Showing posts with label combined family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label combined family. Show all posts

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why I've Stopped Saying "Step"

By Katie --

I've always been completely comfortable with my stepkids calling me "Katie." It's my name. And they have another woman they already call "mom." I've had a few concerned parents ask me why they call me by my first name, to which I reply, "Because that's my name and it's better than 'hey you.'"

With two of my girls

The way that my stepkids address me is source of entertainment at local parks, when complete strangers witness my kids calling out "Katie, watch this!" or "Katie, come take my picture!" I see expressions that range from confused to appalled. I don't feel like I need to explain, so I don't.

While I will never take issue with being called something other than "mom" by two of my kids, I've decided to drop a word from my own vocabulary when it comes to talking about or to them: "step."

Here's why:

They are my kids. I didn't carry them in my womb, and I haven't filled the shoes of the woman who did. I'm an extra parent -- a bonus parent -- but they are my kids nonetheless. They aren't my "wards," or only half-mine, or my husband's kids who live with us during the school week. I don't half-care if they get healthy meals, or are happy at school, or aren't feeling well. Every ounce of my maternal instinct cares greatly about these and thousands of other things. They are my kids -- 100%.

They don't deserve the "step" label. You can say that there is nothing inherently derogatory about the term "stepchild" but it implies (to them) that they are different in my eyes than my genetically-connected kids. I realized at some point that when making small talk with complete strangers, and sharing a similar story about life, there was no reason to qualify if the kid I was talking about was my REAL kid or my step kid. What do they care? The only person impacted by my terminology in those cases is my son, or daughter, who may be listening.  

They are my bio-kids' siblings. We encourage our kids to simply refer to each other as "brother" or "sister" -- because that's what they are to each other. How can I tell them to use these unified terms if I don't use them myself? We are a family unit, with other units that branch off and make each of us unique. But we are our own entity just the same.

I'm allowed to claim them, too. My husband has adopted the only child in our house who is not genetically his -- which means that I'm the only parent out of the four represented in the chemical makeup of our kids that is technically of the step parent variety. I don't want to be that person. So I'm empowering myself to be on the same level as the other parents by taking away the term that separates me.

For those who are curious about the setup of our combined family, or the 10 people each week who ask me how I ended up with a 7, 6, and 5 year old -- one of which with vastly different hair than the other two -- I will be forthcoming. I'm not embarrassed of our family circumstances. In cases where we see the same people again and again (especially at school), it makes sense to explain our family dynamic.

But I've stopped using the word "step" to separate my kids from each other -- and it feels really good.

      Katie Parsons is a freelance writer who lives with her four children, husband and the sound of the ocean nearby. Before she was a freelance writer, she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana. Before that, she earned a Creative Writing degree from Ball State University. Katie is writing a memoir about the time when she was single and pregnant. She owns a content creation company and you can contact her by emailing her at

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Other posts you may enjoy:

Our fourth summer as a combined family

What the "me" from 10 years ago should know

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why Boring (and Cheap) Family Vacations are Just Fine

By Katie --

We just returned from a whirlwind summer road trip that clocked just over 3,000 miles on our rented minivan over the course of 13 days. In the past, my husband and I have flown with our four kids to my hometown to spend a week or so with my parents, brothers, nieces and other family and friends.  This year, though, we wanted to visit a few other spots on our way back south to Florida. So we rented a minivan, loaded it up and set off for an American adventure with no strict time table on where to arrive or when.

Big and little sis, enjoying a free museum

On paper, our trip probably appeared boring (and crazily ambitious, considering our oldest is only 7 and I'm six months pregnant too). We didn't have any amusement or water parks, or hiking excursions, or anything marketed as "kid friendly" on our agenda. All we knew was that we wanted to visit family, and take in some of the scenic highway along the way. The most expensive thing we did (behind renting the van) was splurge on a Holiday Inn Express one night with an indoor pool.

Even the day that we spent in Chicago was pretty low key -- we didn't pay for any museums, opting instead to let our kids splash for free in the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park and then wandering to other sites along Michigan Avenue. We didn't even dish out the cash for a deep-dish (or as the locals say, "stuffed crust") slice of pizza. My sister-in-law invited us over and treated us to dinner in her backyard instead. It was delicious and the kids had a blast with their young cousin and some other friends.

My husband sneaks a hug from my littlest in downtown Chicago
The day we visited D.C. we were dropped off on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History by my husband's uncle, who later picked us up on the National Mall, and we spent nothing on parking or taking in the sites that our nation's capital has to offer. Uncle Bud and Aunt Sharon even packed us a lunch to enjoy in the shady, breezy grass of the Mall. That night, we ate dinner with my husband's cousin and his young family, and all the kids (who had never met before) ran around together like old friends.

Did we spend money on our trip? Yes. More than we would have if we had just stayed home for those two weeks. But as far as vacations go, it was inexpensive and everyone came home smiling.

The two oldest debate the President's whereabouts,
during a lunch break on the National Mall

I know there will be years when we plan something a little more extravagant for our family vacations, but there is a lot to be gleaned from a trip that involves sleeping on pull-out sofa beds, but being seconds away from family members, and eating homemade meals around a relative's kitchen table instead of visiting the latest, greatest foodie haunt. I came home feeling rested, and well-loved. Though there were mountains of laundry to wash and dozens of work-related tasks to tackle, I didn't feel like I needed to "recover" from my family vacation. The trip itself was restful enough.  

Family vacations don't have to be about filling every moment of every day with activity, or spending a fortune to ensure that our kids have a great time. Just taking a break together from the normal routine and filling all the moments with each other's company is more than enough. The same is true of non-vacation time too. When everything else is stripped away in life, just agreeing to buckle up and enjoy life's journeys together is the basic foundation for a happy family.

Happy to be on the train to Chicago
I was reminded on this trip to just sit and listen sometimes to my kids interact with each other, and to reach over and squeeze my husband's hand for no reason at all, and to carve out time to just sit and talk about my joys and struggles with the people who love me (and to hear about theirs too). I didn't need a vacation that was filled with distractions; I needed a vacation that took me away from my everyday distractions and gave me time with my family.

How did you spend your summer vacation?

      Katie Parsons is a freelance writer who lives with her four children, husband and the sound of the ocean nearby. Before she was a freelance writer, she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana. Before that, she earned a Creative Writing degree from Ball State University. Katie is writing a memoir about the time when she was single and pregnant. She owns a content creation company and you can contact her by emailing her at


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Friday, May 9, 2014

10 Things I'd Tell the "Me" from 10 Years Ago

By Katie --

This weekend I celebrated my 32nd birthday and I have to say, it was my best birthday yet. In addition to my kids and husband, family from Boston, Chicago and Indiana were here too. I looked around more than a few times, surrounded by family and friends, and had to pinch myself. I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. 

I write a weekly interview series for Florida Today on a local mom who "does it all" and I ask similar questions every week. One of my favorite responses to read is the answer to this question:

What is one thing you would tell the "you" from 10 years ago?

The answers include everything from parenting lessons, to health warnings, to basic affirmations to enjoy every moment of life. As I looked around at my family, friends and neighbors this weekend I began to ask myself my own question: what would I tell the "me" from 10 years ago?
I came up with some answers that surprised even myself.

But first, some background on the "me" from 10 years ago. I was turning 22 and entering my fifth year as a student at Ball State University. Many of my best college friends were graduating and I was feeling a little left behind. I had a serious boyfriend who I had been with for over a year. I was pretty sure after we both graduated the following summer, we would be engaged. I had no idea what sort of job I'd look for after graduation or where I'd live. I had a lot of anxiety.

Fast forward to today and wow, what a difference a decade makes. If I could knock on the apartment door of the 22-year-old me and give her some advice about living her life in the next 10 years, I'd include these points:

Don't try so hard. You don't have anything to prove to anyone but yourself. Stop trying to be everything to everyone and focus more on your life and your goals. Be authentic. Don't be afraid to step on toes. Be yourself. Stop bleaching your hair and whitening your teeth. You are inherently beautiful -- let it shine through.

But try harder at some things. Worry less about how you will pay your next electric bill and more on who you are as a person and professional. Write every day -- even on the days when you don't feel like you have it in you. Your ideas aren't silly or stupid. You have a unique voice. Hone your craft.

Write every day. Am I repeating myself? You still won't have that first novel published in a decade but you'll be well on your way. Don't look for inspiration from afar; write about your own life -- the mundane, the terrifying, and the incredible. Don't hide from the truths about you that aren't flattering. Share them with the world. Someone out there reading it will find it inspiring, and that, young lady, is the mark of an authentic writer.

Stop tanning. Wear sunscreen. Don't lay out. Stay. Away. From. Tanning. Beds. !!!

Pay attention to your gut. When an authority figure, like a boss, asks you to work more hours than you are paid to work or you aren't sure if you should start a cross-country trek alone in your car during a torrential downpour, listen to that little voice that says: stop being stupid. Your intuition is a powerful possession. Use it.

Stop forcing your "happily ever after." Stop focusing on what the man of your dreams will look like and more on how he will make you feel. If you feel like finding harmony in your romantic relationship is an uphill battle, every single day, it's time to move on and free yourself to find your perfect match. **P.S. - The man of your dreams WILL come and not because of anything you change about yourself, or compromises you make.**

Call your parents more often. They love you. They are getting older (so are you). After many years of wandering the map, you will finally discover that the people who love and support you unconditionally still live in that Indiana town you were quick to flee. Don't assume you can catch up later on. Call them now, today, this minute -- and never shut them out. 

Be confident. Fake it until you make it. So what if you don't have a Ph.D. in everything? You have inherent talents that simply cannot be taught. Reach higher than you should. Knock on 100 doors until one cracks open just wide enough that you can jam your foot in it. Stop apologizing.

Get ready, mama. Hey, you from 10 years ago, are you sitting down? Pull up a chair. What if I told you that within the next decade you will become a mother to four -- with one more on the way? Your mind is probably blown, right? If it helps, you will only have to go through pregnancy three times to get to that number. The other two will come to you ready-made and sleeping through the night. What's that? Oh no, you won't marry the father of your oldest daughter (she's a sweetie, by the way). Oh yes, you will marry a divorcee. It all sounds preposterous right now, especially since you are hell-bent on marrying your current boyfriend. But as crazy as it may seem to you now, it will be so beautiful, so comfortable, so perfect to you once it all comes into play. Get ready, mama, for the adventure of a lifetime.

You will be a great mother. Your college cooking skills of boiling pasta and opening a jar of sauce won't really improve, and your closet will still look like a tornado hit it every day -- but despite this, you will be a dynamite mom, and stepmom. Despite your frustrations with your little ones, and with yourself, a stranger will stop you on the street one day (with all those kids in tow) and tell you that she sees you walk past her house every day and that she is always impressed with your control, patience and love for your little ones. You will resolve that moment to never doubt your skills as a parent and take solace knowing that on the really tough days, love really is enough.

What would you tell yourself from 10 years ago if you could?

Katie Parsons is a mom of four who also writes for websites and publications worldwide. Before she was a freelance writer, she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana. Before that, she earned a Creative Writing degree from Ball State University. Katie is writing a memoir about the time when she was single and pregnant.

First time here? Like Mumbling Mommy on Facebook to continue the conversation!  

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Friday, April 18, 2014

An Inconvenient Pregnancy

By Katie --

None of my three pregnancies have been planned. My first was the result of a short-lived relationship following an awful breakup and a string of alcohol-infused nights. My second happened when my new husband and I decided to try natural planned parenting by tracking my cycles and eschewing other forms of birth control. Let's just say that neither of us is a rocket scientist.

All photos courtesy of Amy Straka Photography
The news that I am pregnant with my third has probably been the most earth-shattering for me, though. Despite feeling settled with our combined family of four kids, and more in love with my husband than ever, the plus sign on the CVS pregnancy test broke something inside of me. The first dozen people I told about the pregnancy, including my husband, had to hear the news between wailing sobs.

I know that my life isn't ruined. I know that I will never regret bringing this beautiful baby into our lives. I know that he or she will bring myself, my husband and my kids a world of happiness. I've never had misgivings about any of those truths. In those first early weeks, as the shock weighed heavily on my shoulders, reminders of just how inconvenient this pregnancy and baby are going to be for me seemed to pop up at every turn, though.

I called my running friend and told her I would not actually be able to run the Chicago Marathon with her in October. Why not? I'll be three weeks out from delivering a child.

I had plans of enrolling my soon-to-be-two-year-old in preschool a few mornings per week in the fall. That would give my husband and I, who both work mainly from home, a few hours of focused, quiet work time -- and would give my inquisitive, intelligent daughter a chance to learn more than I can teach her at home. She will still benefit from it, at least.

My small business revenue goals, that are highest in the final three months of the year, will now need to be scaled down - just in time for the holiday shopping season.

There is also no veil of naivety this time around. Any  moms reading this probably remember the pregnancy euphoria from the first time around. Being a mom was going to be SOOO great, and perfect, and easy! Our firstborns were all going to eat on a schedule, sleep through the night early on, happily play independently, and never throw tantrums in public. OH! And they would never get colds, or ear infections, or fevers that meant we had to pick them up from childcare early. With my first, I anticipated challenges. I often think I over-anticipated them to the point that being a single, working mom DID feel easy -- compared to the obstacles I had imagined in my mind. My oldest daughter was (and is) happy, independent, a good eater and a great sleeper too, which has helped.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in a Combined Family

By Katie

Being a combined family means that there are simply too many moment out of our control when it comes to making things fair for all four kids. There are toys, parents, grandparents and locations based on days of the week that they simply do not have in common.

While things are not always the SAME for all four, I'd like to think that as a collective family unit (parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles combined) we do a pretty good job making sure that in the end, all the kids get the same treatment and rewards. But that takes some work, especially around Christmas.

It starts with Halloween, really. My stepkids go to SeaWorld to trick or treat, and my daughter heads to the Rec Center here to participate in fall activities on weekends when they are apart. They compare stories. Sometimes they are all happy for each other. Other times, they find reason to complain. For Halloween, the three older ones have three different classroom parties, generally on different days, and the ones with parties earliest seem to forget they already had one when the later ones happen.

"That's not FAIR!" they shout when another comes home with a decorated cookie or bag of candy corn.  There is no use reminding them that it is indeed fair and the exact same scenario that they had in their favor yesterday.

The same is true of classroom parties when Thanksgiving rolls around. On that holiday, we also split time with the three older ones and their "other" families. We make those arrangements depending on the year, but generally we have all the kids for Thanksgiving Eve and the first part of the actual holiday. Then my husband drives to a designated meeting place and the kids hop in vehicles, two heading one direction and one heading another.

They see different family members and have individual, special experiences related to the holiday. The baby stays with us which does not seem to bother her -- yet. I anticipate her asking why she doesn't get to go somewhere else in a few years. Maybe we can arrange something with my husband's parents -- or come up with our own special plans centered around her.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Season of Gratitude: For the Love of Cooking

By Katie

I've never been much of a Betty Crocker... or Julia Child... or Rachael Ray. My first years cooking on my own consisted of a lot of boxed pasta with jars of sauce, eating out or basically skipping meals altogether. When I became a single parent, I didn't add too much to my family menu, but started eating and serving my daughter a lot more fresh foods. After getting married 2 and a half years ago, one thing that took some adjusting was planning and cooking meals EVERY day (with the exception of an occasional leftover night).

Not me just yet...
Photo via The Organic Prepper

I took to my new task of nourishing an entire family of five (and soon after, a family of six) much in the way I take on a new writing assignment. I outlined menu options, researched sales, got the goods and executed the meals I had planned. While I found some satisfaction in feeding my kids, husband and self, it wouldn't say I looked forward to doing it. A few months in, my husband insisted that he help out by grilling out at least a few times per week, despite my insistence that I had it all under control, because he actually likes to cook and knows I don't.

Just before the start of the school year, my husband and I made the decision to start eating "clean." We cut out processed foods, refined flours and sugars, and basically started making all (most) of our food from scratch. I was amazed at all the yummy recipes I found online and all the new tricks I was learning when it came to eating more naturally. To my surprise, my husband and kids loved the recipes I tried. It became fun for me to scour Pinterest and other websites for delicious recipes I could make with my newly-stocked kitchen full of "clean" eating essentials. By understanding more about what I consume, and what really goes into it, I've finally found some happiness in kitchen creations.

Monday, October 21, 2013

An Okay Future: What Would You Do?

By Katie

A few weeks ago I took a two-day business trip to Washington D.C. For many moms, an occasional business trip is no big deal but this was a BIG deal to our family. It was the first time my husband had been alone overnight (on a school night, no less) with all four kids. It was also the first trip I'd made away from my youngest ever. It was a busy trip, with no time for sightseeing. Still, I was excited for my solo flights (flying is one of my favorite all-time things to do) and some quiet time in my hotel room.

 Photo via
I enjoyed those moments and also waking up and walking out the door five minutes later to get a cup of coffee. That I drank HOT and in one sitting. But I also found myself telling the woman in the elevator that her curly-haired four-year-old son looked just like mine did at that age and I also wished my daughter could be there to smell the hotel shampoo (which she is fond of doing).  On a personal level, it was a very fulfilling trip but I missed my family more than I anticipated.

Just before my flight home, I had the privilege of meeting Lisa Graham Keegan, a temporary colleague of mine and a school choice advocate. She is also Arizona's former Superintendent of Public Instruction, an author and just about the nicest person I've ever met. My time with her was brief but so many things she said swirled through my head as I closed my eyes on my flight home.

Before I left the airport restaurant, Lisa signed a copy of her book "Simple Choices: Thoughts on Choosing Environments that Support who Your Child is Meant to Be" and gave it to me. It's an awesome book -- and I will likely elaborate later after my 10th reading -- but more than anything, it was something she said in our meeting that has stuck with me these past few weeks and made me reflect on my own role as a parent, wife and individual.

In talking about her pre-divorce days as a mother with small children, she said she worried about what ending her marriage would mean for the long-term outlook for her kids. Paraphrasing her words, she worried that her kids would glide through life, seemingly undisturbed, and then walk into a restaurant 20 years later with a sawed-off shotgun and go on a rampage. A wise advisor, listening to her concerns, asked her this:

"If you knew your kids would be okay in 20 years, what would you do?"

She chose the path that meant ending her marriage. Now more than 20 years later, she has her answer in five grown, well-adjusted children from a combined family. When I talked about my own family circumstances, starting with my past-life as a single parent, Lisa told me I reminded her of herself 20 years ago. HUGE compliment aside, it made me think about my own family in 20 years -- particularly my kids.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Frugal Friday: Updating Antique Dining Room Set

By Katie

My frugal dining room addition: a bench
Welcome to Frugal Friday! This is our second installment in conjunction with Money Saving Mom and Simply Rebekah where we add our own two cents (or less!) about ways we save money in our households. Last week, Alyssa shared the awesome do-it-yourself vertical owl cake she made for her daughter's first birthday. This week I tackle a slightly different topic when it comes to savings: furniture.

We have a beautiful mahogany table in our home that belongs to my in-laws. The table was purchased in the 1940s by my mother-in-law's parents when they were first married. It starts small, just big enough for four chairs and has also served as a showpiece table with photos in the past. The table also has the option to extend twice, providing enough surface area for large meals and plenty of diners.

While the extended table itself has always been big enough for our family of six, we only have four of the original chairs. At first we just ate around a kitchen island, the adults standing, but then I decided it was silly to have such a gorgeous table not put to use. So I started searching for chairs to match the style of the originals. I spent a few months looking all over, but I came up short.

Original Chair
Frustrated, I started to look for new dining room sets instead. Nothing was striking my fancy but I noticed that a lot of the larger styles included options for bench seating on one side for the kids. A decorating light bulb went off in my head. If I couldn't find acceptable chairs, I'd just find a bench instead.

So I had my husband pick up an unfinished Norden bench from Ikea for $70 after work one day and I picked up a small can of stain at Lowes that I felt best matched the table and chairs. The bench turned out a little bit darker than the rest of the set, but still looks like it belongs there. My kids love that they can all sit on the same seat, and the bench fits completely under the table when we are not eating providing extra space through our dining area. With the bench, we actually have seating for more like 8 people (if a few are kids), so our table is now guest-ready too.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Can Freelancers Really Take Vacations?

By Katie

For all its perks, working from home as a parent has one pretty big downside: no paid time off. Sure, I can choose not to work on a particular day but my paycheck(s) reflect that later on. As we plan our FIRST official vacation as a family of six, I am busy with the normal preparation, like packing a suitcase full of children's clothing and stocking up on extra sunscreen. Alongside those activities, I am also getting as ready as possible to walk away from my computer for 11 days and enjoy my (unpaid) time off.

For other freelancers, or any small business owners, planning a vacation away from work, here are some tips to help you let go of your work-anxiety and just enjoy your time away:
My oldest and I on our first vacation
Work ahead. Do not wait until a few days before you leave to try to stockpile your work. I started working ahead two months ago on future projects for the time I will be gone. I emailed my clients and let them know when I would be unavailable and asked them to let me know what I could complete in advance. I actually ran out of work about two weeks ago because I was so far ahead, but when I let my clients know I had a little extra time, they sent me extra work. By adding a few hours each week to my workload, I was able to cover the time I will be gone and almost make the amount of money I would normally during those 11 days away.
Warn your clients. I mentioned this in the previous point, but I want to emphasize it here. Let your clients know at least one month in advance that you will be gone, especially if it is longer than three or four days. Remind them about one week before you leave town, and then again the night before or morning that you are leaving. Give them a specific cut-off time: For example, say something like "Work requests I receive by Monday, July 8th will be completed before I leave on Friday, July 12." You may still have a few clients with some last-minute requests, but at least you can have the bulk of it already done in order to accommodate the stragglers. Set up an out-of-office email message that reminds clients when you will be back on the clock.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Search for Special: London's 4th Birthday

By Katie

We celebrate a lot of birthdays at my house. From March 5 though June 21, we experience all six birthdays in the immediate family, and another four among close family members. Easter, Mother's Day, our wedding anniversary and our other wedding anniversary are in there too. The past two years we have had the added joy of a preschool graduation, and the same will be true next spring. It is a festive, celebratory, Pinterest-scouring-on-a-daily-basis sort of time. As a parent, it it also pretty exhausting.

Which is why I wanted my stepdaughter London to have a great birthday. Her birthday on
Coming soon to a Pinterest board near you
June 21 represents the last event in the crazy string of celebrations and I really did not want it to feel like an afterthought in our family. By virtue of her place in the birth order of our combined family, she often gets the short end of the stick. 

When she enters preschool, it will be the third year a Parsons kid has been part of that particular program. She is the second girl from our family, and the second kid with trademark curly hair. Our oldest Ferris was a star in the program, winning the "Rockin' Reader" award upon graduation. Emilia was awarded the "Sweetheart" award for her good nature and behavior. If I had to guess what London's award will be next spring, I'd say it will be "Class Jock" because of the passionate way she kicks the snot out of soccer balls or maybe "Best Storyteller" because of all the practice she has had listening to the older kids recount (and make up) Star Wars tales. I remember thinking that Emilia had some big shoes to fill when she went to the same preschool Ferris had attended. For London, the same is true -- times two.

So when it came time to plan her birthday, I knew it needed something uniquely London. She would have been happy doing exactly the same thing we had done for the other kids (if I could even remember what that was at this point) -- but I wanted it to be different. When I asked her what she wanted me to make for dinner, she said "spaghetti." The other kids tried to talk her into pizza instead, but I said it was too late. If the birthday girl wanted spaghetti, that was what I was going to make. 
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