The Stepmom Club Series: Kate K!

Happy Day, friends!

I'm excited to showcase another feature in The Stepmom Club Series!

I'm super excited to bring you Kate K on the blog today!  Kate is engaged to her fiance Pete and is stepmom to Pete's son, 7-year-old Lucas!  I love her perspective on how you "become" a stepparent and I adore her positive attitude, even in the face of some very difficult situations in her stepmotherhood journey!

(Would you like to be part of the project?  Fill out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

And without further ado, here is Kate's story...

-What is your name and general location?
I’m Kate, I’m 34 years old, and I live in Minneapolis MN.  Home of 10,000 Lakes and two seasons: Winter and Road Construction!

-How many stepchildren do you have? (And what age and gender, if you’re comfortable sharing) If you have biological children, feel free to let us know about them here, too!
I have one stepson, Lucas. He’s 7 years-old, or as he would say “7 and a half!”

-Can you tell me a little bit of background about your stepparenting story?
I met my fiance Pete way, way, back in what I would consider a different lifetime!  We had a friendship back then, but lost touch for over a decade.  Then, out of nowhere, about 3 years ago he sent me a message on Facebook.  He knew I had gone through a divorce, and he was also in that process and was looking to connect with people.  We met IRL very shortly after that, and he told me about his son, who was 4 at the time.  There were a lot of complications with Pete’s divorce and it was very, very drawn out, so because of that, I didn’t meet Lucas until about 9 months into our relationship.  

The funny thing about stepparenting is that there isn’t necessarily a defined time at which one “becomes” a stepparent.  In more traditional forms of parenting, the start is defined by the time the child is either born or adopted. But I think becoming a stepparent happens over time, as the relationship develops.  Pete, Lucas, and I all moved in together about two years ago.  At that point, we had Lucas almost full-time.  His biological mother has been in and out of legal troubles, treatment centers, and other things due to substance abuse, so I sort of jumped in with both feet, essentially learning how to be a stepparent and a parent all at one time.   I can’t pinpoint the exact day when I “became a stepmom”, but I know that I am one now, and that’s what matters most.

We currently have a 50/50 parenting schedule, and it is going so well!  Pete and I have plenty of adult time to ourselves, and also plenty of time as our full family, with Lucas.  We really make the most of both phases, fitting in date nights and time with friends while we don’t have Lucas, and doing as many fun family-oriented things as we can when he is with us.  It really does feel like the best of both worlds!

-What does your stepchild call you?  If you also have biological children, how does the role of titles (ie mom and dad) work in your family?
He mostly just calls me by my first name, Kate.  That’s how we were introduced and that’s what he has stuck with.  Sometimes when I’ve come to his school for various reasons, teachers and other staff have assumed that I’m his mom.  About half the time, he’ll just let that go, and the other half, he’ll correct it by saying “she’s my STEPmom”.  But it’s never in a mean-spirited, she’s-not-my-real-mom way.  It’s just him differentiating.  

-How/When did you first meet your now stepchild(ren)?  Did you run into any difficulties bonding with them? (right away or just in general)
I will never forget the first time I met Lucas!  There was a LOT of buildup, because we wanted to make sure that the meeting happened at the right time and in the right setting.  The two of them came to my apartment to go swimming and to a nearby park.  I was super neurotic about the whole thing.  When he entered, there was a whole slew of toys and books that I had laid out neatly on the coffee table for him.  I ordered pizza and we had ice cream.  I presented him with a blow-up dolphin for the pool.  I guess I figured that if I put enough effort in, everything would go smooth sailing…. Such a classic stepmom mistake!  We did have a really fun day together and it went better than expected.  

But, down the road we did have some trouble bonding. There were times when Lucas deliberately left me out of activities and games, and times that he would cover his head with a pillow when I came over instead of saying hi.  I think he just wasn’t sure what to do with me - he was only 5 at the time, and Pete and I didn’t do a perfect job of explaining who I was to him.  Eventually, his shyness and hesitancy replaced with acceptance and warmth.  Now, I can always count on a big hug from him whenever we see each other, and he loves playing with both his dad AND me.  I’m very lucky to have such a great relationship with him.

-How do you and your partner handle discipline/rules within your family? (Is it 50/50?)  How do you and your partner make sure you are both respected by the child?  
At the beginning, Pete was the primary disciplinarian. When Lucas would throw a tantrum, or misbehave at school, Pete would be the one to dole out the consequence.  That’s changed a lot as Lucas and I have grown more comfortable with our stepson/parent relationship.  Now, usually Pete and I talk together about discipline, and decide on consequences together.  I’m grateful that Pete has really let me step up and do a lot of co-parenting with him, and that Lucas really respects me as an authority in our home.

-Do you participate in communication/relationship with your stepchild’s other biological parent? (Not your partner)  If so, how much and how do you maintain that relationship?

I have had very little contact with Lucas’s biological mom.  She has told both Pete and me, in no uncertain terms, that she will not speak to me at all about anything related to Lucas.  I’ve really tried hard to communicate with her and develop a co-parenting or at least parallel-parenting relationship with her, but she has chosen to cut me out completely.  It even goes so far as when I’m copied on an e-mail from Lucas’s school, she’ll do a “reply all” but then will delete my name so that I don’t receive the reply.  It’s definitely hurtful that she doesn’t respect or value my role, especially because I’m so actively involved with Lucas on a daily basis.  I think it’s very hard for her to accept that Lucas and I have such a positive relationship, especially because she was absent from his life during the period of time when our relationship really started to bloom.  I hope that some day things will change, but I also know that the people who really matter in my life are Lucas and Pete, and they value, trust and accept me.  I’m confident in my role as a stepmom and I know I’m making a positive impact on my family, regardless of whether she chooses to include me or not.

-How do you decide what things to do when you don’t have the child (when the child is with their other parent) and what things you want to wait to do until you have the child with you?
This is just completely dependent on the situation.  Often on weekends when we do have Lucas, we will invite one or a few adult friends over for dinner. We think it’s a positive experience for Lucas to have non-parental adults in his life, and our friends have been awesome about taking an interest in him and doing things with him. But we also carve out time just for the three of us, as well as one-on-one time for Lucas to spend with both Pete and I individually.  We also try to arrange playdates so that he can spend time with other kids.  When we don’t have Lucas, we do a lot of traveling, sleep in on weekends, and get out of the house as much as we can!  I think we have a very good balance of everything.

-Hardest/Most Difficult stepmothering memory?
The absolute worst thing that has ever happened to me as a stepmom is that, shortly after Mother’s Day, I received an anonymous card in the mail.  It was a Mother’s Day card, but the message inside was harassing and hurtful, stating that I’m not actually a mom or even a stepmom (I’m not married to Lucas’s dad, but we are engaged, and in my opinion marital status doesn’t define stepmom-hood).  It accused me of posting health information about Lucas on social media, something that I absolutely have not done, along with other negative and condescending comments.  Mother’s Day can be such a difficult day for a stepmom, and that just made it so much worse.  I still don’t know who sent it, but although it did hurt me, I also know that it says a lot more about the sender than it does about me.  

Honestly, the hardest things about stepmothering have nothing to do with the “mothering” part, and everything to do with the “step” part.  I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful relationship with Lucas, but there are so many cultural and societal forces working against stepmoms.  One member of Pete’s family actually told me that he believes “there is a huge difference between being a good stepparent, and being a good stepmother.”  I think that speaks volumes about the differences in perceived expectations between the role of a stepmom vs. a stepdad.  So, I do what I can to be a good stepmom and hopefully in doing that, I am dispelling some of the negative stereotypes about the role.

-Best/Funniest stepmothering memory?
There are so many!!  I love having a 7 year-old because he’s old enough to really be his own person, with an amazing personality, but he’s also young enough to still want to spend time with us and to be silly and not self-conscious.  I constantly find myself taking photos and videos of the things we do together because I know this phase won’t last forever.

One of my very favorite days was when I volunteered in Lucas’s kindergarten class on Valentine’s Day.  I got to participate in their circle time in the morning, and he introduced me to his class.  I got to help the kids distribute Valentines, and work with them on an art project.  Before I left, Lucas handed me his artwork and said “I made this for you”.  I was so touched that he appreciated me being there and wanted to give me something.

-Any particular resources (books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc) that have helped you along in your stepmothering journey?
I’ve read plenty of books, magazines, and articles on the topic of stepparenting.  Some are helpful, but many of them contradict each other!  I’ve read that the kids should always come first, but I’ve also read that it is of utmost importance to prioritize my relationship with my partner.  I’ve read that if I don’t speak up, I might become resentful, but I’ve also read that I shouldn’t vent to my partner about his kids. I’ve read that I should love my stepson as my own, but I’ve also read that I shouldn’t try to be a parent.   Sometimes I just want to throw my hands in the air and say, “THERE IS NO WAY I CAN DO ALL OF THIS!” Stepmothering is one of those things that, more so than any other role I’ve ever been in, does not come with a simple instruction manual, and is definitely not a one-size-fits all sort of thing.

The most helpful resource that I have found is a local community of stepmoms who I can relate to. Being a stepmom is an experience that no one can truly understand unless they are walking in the same shoes.  Meeting other stepmoms has helped me to normalize my experiences, good and bad.  Knowing that other people have faced the same challenges, that I am not the only one, has been my absolute saving grace.  In my city, there is a local stepmom MeetUp group and also a Facebook group where we can get together (virtually or in person) and talk about things that are uniquely stepmom experiences.  I’m not alone in this, and that is so important and valuable.

-What advice would you give your former self if you could send a letter back in time?  Please write a short version of that letter here.
I’m skipping this question because I don’t think I’m far enough into this life yet to write to myself retroactively!

-Do you ever get jealous that you aren’t the child’s biological parent?
I wouldn’t use the term “jealous”, but I sometimes feel resentful that I have no legal standing as a parent, even though I do all the work of a parent.  It’s terrifying to me that if Pete were to pass away (which hopefully won’t happen for a very long time!!), I could lose my relationship with Lucas too.  Pete is wonderful about including me in decisions, but legally I have no decision-making power at all.  But, since I’m not a biological parent, I also have the option to temporarily dip out when I need a little break, or step away from a tough situation and let Pete take the lead.  So, there are both pluses and minuses of both roles!

-What do you say when people ask if you have kids? (if you’re a stepmom with no biological children)
I say yes, I have a 7 year-olds step son.   When someone asks Pete and me together, we just say we have a 7 year-old.  Not everyone we meet needs to know the intricacies of our family structure!

-Was your now partner having a child or children a pro or a con when deciding whether to date and ultimately marry them?
I don’t think anyone begins their life with the goal of one day becoming a stepmom.  It certainly wasn’t part of my plan!  Life would be a lot less complicated, and honestly a lot easier, if Lucas wasn’t in the picture.  We don’t have the freedom to do some of the things we might otherwise want to do. But Lucas also brings a lot of fun, joy, and energy into our home.  He’s not a pro or a con, he’s just part of my life and part of my family.  

-Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to get into this relationship?
I mean, I actively tried NOT to get into this relationship!  After Pete and I re-connected, I really resisted becoming seriously involved with him, because I knew that a life with him would always carry a lot of unique challenges and hardships.  But the two of us developed an incredible and immediate connection that we just couldn’t deny, and that connection has always gotten stronger over time.  Sure, there are struggles, but I think that for us, the challenges have made us stronger.  I’ve never been more secure in any relationship, and as cliche as it sounds, our love really is stronger than any force working against us.  There is no one I’d rather share my life with!

Tell us three interesting facts about you that DON’T have to do with stepmothering.
-I have a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology, and I work in higher education.
-I’m an out and proud bisexual woman, and this is one of my favorite things about my identity!

-I once played 300 games of Yahtzee in one summer.  Not that I was counting… :)

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us here today, Kate!  I'm really excited that you were willing to share so much - even the hard parts! - of your stepmotherhood journey so far!

Did you like reading Kate's interview?  Want to read more in this series?  Check them all out here!

(Don't forget that if you're interested in sharing your own stepmotherhood story just out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

Have an amazing weekend, everyone! :) See you soon!

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