-What is your name and general location?
Sarah Korda, The Mission, San Francisco, CA.
-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!
1 step-daughter 20 years old.
1 biological daughter 5 years old.
-Can you tell me a little bit of background about your stepparenting story?
I met my wife and my step-daughter, Dakota in early 2002. I was almost 24 years old. I’m 40 now so I’ve been in my step-daughter’s life for 16 years. She was 4 years old when we met. I knew early on that my now wife had a daughter – we met through mutual friends and I’m pretty sure I learned about Dakota the first time we hung out, before we had started dating.
When my wife, Maria, and I were first dating she and her ex-partner would each see Dakota every day. If one parent dropped her off at school, the other would pick her up and she’d spend the night with that parent, then she’d spend the night with the other parent the next night. When she was in early elementary school the daily back and forth became too much for Dakota and her parents so they began to split the week. Dakota was with my partner, Maria from Monday through Thursday morning and with her other mom from Thursday evening through Saturday. Each family would switch off with Sundays. We’re lucky that both families have always gotten along well and there was always openness and flexibility if the schedule needed to shift.
During Dakota’s young years my relationship was young as well and although I spent a good amount of time with Dakota, Maria and I were also conscious of making sure our relationship was serious before I spent too much time with her. Also, I didn’t want to take away from their special time and so at first I didn’t spend the night at their house when Dakota was over.
In 2008, when Dakota 10 years old, we moved into a home all together. Dakota and I were/are very close and although there was some sadness around her and Maria leaving the home Dakota had been in her whole life, there was also excitement about all of us living together. Dakota and I wallpapered her room with fabric she picked out to make it more her own. When Dakota became a teenager she kept roughly the same schedule but saved up money and bought her own car and then would sometimes change the schedule to meet her school needs. Both of her moms remarried and her other moms live in Oakland. We have a very lovely blended family!
-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?
She calls me Sarah and Sita (a college nickname that my wife uses too). Our younger daughter is 5 years old and they are almost 15 years apart. Cleo calls me Mama and Maria, Mommy. Dakota calls Maria, Mia. I think because of the age difference Dakota could easily switch back and forth between the names she calls us and the names Cleo calls us and it wasn’t strange. I can imagine if they were closer in age that might be different.
-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 met my step-daughter very early in my relationship with my wife. I believe it might have been our 2nd date. It was a party with a lot of other people/mutual friends. I was very excited to meet her and perhaps there was less pressure because of there being so many people around. My wife brought me out into the backyard where Dakota was playing with flowers and making them talk to each other. I picked up a flower and started playing. Our meeting felt easy. I felt close to Dakota very quickly. She’s said to me that she thinks our relationship has been easy because she’s known me for such a long time. I also imagine that it’s helpful that my wife and I took quite a while (6 years) to move in together. Dakota was included in a special part of the ceremony in our wedding.
-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?
I’ve always felt respected by Dakota. She is also a very mellow person. When discipline was necessary this was something that Maria usually handled or Maria with her ex-partner. That being said, I felt that I was consulted and included in a thoughtful way. I felt like we treated her with respect and she treated us with respect. Sometimes there was minor conflict between my wife and I about things like bedtime and other rituals but I think we were able to come up with good solutions. My step-daughter shared beds with both of her original moms for years because they weren’t living with their partners and when we moved in together this was a bit of a transition and I think probably a hard change for Dakota. Although we didn’t continue to share a bed with her for a while she would spend one night on the couch a week to help transition out of this ritual.
I do think that sometimes I felt that I didn’t know if I had the authority to make decisions about things, not so much related to discipline, but family rituals, trips, summer, things like that. Sometimes I really appreciated having more distance from the logistics that come with parenting and at other times I yearned to be more involved or perhaps to feel like it was my place to be more involved.
-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 do! It was more when she was younger but we still email, see each other on Facebook, and spend holidays/birthdays together. We most recently had Christmas all together and 2 big milestone birthday parties.
-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?
I think that was pretty intuitive when Dakota was young and we were younger and had more energy. When we were with Dakota we’d take her to the park, go to her favorite restaurant, play dress up games and when it was just my wife and I we were going out to clubs dancing and hanging out with friends. (I mentioned we were a lot younger?) It felt like a good balance of being able to do what people without kids do and having the benefits of being parents and watching this amazing being grow and change.
-Hardest/Most Difficult stepmothering memory?
It’s hard to think of one, Dakota’s so chill.
I guess I’d have to say when she was 14 or 15 she went through a short phase of talking on the phone into the middle of the night. I remember getting up to pee 2 nights in the same week and hearing Dakota talking and seeing lights on in her room and I had to ask her to get off the phone. The funniest part was the 2nd time I caught her she tried to hide the phone and act asleep but I could see it sitting on top of her pillow. I asked her to keep her phone in the living room for a night and as far as I know it didn’t happen again or she got better at hiding it. Doesn’t feel like it’s a difficult step-parent memory but rather a memory of a child becoming a teen and wanting to have some distance. Hard for a nosy parent (like me) to not always be in the loop with what’s going on even if that’s what’s supposed to happen.
After a lot of thought I think the real hardest memory was when I was learning how to be a parent to my youngest daughter. I had never been a parent to an infant before. I was excited and overjoyed but also raw and tired. I felt sad that I had less energy to give to my relationship with Dakota. In some ways I believe this must be typical of what many families go through when there’s an addition to the family. Regardless I felt and feel sad that I missed out on some of that time with her. As she was moving into being a teen I was shifting some of my focus to our new family member. This may have been nice as a teen to have more space (from 1 of 4 moms!) but there was some sadness from me around not being able to be present in the same way.
-Best/Funniest stepmothering memory?
- Oh there are so many! We played a game that’s now formally called I Don’t Know Don-Key that was inspired by our love of Shrek. We would go into a room and then come out as a character with a new look or costume and it would make Dakota crack up.
- Once Dakota really wanted to have a Dad for Father’s Day so she dressed me up in a tank top, shorts, and a cowboy hat and I talked with a deep voice.
- Working our way through most of the seasons of I Love Lucy. She and I both think it’s really funny! We also often have shared TV taste. She’s always turning me onto new shows.
- She has shared openly with me about her relationships and friends when they’re going well and not well. I feel so lucky and proud every time she shares intimate details of her life with me. I’m often shocked and honored as I wasn’t so open with adults in my life at her age.
- She did, did not, and then did want to be at the birth of her sister. She stayed up all night waiting in the hospital waiting room to see her be born. She’s such an amazing big sister. She also told us that seeing a live birth was the best birth control and that she should have brought her whole high school class.
-Any particular resources (books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc) that have helped you along in your stepmothering journey?
I’ve been lucky and blessed with having Dakota in my life and that it’s been pretty easy. She’s a main reason I wanted to have my biological daughter. She made parenting and seeing a person grow up so special and I wanted more of that for our family.
-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.
Please don’t worry about Dakota. Don’t worry about her sleep or her constantly stuffy nose or anything else. Enjoy her! She’s such a gift. Have fun with her and talk to her a lot. Find energy to spend time with her even when you’re tired because soon she’ll be around even less and you’ll miss her like crazy. Make her play I Don’t Know Don-key with you as many times as you can!
-Do you ever get jealous that you aren’t the child’s biological parent?
Yes, I’m not proud of those moments but it mostly came out of a place of love and perhaps a place of wanting to be in more control. I had some moments where I felt like “I wish my partner and I could just make our own decisions without having to consult with anyone else.” In those moments I was often able to step back and realize how lucky I was to have such amazing primary parents to witness and that I didn’t worry and perseverate over Dakota as much as I sometimes catch myself doing with my other daughter because I knew she had lots of amazing moms looking out for her.
-What do you say when people ask if you have kids?
I say I have 2 children.
-Was your now partner having a child or children a pro or a con when deciding whether to date and ultimately marry them?
I was so excited about my partner having a child. I think this was because of the people they are and the timing of us all meeting. I felt excited to be a part of this already beautiful family. I often say I feel lucky that I only had to push one baby out!
-Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to get into this relationship?
YES! YES!!! A thousand times yes!
-Tell us three interesting facts about you that DON’T have to do with stepmothering. Also, please leave any blog or contact links below if you’d like that information to be featured here.
- I was an actor for about 20 years and still work on film projects in my spare time.
- I love plants and I almost always kill them.
- I’m a drama therapist and psychotherapist and specialize in working creatively with perfectionists and queer couples. www.sarahkorda.com