Kathryn Reay has published her first children’s book aimed at normalising blended family life and highlighting the positive attributes that stepparents can bring to their new family.
In this interview, Kathryn discusses her book, “What is a Rose?” and what being a stepmum means to her.
Hi Kathryn! Congratulations on the publication of “What is a Rose?” Why did you want to publish a book for blended families and where did the inspiration come from?
Thank you! The idea for the first book came from my relationship with my stepdaughter, who is now 8.
When she first met me she said, “Oh, I thought you were going to be a little girl like me!”. Reflecting on this years later and thinking about the many different roles I have taken in her life since then I got the idea for ‘What is a Rose?’, which explores the various roles a stepparent takes on in a child’s life and how this can be confusing for both the child and the stepparent.
Once I started working on it and sharing my idea, I realised that there seemed to be a lack of books featuring step and blended families, and I decided to create other books including the family featured in ‘What is a Rose?’ to help children see that there are other families like theirs and hopefully to not feel so alone.
You have dedicated the book to your stepdaughter; has she read it?
She has. I was really nervous of sharing it with her and I actually didn’t tell her I had written a book until I received the first proof. She flicked through it a bit at first then I pointed out the dedication to her and she gave me a big hug. A few weeks later she picked up a copy that was lying on my sister’s table and read it cover to cover unprompted which I took as a massive compliment. At one point she shouted, “This is definitely like us!”. I think although all step-families are different, children reading it will enjoy seeing characters and situations that they can relate to.
Have life experiences influenced how you have approached your journey as a stepmum?
My upbringing has certainly influenced my approach. My parents split up when I was 8 and I definitely struggled with some aspects of that. I’ve seen how a stepparent can be a strong influence in a child’s life, and I think this has made me more conscious of my commitment to my stepdaughter.
Also, my parents were amazing role models in terms of co-parenting. There was never any animosity or negativity from either side and we would be able to do things jointly where it was important, like a birthday party or a school event. Even now we celebrate special birthdays together and will do some joint activities with my stepdaughter and nephew so one set of parents doesn’t have to miss out. When I married my husband both sets of parents joined us and his family for a private meal the night before and everyone was very comfortable with one another.
I definitely felt that I wanted the same for my stepdaughter and as a result I’ve been happy to do things like host a birthday party at our home which involved her mum, stepdad and half-sister and even on one occasion to join them for trick or treating. I’m lucky that my husband and his ex have been able to form a harmonious working relationship in terms of parenting and that I’ve been able to support that.
Despite the increase in stepfamily resources, what are your thoughts on the stigma that still surrounds blended families, particularly stepmums?
I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve not had any negativity aimed at me but I think that there is definitely a lack of understanding about how difficult it is to be a stepmum. I think that people presume that because I’m a part-time stepmum that I’ve got it easy but they don’t appreciate how it influences so much of your life and how particularly as a childfree woman it is a big adjustment on many levels.
What would you say is the most rewarding thing about being part of a blended family?
I think for me because I don’t have my own children it’s having the privilege of being able to play a parenting role. Also when I see how comfortable and well adapted my stepdaughter is within my wider family I feel incredibly proud that we’ve been able to foster such a good relationship. Seeing the bond between her and my 2-year old nephew is incredibly special and rewarding.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your role as stepmum?
For me it’s been the personal difficulties in adapting from being a single childfree woman to being married and taking on a very involved parenting role when I’m with my stepdaughter. I previously didn’t have much involvement with children so it’s been a big learning curve, and as I’m a part-time stepmum it’s a slow learning journey.
I also find the logistics of it difficult. We have alternative weekends and so we have a small window of time to fit in all the activities we want to do as a family as well as the things that need doing such as homework. We also try to make sure that my stepdaughter has time with her families on our side and doesn’t miss out on too many family engagements, which is difficult as out families are both in a different area of the country.
I think as a woman I’m more inclined to put pressure on myself to make sure things go well particularly around holidays and can be hard on myself if I feel like I’m not ‘getting it right’.
As a stepmum, how do you ensure that you take care of your well-being and do you have any support networks in place?
I’m lucky that I’ve found a small meet up group for stepparents in London, where I work, that has social gatherings. I now host some of the events and I’ve been honoured to have stepparents from all kinds of situations open up to me about their own struggles and been able to share some of my own frustrations. I think it’s so important to make friends in similar situations and also to take some time out when you need it.
One thing I’ve started doing to support my well-being is that I’ll pop out for a swim on a morning before we get into whatever we’re doing that day. I’d stopped doing this on the days we have my stepdaughter and reintroducing it has made me feel a lot calmer and engaged. Also I’ll take a few minutes to myself if I feel I need it (maybe going in the bath or walking to the shop), particularly when we have her for an extended time such as a holiday.
What advice have you got for other stepmums?
My main advice would be to take time for yourself and to prioritise your relationship with your partner. If you are struggling personally it will affect your relationship and if your relationship isn’t working then your stepfamily is at risk so it isn’t a selfish act to take time for yourself and to have time alone with your partner.
I’d also very much recommend spending time with other stepparents, this helps gain perspective and you can share any frustrations with people who understand.
Another trick is after a visitation write down at least three things that were positive about the time. I find there are often a lot of good things even if they are small but it’s often the difficult things we end up talking about and dwelling on.
Finally, it’s exciting to hear that “What is a Rose?” will form part of a series of blended family books. Can you tell us what is in store for the next chapter in the series?
Of course, the next book will be available later in the year and focuses on holidays and special occasions, which can often be difficult times in a blended family. The message of the book is that you can create your own traditions that work for you and that every family is different. The next book also introduces Brooke’s younger half-brother and some of the feelings she has around leaving him to spend time with her Dad.
Kathryn Reay grew up in the North East of England and like Brooke spent her time between two loving homes. As an adult, she now lives in Hertfordshire and is a proud stepmum to her husband’s daughter. Kathryn works as a self-employed project management consultant and enjoys writing in her spare time. When she’s not busy being a stepmum she also enjoys dancing, cycling and travelling with her husband and catching up with friends and family over delicious meals. Her stories are based on her own experiences growing up and her relationship with her stepdaughter, who says she has made her a better person in ways she could never have imagined. “What is a Rose?” is the first in a series of books aimed at normalising blended families and showing how stepparents can be a positive addition to the family. Learn more at Facebook and Instagram: whatisarose and www.whatisarose.wordpress.com.