Even at the peak of Britney Spears’ celebrity, her success story was inextricable from her family. Her mother, Lynne, often appeared alongside her on TV, beaming with pride as she talked about raising a future pop star on Oprah or MTV. Their relationship was packaged in books, like the 2000 scrapbook memoir Heart to Heart and a saccharine YA novel, 2001’s A Mother’s Gift.
And the youngest born, Jamie Lynn, was part of the package too. She often popped up in the background of Britney’s TV specials, goofing off and looking like a mini Brit. Hamming it up for the cameras led to more professional acting, like a spot on Nickelodeon’s tween version of SNL, All That, and eventually her own show on the network, Zoey 101, which premiered in 2005.
But then the family’s image started cratering. First came Britney’s public divorce and tussles with paparazzi in 2007, which culminated in a battle with her parents and the establishment of a conservatorship. That same year, Jamie Lynn Spears became pregnant at 16, making her prime tabloid fodder.
For over a decade, neither Britney nor Jamie Lynn really talked in depth about what it was like growing up in their family or living up to their wholesome images. That changed in 2019, as #FreeBritney led to the pop star speaking out about what she saw as her family’s abuse of her conservatorship. “I would like to sue my family,” she said in court, bluntly.
And since then, the public has been litigating the family’s actions. A lot of the spotlight has been directed at dad Jamie, who became the face of the conservatorship. But the Britney stan army has also questioned the support of her mother, the actions of her brother, and most recently the involvement of her sister, whom Britney unfollowed on Instagram after some exchanges about Jamie Lynn’s new memoir, Things I Should Have Said.
The book is a sometimes revealing, if often elliptical and grammatically challenged, story about the toxic patterns caused by growing up in a show business household. “My siblings and I have been traumatized by the distorted vision my parents have of loyalty and success,” Jamie Lynn writes. “I want Britney and the world to know she isn’t the only one who is left with scars from our early years of delinquency and manipulation.” It’s also the latest chapter of the family’s very public processing of what feels like an ongoing reality show.
It’s well known that Britney’s early years were turbulent as the family supported her show business dreams, struggled financially, and dealt with patriarch Jamie’s reported alcoholism. “Momma was often working and taking care of the family,” Jamie Lynn writes. “She was also dealing with the complexities of an addict husband.” (Her parents have not publicly responded to any of the allegations Jamie Lynn makes about them in her memoir.)
Britney had to become like a “second mother” to Jamie Lynn, she writes. And the children were all expected to aid their mother, including in covering things up to avoid their father’s anger.
For instance, according to the memoir, when Britney crashed a car that her mom had let her drive, Lynne quickly changed seats with her so Jamie wouldn’t lash out. “We all pretended — said things or stayed quiet,” Jamie Lynn writes, “to make sure Daddy was placated and their relationship remained intact.”
The dynamic of Britney being more of a mother figure than Lynne continued even after she became one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
The parents traveled a lot, to be with Britney as she worked toward her dreams, and then especially as she became a huge superstar. “Momma reveled in the attention that came with being Britney’s mother,” Jamie Lynn says. “People were more interested in who she was than ever before, and I think she loved that part of it.” The implication is that Jamie Lynn often felt like an afterthought.
The dynamic of Britney being more of a mother figure than Lynne continued even after she became one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Britney encouraged her little sister’s camera hog tendencies, making her the star performer behind the scenes of her early tours. Soon, Jamie Lynn was doing commercials for Clorox and Pepsi. Eventually the Nickelodeon show premiered, and both Lynne and Jamie Lynn moved to California.
Maybe because she’s still trying to protect her mom, the book has a tendency to just state events relating to their relationship, without really diving into how Jamie Lynn actually felt about them. She says she froze with anxiety during her first day on the All That set, and her mom shot her a disappointed look. It’s unclear if the look felt threatening or scary; she notes the rest of the cast was “nurturing,” and she was able to perform.
Later on, she writes about how Lynne slams a heavy purse against her during a fight, but quickly moves on to another anecdote about her father. In other interviews, she has explained that the outburst was partly a result of the strained dynamics of her being the breadwinner (like Britney). But in the book, the implication is that Lynne was overwhelmed and frustrated from the labor of being a momager, especially to Britney.
In interviews promoting her memoir, Jamie Lynn has emphasized that she’s only comfortable talking about how things in her family impacted her, and isn’t trying to write about her sister. But judging by the memoir, Britney’s actions impacted the entire family all the time, in part because they all seem so dependent on her real-world success.
“I loved having her on set and her visits gave us a chance to catch up,” Jamie Lynn writes about her Nickelodeon years. “It didn’t hurt ratings either.” One wonders what it felt like for Britney knowing that her presence wasn’t just sisterly bonding but a ratings boost for her sister’s show in a family that, like the Kardashians, seemed to always be mixing their personal lives with business.
Jamie Lynn writes that the period of Britney’s relationship with Justin Timberlake was the happiest time for the whole family. After that breakup, she says, she started seeing changes in Britney’s behavior toward her. In some of the writing that has made headlines, she observes that Britney became “disturbed and paranoid at times.” She writes: “Sometimes she would lash out for no apparent reason and ignore me. Invariably, Britney would feel bad and later apologize.”
Jamie Lynn also calls Britney “erratic,” remembering, “One time she said to me, ‘Baby, I’m scared,’ and took a large knife from the kitchen, pulled me along to my room, and she locked us both inside.”
Britney tweeted out a denial of that specific claim. But regardless of its truth, it comes off obtuse that Jamie Lynn feels comfortable exposing such intimate scenes of her sister undergoing a mental health crisis, using pathologizing language like “disturbed” and “erratic.” Throughout the memoir, she often seems to have a limited understanding of living with mental illness and the power dynamics involved.
Still, Jamie Lynn admits that she wasn’t fully knowledgeable of Britney’s issues, nor involved in addressing them, and emphasizes that as this was happening, she was dealing with her own issues as a teenager, feeling lonely without her friends from back home. She fell into her first real relationship with a fellow teenager she calls Casper, which eventually led to the pregnancy at 16 in 2007.
And right before Britney was placed in conservatorship in 2008, Jamie Lynn was put through the Spears machine just like her older sister. She started feeling sick and tired, and her management ignored her. “Team Jamie Lynn assumed I was just being a typical moody teen and pushed me to keep working,” she writes. (She often uses that “team” moniker to avoid specifying who is responsible.)
Right before Britney was placed in conservatorship in 2008, Jamie Lynn was put through the Spears machine just like her older sister.
When she told her mom about her pregnancy, the entire “team” wanted her to have an abortion and break up with her boyfriend. “They took my smartphone away, fearing the news would get out, and insisted that no one share any information with anyone, especially the press.” They sent her to a remote cabin in the Northeast, and she was terrified and didn’t know where she was.
She threatened her parents with emancipating herself, and they finally relented. She points out they let her keep the baby and continue the relationship because emancipation would put her earnings at risk, but doesn’t expand on what that felt like or what she now thinks about how her parents handled the situation.
The memoir isn’t all about the Spears family. Big chunks of the memoir are about Jamie Lynn branching out on her own, her attempts to record a country music album, and her struggles to unlearn the pattern of accepting unacceptable behavior from unreliable men. She married her current husband, had another child, and last made headlines in 2017 when her older daughter had a life-threatening accident with an ATV.
Still, because of the renewed attention on her family since the conservatorship ended, it’s as if she felt compelled to address Britney’s claims, especially in the last chapters. She writes that her relationship with Britney finally came to a head during the pandemic when Britney screamed at Jamie Lynn while she was carrying her daughter, and it made her feel unsafe. Her mom told Jamie Lynn not to upset her sister, and she writes that it triggered her anger over years of putting Britney first.
“I was taught to defer to Britney or behave in a way that made things easier for her,” she writes. “Momma said stuff like ‘Come on, Jamie Lynn, we don’t want to upset your sister.’ It could be something as simple as ‘Let Britney do that first’ or ‘if it’s good for your sister it’s good for all of us.”
But that sentiment comes out of nowhere in the book, especially because there are no illustrations of that dynamic earlier. In fact, she paints the opposite portrait, of her sister as a caring, mothering figure in earlier chapters. At least until she became a woman in pain, who seemed to be up against the same family issues Jamie Lynn confronted, while also struggling with serious mental health challenges. (In recent tweets, Britney has said that she was the one suffering from dutiful daughter syndrome: “But see I always was the bigger person. They all got to DO IT and PLAY ME, and I always sat there and took it.”)
Now 30, Jamie Lynn is still struggling with her relationship with her older sister and parents. “It’s hurtful for me to work through this,” she said on a podcast about digging into her story. “It’s still painful and I’m still processing it, but part of the main steps is actually saying it out loud.”
That might be why she often prefers sticking to broad clichés rather than insights gleaned from specifics. “Maybe imposing unrelenting demands on teenage performers who are in the midst of complicated developmental periods places them even more at risk,” she writes, in one statement of the obvious. “I don’t know. I do feel that fame and fortune, coupled with the pressure, can lead to negative coping mechanisms that can cause irreparable damage.”
And yet even after Britney’s lawyer argued in court that Jamie exploited his daughter and had her mental health weaponized against her, Jamie Lynn toes the family’s party line in blaming the Svengali-ish part-time manager Sam Lutfi for the troubles that led to the conservatorship. “When Sam Lutfi had infiltrated her life, the sister I knew was vanishing,” she writes. “The amiable Britney was gone. In her place was an agitated woman, angry enough with Momma to yell at her in public. It was the first time I was ever embarrassed by her.” (Lutfi has publicly denied all her allegations and threatened a lawsuit.)
That twentysomething Britney had reason to be angry, or frustrated, with her parents, just like Jamie Lynn is now, isn’t something she addresses at all. The book is full of such curious omissions. The memoir doesn’t appear to make the connection that her team’s pressure for her to end a pregnancy and banishing her to an undisclosed location echoes with her sister’s own situation years later. She presents a glowing portrait of Lou Taylor, the manager now under investigation for alleged improprieties with Britney’s management.
Early in the book, Jamie Lynn writes of being confused by her mom’s insistence on trying to leave their dad, yet still allowing him to make decisions for her daughters. But she sees the conservatorship as a good thing because it was a way to help rehabilitate her father too.
“Seeing my father put Britney’s needs ahead of his own desires helped my old resentments fade,” she writes. “This was the first time in my life where someone was holding them accountable for their behaviors, and the perpetual anxiety I lived with for so long finally subsided. I could stop worrying about their sobriety.”
It’s as if both daughters can’t get out of the gendered family patterns they’ve internalized to see each other as a whole. Britney “adored having the role of caregiver,” Jamie Lynn writes, seemingly not wondering, even in retrospect, whether Britney ever resented being placed in that position. And whether that’s part of her anger now.
“I know it’s not your fault and I’m sorry for being so angry at you,” Britney writes to her sister in a text included in the book, seemingly referring to her conservatorship abuse. “Although I’m your big sister, I need you more than you need me and always have.” Both have been failed by the mixing of business with familial self-sacrifice that always seems to leave young women in entertainment specifically vulnerable to exploitation.
Britney has been speaking out about her sister on Twitter and Instagram, with both petty and more deeply vulnerable accusations. “You say you love me,” she wrote in one post, “yet your loyalty is still with the people that hurt me the most.” She also implied that she’s now working on her own book. “Shall I start from the beginning?” she wrote. It sounds like she’s already working on the next chapter. ●