I have attached your references.
Thank you. Aneela Khan M.D
Site Director, NHS, Child & Adolescent Outpatient Psychiatry Forensic Psychiatry
Dear Dr. Khan,
I am writing this email to provide a character witness for Kristine Smith Stepenosky and a statement to support her as a mother and care-giver to her children.
I met Kristine in the fall of 1992 when we both entered graduate school at Utah State University and had the same graduate advisor in the Watershed Science Department. Kristine and I became roommates, and we lived together for nearly 4 years. We have remained friends and have been in and out of contact over the years and visited each other several times.
There is no doubt Kristine is an extremely unique, intelligent and creative person. From the first weeks that I met Kristine, it was clear she expressed her opinions openly and did not feel societal pressure to conform to restrictive mores on the role of women or young people. She wanted to be seen as an individual, not a product of her family’s socio- economic situation or her traditional upbringing; she wanted people to know she was intelligent but was not afraid to express unpopular opinions or unique perspectives that might be unpopular. In a creative and self-searching way, Kristine enjoyed speaking out on topics that could be considered dichotomous or even in opposition to what her audience might expect. I came to view this as a natural part of her personality that was fun and stimulating to be around. Her differences were never perceived (by myself or others) as an imbalance in her emotional or mental capacity; rather her peers and colleagues saw this as a uniquely interesting and exciting quality that made Kristine a really fun person to be with. She was considered ‘high-energy’ and liked to do or say the unexpected, but it was never in a detrimental manner or with duplicity to herself or others around her with respect to safety, care or consideration.
Kristine was always spot-on in her responsibilities including paying her roommate costs, sharing in any house-care or housekeeping, cooking etc; she was more than competent, caring, responsible and loving in providing child-care for professors, house-sitting, using field equipment and vehicles, and other responsibilities she assumed. She was an extraordinary care-giver to my large Pyrenees dog for whom Kristine became family. I never had any reason to doubt Kristine when I left her in charge of our house, my personal belongings, my pet and my car for long periods of time when I was doing field work. In the rare situations where a problem arose, Kristine dealt with it promptly and in a responsible manner I would expect from an adult and a friend. But she was a great story-teller and through her stories, could turn the most mundane issue into a thrilling adventure. She loved adventure, the outdoors, and exploring. She saw the world as a place to learn and have fun but she was not immune to the cruelty and inhumanity of our society. This bothered her deeply. Although she mostly carried that weight internally so as to not appear weak, it was clear she was conflicted and compelled to try to make a difference in the world and to create where she could use her character, talents and gifts and
societal advantages but in a way that didn’t exploit or marginalize others. In some ways, I think Kristine wants this to an extent that isn’t possible, in that we are all in some way defined by our upbringing and constrained to a certain extent by our advantages and disadvantages. As free spirited as she is, I believe she may have trouble coming to terms with this simple tenant of life. And for that I will always love her because she won’t stop trying.
I am aware that Kristine has always had problems with her mother and has been conflicted to some extent with the socio- economic situation of her family which seemed to be in contrast with her personal convictions about economic, race, and gender equality. From my perspective her mother loved Kristine but struggled to understand Kristine’s uniquely creative perspective on her life, her negative views and opinions on her mother’s life (or at least women of that generation and socio-economic upbringing), and the world in general. Although it appeared to me that Kristine’s parents gave her all she needed materially, I perceived that Kristine did not feel implicit support and love for who she was as a person and unconditional love from her parents in spite of her personal views on the world. Rather she felt pressure to please them. This seemed to cause both of them grief and sorrow. Kristine appeared to be close to her father and had an open communication with him from my vantage point but it seemed Kristine also strove to please him and make him proud which sometimes went against her desire for personal growth or individuality.
In the time since Kristine and I went separate ways, we stayed in touch occasionally. From what I could tell, she was extremely successful in her jobs and employment which were more traditional than I would have expected from her but that is not unusual as people grow in their lives. She started a family and was living a happy and healthy life. Things seemed to change when she moved back to Pennsylvania. She had a beautiful home and was raising small domestic goats and chickens in a country home; she had 3 beautiful and talented children and her life seemed perfect. But she was having more conflicts with her family, particularly her mother and more recently with her ex-husband. In the several times that I was able to see Kristine with her children and husband over the years, she was always and unwaveringly a loving, caring and concerned parent. She kept them safe, clothed, fed and well cared for above all else. She cared about the future of her children, she promoted creative outlets to them, she advocated for their challenges and overall being individuals and not being absorbed by a society that dictates your values. This was done in a healthy and safe way as any parent would from what I could see. I did notice Kristine having more frustration with her marriage but she did not share very much with me until recently. However, this didn’t surprise me because I don’t think Kristine wanted people to see her vulnerable or weaker side. She always wants to be seen as strong and in control. Of course, we all want that and yet all have times of weakness, fear and vulnerability.
Having been through a divorce in the past 5 years myself, I can say that it is never as simple or easy as it seems from the outside. Even when you are in favor of a divorce or separation, the challenge of separating yourself from your committed life partner, the feelings of betrayal and failure, and the emotional grievance of letting go of a life-dream you cannot recreate, can be far more stressful and painful than we often let others see or believe. We try to move on for our children.
I firmly believe that Kristine is now trying to figure out what she wants for her life and as an individual in a way that she did not allow herself back during our school years together. Rather, despite all of her outward expression and desire to live a different life, she ultimately wanted to please her parents and have a loving family and earn that unconditional love through her life choices by proving she could do it. But that did not make her happy. Now that some parts of that have not worked out, I see that Kristine is trying hard to find herself again. I can’t say she may not have made some decisions that are questionable. I honestly don’t have insights into much of her day to day life. I believe she will find herself again and find happiness in that. In the meantime, she’s in crisis and is alone in world of people that do not understand her. But I have never questioned her ability as a mother, as a responsible, intelligent and loving person, as a creative and productive part of society.
I am very hopeful that Kristine gets some support for the emotional difficulty of her divorce and her lack of family support (in a way that she needs it). But baring any danger to her children, I cannot understand how her children could possibly benefit from not being able to be with their mother, in her incredible loving presence, getting her guidance and insights and knowing that she is their rock. If nothing else, children need to know their parents, be with their parents and experience that unconditional love and support to grow up strong. And Kristine is an incredible person who loves her children.
I realize there is much I am not able to see or know from the distance between us. But I have no doubt Kristine is a loving mother who cares more for her children, their safety and well-being, their upbringing and future...and that is of more importance to her than anything else in the world. There is nothing dangerous or derelict in her ability to be a mother. She’s seeking personal growth and needs support, help and understanding from people who are willing to listen and accept her unique perspectives, but not interpret those as a detriment to her person.
Please feel free to call on me for any further information. I hope this is helpful.
Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative