into.
When she was in rehab, I tried to help out with the boys. Later Britney would accuse me of siding with Kevin and “letting” him have the boys while she was at Promises. But Kevin is their father. There wasn’t much I could do.
When she is at her best, Britney is an amazing mother, so excited and proud. But during this period, she wasn’t at her best, to say the least. [Today Federline has custody of the boys; Britney has visitation rights.]
She got out of rehab after a month, and I could see it hadn’t provided the healing she needed. Her anger at me had not cooled. In fact, she refused to speak to me. Our estrangement would last an excruciating seven months.
Another blow came in December 2007: At 16 Jamie Lynn—dating her high-school boyfriend Casey Aldridge, 18—announced she was pregnant.
Casey is a sweet, well-mannered young man. Was I right in taking their word that the relationship was pure? Perhaps I should have questioned more deeply, but Jamie Lynn had never done a thing to raise even an eyebrow.
On Dec. 3 Jamie Lynn handed me a note. I unfolded it and read the words that would change our lives forever: “Mama, I’m pregnant. I am going to keep the baby, and everything is going to be okay.”
Numb, I looked into my baby girl’s unreadable face. Then I glanced at Casey, and in a heartbreaking second, I knew the note was true. “What about our talks?” I cried. “You told me you were a virgin…. And you!” I railed at Casey. “You told me you’d never hurt her like this!” He hung his head. I was shocked, angry, sad. I must be the most naïve mother in the world, I thought.
Almost everyone tried to change Jamie Lynn’s mind; most of her loved ones wanted her to have an abortion. I am proud to say she did not waver.
Meanwhile, Britney seemed to drift even further from her family, particularly after she met a mysterious man named Sam Lutfi.
Sam came into my daughter’s life when she was at her most vulnerable. Brokenhearted about losing custody of her precious boys, she was floundering, ripe for a predator to come along. Why didn’t I ride in on a white horse to help save my child? Our estrangement was so complete at that time that I couldn’t even get her phone number.
One night the phone rang and it was Sam. He told me Britney had been visiting with the boys, but when it was time for them to go home to Kevin’s, she locked herself and Jayden in the bathroom. Later I found out Sam had told Britney that Kevin had called and told her she could keep the boys longer.
I was terrified. If it weren’t for the fact that I had to be with Jamie Lynn, I would have flown to L.A. on the next flight. I felt split in two, on one hand by the needs of my pregnant 16-year-old, on the other by my 26-year-old, obviously in deep crisis; both girls seemed to need me with the same intensity.
Britney was rushed in an ambulance to UCLA Medical Center and hospitalized on an involuntary psychiatric hold. Lynne watched the ordeal unfold on TV from Kentwood.
When I saw the photo of her in the ambulance, her brown eyes haunted, something inside me broke.
Weeks later Lynne confronted Lutfi at Britney’s house. Britney was with her boyfriend at the time, paparazzo Adnan Ghalib.
The level of control Sam exerted was bewildering. Adnan told me that Sam hid Britney’s cell phones and disabled several of her cars. And how’s this? Adnan said Sam would hide Britney’s dog London. She would look all over, crying; then Sam would bring out the dog and act like some kind of savior.
The scene that day was surreal. Britney was so agitated she couldn’t stop moving. She cleaned the house. She changed her clothes many times. She also changed her three dogs’ clothes. It was as if she wasn’t really there. She spoke in a tone and with the level of understanding of a little girl.
Britney then picked up a bottle of pills and read the label. “What does insomnia mean?” she asked. Sam told her that the pills will help her stay awake. Sam told me that he grinds up Britney’s pills, which included [anti-psychotics] Risperdol and Seroquel, and puts them in her food. I was breaking inside.
Soon afterward Sam called and said someone was trying to get Britney committed. (Lynne now says it was Sam himself.) Lynne rushed over to find police strapping Britney onto a gurney.
She started crying, “Mama, Mama!”
“I’m here, baby,” I said, tears streaming down my face. “Please let me ride with her!” I pleaded. They wouldn’t budge. We followed the vehicles to UCLA Medical Center, where Britney was admitted into the psych ward.
During the days Britney remained hospitalized, a judge granted a restraining order against Lutfi and gave Jamie conservatorship over his daughter’s well-being.
Britney was under the impression we had put her in the hospital. I probably never would have had the courage to commit her, but it ended up being the turning point for her and for all of us.
Today Lynne and Britney are closer than they have been in years, and Lynne is hopeful about both daughters’ futures.
My relationship with Britney has undergone tremendous healing. We are back to four or five phone calls a day, with her calling me about everything from Preston’s potty-training to the darling dress she found for her new niece Maddie Briann. Maddie. Talk about an angel! And Jamie Lynn is a very good, natural little mama. Watching my youngest child mother her own child brings me full circle.
Amid the ruins of fame, I still see Britney’s center, her real “song.” When she was a girl, before the studio messed with her sound, Britney sang from the depths of that truth. More than anything, I want Britney to reclaim her voice, to sing the songs that she sang when she was my “untouched” baby, before the pain and the heartbreak. Step by step, bar by bar, that glorious music is coming to life once again.