Many of you have asked what happened with Kate. In case you don’t remember, Kate was a homeless teen I found myself coaching in Florida. When I realized she was homeless I bought her a plane ticket to come to my house. We made our guest room into her room. I bought her all new clothes, and I told my sons to stop asking how long Kate is staying for. I told them, “This is her home. It’s the only home she has. She leaves when she wants and comes home when she needs to. Just like you guys will do when you’re older.”

I remember when she arrived, I felt I was doing something that is my life calling. It was so easy for me to understand her because she grew up just like I did. She kept asking me how I could open my house to her so easily and I told her, “I can’t help myself as a teen, but I can help you.”

I spent a lot of money trying to give her what I thought she’d need to launch into adult life. But the things she really needed were things we cannot buy.

She lied to me and my husband about birth control. We told her she had to use condoms until her new IUD started working. She told us she was insulted we would think she’d have sex when she had only been in Wisconsin two weeks and she didn’t even know anyone.

We said, “Just put the condoms in your purse. Just in case.”

She said, “That’s so slutty.”

That week she got pregnant. I didn’t find out until two months later, when she miscarried, in the toilet in the back stall in the bathroom at cello lessons. She brought me to the bathroom to ask if she’s dying. “This came out of me.”

I looked in the toilet and to be honest, until that moment I had no idea how much I knew about blood in toilets. “You had sex the week we told you to use a condom, didn’t you?”


“That’s a miscarriage.”

She lied to me and my husband about visiting her friend’s parents a few towns away. Instead she took our car across state lines with a guy we’ve never met and stayed in hotels with him with our credit card. When we accused her of lying, she told us she didn’t go with the guy. Even though all the receipts showed she did.

My husband was dumbfounded that she could be so dishonest to people who are helping her. He couldn’t believe she’d take our car and disappear. I was forgiving. I had done the same thing with my parents’ credit card when I was her age. I would have stolen from anyone when I was her age. It comes with not having parents who take care of you.

We had a pattern where my husband would go nuts that we have a lying, deceitful, unmanageable teen in our house, and I would go to therapy with her where I would explain what happened and the therapist would talk about responsibility and Kate would listen. I think.

I remember listening to a therapist at her age. I also remember wearing stolen clothes to those therapy appointments.

Kate told me she was too old to live with a family.

I asked her if she had ever had the experience of living with a family and abiding by house rules.

She said she wished her parents had stayed married. She said, “The best time of my life was when I was really little and we were living with my real dad.”

I said, “But you told me he was using heroin with your pre-teen sisters.”

“Oh yeah. Well that wasn’t good. But the rest was.”

I listened to that and I told myself that I, too, had been incredibly delusional about my father when I was Kate’s age. I told myself traumatic childhoods can only be healed with stable living environments. I could give her that. I stuck by Kate through everything. I took pleasure in telling her, every time she did or said something awful, that I would not kick her out.

She tested and tested and said, “I can’t believe how loyal you are.”

Every therapy session became a discussion about how family members abide by the rules of the family because people care for each other.

So Kate left.

She got an apartment in an area of town where I’d never let my kids live. She took a towel, throw pillows and other small things I did not tell her she could take. I only realized it when she sent me pictures.

She never had a bedroom of her own. I was too happy for her to accuse her of stealing.

She got a job that didn’t pay rent. She sent me a picture on her first day of work.

She got fired the second day. “I have a felony,” she told me.

“For what?” is what I asked. What I thought was that I’m scared she is going to get into some sort of trouble that I can’t handle.

The felony is because a friend’s mom put a restraining order against Kate and Kate kept seeing the friend. Kate told me the mom was crazy.

But I start worrying that probably everyone in Kate’s life is not as crazy as she says they are. But also, if they are that crazy, then what am I doing here?

My husband tells me I have to stop giving Kate money.

I pay her rent for one month. And I give her our car that we weren’t using anyway because I didn’t think it was safe in the winter.

I tell her we’ll put the title in her name next time she comes to visit.

The next time she comes to visit it’s too late to go to the DMV to change the title. But Kate is lonely at her apartment. She has a job but no friends. She takes home a kitten. She wants one of our favorites. My kids say no. She asks for my husband’s favorite. He says no, too.

She doesn’t want an older cat because she says it’s too hard to train an older cat to love you. She says she’d rather have a damaged baby and she goes home with a kitten who’s blind in one eye.

She is happy with her cat. She is happy with her car. She comes back to our house to get the car title. She asks if I can pay for gas. And she asks me to pay for one month more of rent. My husband makes me tell her I won’t pay for anything else. She can come back to our house to live, but we won’t support her in her apartment. “No more money.” I have to say it to her when my husband is sitting next to me so he knows for sure it’s clear.

Kate comes back to have dinner with us. The boys are so excited that they bake her cupcakes. She says she can’t stay for dinner but she wants a second cat.

My husband says he knew all along she wasn’t staying for dinner.

I tell him he’s too cynical.

We don’t have any more kittens but my in-laws do. My mother-in-law has been bottle feeding a kitten that she loves. She tells Kate that Kate can take the kitten but if there is any problem, or if Kate doesn’t want the kitten, she should email my mother-in-law and give the kitten back. It’s hard for my mother-in-law to part with the kitten she’s been taking care of for so long. My husband assures her Kate will take good care.

The next morning Kate calls me.

“You’ll hate me,” she says.

“I’ll never hate you. What happened?”

“I gave the kitten to animal rescue. It was too annoying.”

“I don’t hate you. We knew you have an attachment problem with people, so it’s not surprising you have it with animals. But why didn’t you call us? Why did you give the cat to animal rescue? And how did you even get it there?”

“They came and picked it up.”

“They picked it up?”

I am sitting at the breakfast table. Now the boys want to know what happened. They are hearing everything.

I hang up with Kate and my husband tells me we have to get the kitten. The boys will know that Kate sent the kitten to animal rescue and my mother-in-law will be too upset. And we can’t tell the boys to lie.

I tell Kate.

She says okay she’ll call animal rescue.

They are not open until 3pm and she has to go to work.

I tell her to go into work an hour late. “Tell your boss we need to get the kitten back before they give it away.”

She says no.

I say we are coming to her apartment to talk with her. To explain why we need the kitten back.

She says she won’t tell us where she lives.

I didn’t realize that I paid rent and gave her a car, but I don’t know her address.

She stops answering her phone.

We go to the Best Western where she works at the front desk. There are three employees there, and the manager, and no one is doing anything except listening to us talk to Kate.

She tells us to go away.

We say we don’t have another way to talk with her.

Her manager asks her if she wants him to call the police to take us away and she says, “Yes.”

We go back to our car and look up animal rescue in Madison. It turns out that it’s animal control and it’s kill-only in Madison. Now we know why Kate didn’t want to help us get the cat back. But animal control tells us they picked up the kitten and felt so bad killing it that they held it until  the animal shelter opened and brought it there.

We went to the animal shelter and got the cat back.

I want to tell you I never heard from Kate again. But I did. She kept charging her braces to our account.

I called her and told her to please stop. She said she wasn’t doing that. I didn’t even argue with her. I just hung up.

And then, for three months, I told myself I’m so stupid. So stupid for thinking I can save the world. So stupid for letting her lie to me so many times. I hate how much money I spent on her. I hate how much time I spent. Incredibly bad judgment. And the conversation with my sons about how Kate is not able to trust people so she is not able to be trustworthy. That was so difficult to have.

I was so mad at myself for so long. But then my husband started reframing. He said she could have stayed at our house much longer, and made the pain for the family much bigger. And my therapist reminded me that I learned a lot about myself, and how much I’ve overcome, by seeing how many hurdles Kate still has to face.

So I made a mistake. I misjudged Kate. And I misjudged myself. And I guess it’s okay. It’s okay to make a bad decision. And get burned. But it’s not okay to dwell on it. So this is me, giving you the update and moving forward.

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145 replies
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  1. Amber
    Amber says:

    Loved this article! Here’s my take on the whole Kate saga:

    You did a really good deed, Penelope. You and your family tried to help Kate and she was lucky to have you in her life. And, you’ll hear from her again, I suspect.

    What I have an issue with is…you put her photo in this story– for the world to judge her based on all of the sensitive, private information about this young girl that you provided us with. I am sure you made her sign a media release form so you could use her data in your blog.
    That was probably part of the agreement when she moved into your house, that you could write about her. You probably even changed her name for this article.

    If that girl in the photo is really Kate, I feel that it is irresponsible to use her actual photograph in this story. I’m sure people in your town/ city know you are a blog writer, at least her manager.

    Kate will read this article. And, she’s going to read the comments where we are judging her and talking about where she went wrong, etc., etc. Do you think airing her dirty laundry out for all to see is going to help her or hurt her?

    PS, I am a huge fan of yours, but I think this is a legitimate concern–the lack of privacy here.

  2. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    You have the smartest comments ever.

    I’m not sure I want to go to therapy. Or keep reading your posts’ comments & your responses.

    I am afraid I won’t find a therapist as smart as this community.

    • TheRealWorld
      TheRealWorld says:

      Nur Costa – Save your money! SOME of them may be helpful but there are alot of crappy psychotherapists. And, very importantly, you must keep in mind that they have a vested interested (money!) in keeping you dependent. Not quite able to function without them, see what I mean?

      Clues would be whether a shrink is really trying to help you develop skills to understand and solve your own issues. If they just let you blather on and make patronizing comments, etc. Run away.

      Be HONEST with yourself and take responsibility for your life. Do that…and you’ve saved thousands and years of time.

      Oh yeah, and accept that you have to ditch people (even family members) who refuse to treat you respectfully and reasonably. It’s a bitter realization but, do it, and it will change your life.

  3. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Wasn’t there a very recent guest post on this blog about a woman who yelled at her kids? I can’t find it.

  4. kadjadea
    kadjadea says:

    You really shouldn’t put the girl’s first name and pictures up on an article like this.

  5. Veronique
    Veronique says:

    Did this young girl agree to have her picture on your blog and to share her miscarriage on the internet?
    Even if you helped her and were disappointed by her behaviour, Kate still has the right to her privacy. I don’t think it’s ok to put a teenager’s picture on your blog and tell the world how she misbehaved, according to you…

    • Dana
      Dana says:

      I *love* all y’alls RIGHT TO PRIVACY comments. You need to learn the definition. This post doesn’t violate any RIGHT TO PRIVACY issues. Hell! I’m glad Penelope is exposing Kate so that (hopefully) no one else makes the same mistake!

      • Db
        Db says:

        She could sue her for libel / defamation of character in most states though. Frankly, I’d remove the whole post if I were her.

  6. Alta
    Alta says:

    We say that it’s your past karma. You behaved as a good samaritan. You did your best for a soul but Kate’s karma pushed her to a more complex life.

    But, she will be back to you in a year or two to you. Have a plan how you are going to address that situation?

  7. Maria
    Maria says:

    I got into a relationship with a drug addict because I wanted to help him. Also because I loved him — a lot. He was charming, deep and his life was totally a blank slate. I think I was attracted to that about him the most. I thought the fact that he had no attachments in life and lived in a very go with the flow kind of way was super attractive and I believed we could build our life however we wanted. I totally underestimated how much he depended on the drug and how little freedom he actually had in his life and mind.

    I thought as happy as we were, he would never choose to go back to his old lifestyle and ditch me and our amazing chemistry. But he did, numerous times. And now I have to use every muscle in my body to stop myself from responding to his emails because he’s really no good for me.

    All that to say don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. My decision was way worse than yours. What helped me get through that was learning to respect his choice and freedom – even if his freedom didn’t include happiness or companionship or being smart!

    Everyone has the right to make their own mistakes and learn in their own way. (Even addicts) Who are we to stop them from living a life of their own choosing? Even if we think we know what’s best for them -maybe we don’t. And even if we did, isn’t it more important that they know what’s best for them and they own their life?

    That’s my feeling anyway. Because when everyone warned me not to date a not-so-recovering addict, I didn’t listen. I guess I wanted to know why for myself. Call me stubborn or stupid (I’m probably a little of both) but I really value my experience in life and having a mind and voice that’s my own.

    So it’s not a bad decision if the end result is we learn from it and grow. Kate probably wants to be autonomous, like most people. And my ex-boyfriend probably just wants to live without responsibility to anyone but himself. At least Kate isn’t being self-destructive. That’s a great sign for her life. And neither are you really…naive? Maybe. But so what.

  8. Hope
    Hope says:

    What made you think you were qualified to take on the complex issues of this teenaged girl? Do you have a degree in psychology? How are you equipped to handle her psychologically, mentally, emotionally? C’mon now. This is above your pay grade and utterly irresponsible of you. You know that, or at least you should. She could have molested your boys or murdered you in your sleep. You don’t take people off the street and put them in your home. If you feel a need to help – you direct them to someone “qualified” to handle these issues.

  9. Ponder
    Ponder says:

    When you first said you brought Kate home with you and you started buying all sorts of things for her, I assumed you were trying to buy a live-in friend for yourself.

  10. DoreenB
    DoreenB says:

    I admit I’m a pessimist: but only bc after nearly 30 years in self help group environment I have to caution that people are doing a VERY dangerous thing – taking in a person whose nit been cleared by an agency of some sort..
    Felony? Seriously- that means ones whole family can be at risk- there are so Many Many possibly dangerous situations that could come from this good- meaning gesture..
    I’ve personally known folks taking in drunks like the old days of AA ETC- but it’s not the old days anymore and society is nuts in case you all haven’t noticed! With all DUE RESPECT- from an older, I like to think very wise woman:
    Turn on the news Penelope!!!

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      The news is full of media spin crap. We live in a safer world than we did 30 years ago, but that doesn’t sell newspapers or get clicks for advertisers.

  11. OG
    OG says:

    Maybe you made mistakes and she did some bad things. But maybe, just maybe, later down the road she’ll remember how somebody had enough compassion to care for her. That’s something she had not known. And, you finally did draw the line and cut her off (an important lesson that many damaged people never learn). Don’t beat yourself up. You sound like a great person.

  12. Db
    Db says:

    Yes- I agree with others that a safer ( much safer) thing to do is volunteer or start a church soup kitchen- or volunteer at homeless shelters. I once got training and volunteered at at Shelter for Battered Women and Children. There are plenty of things that anyone can do – or absolutely if you have the funds donate generously to them. All maner or caution needs to be handled with strangers. A woman is too vulnerable also to never be alone in any such position unless it’s a public facility.

  13. Db
    Db says:

    And one more thing, P, word of advice – WE LOVE YOUR BLOG-but for goodness sake : take the picture of your home off the internet!!!

  14. KO
    KO says:

    This arrangement was exploitative from the beginning. She just turned the tables on you.

    And yes, you should remove this teenager’s photo from your high-traffic blog.

  15. Karen
    Karen says:

    What I love about reading your blog, is the “real-ness”, the authenticity — whether it is good, bad or ugly…As a person who believes in going the “extra mile” when others wouldn’t, I applaud your efforts to make a difference in Kate’s life.

  16. Annie
    Annie says:

    I love how everyone on here claims to know best what Penelope should have done. Everyone is infinitely wiser than P. Only YOU know exactly what was going to happen. Guess what? If this had gone well you’d all be saying how amazing and Buddha-like P’s compassion. But since it did not it is a chance for you to play armchair Psychologist and analyze her compassion and make it seem selfish or stupid. God, what the Internet hath wrought is a bunch of know it alls.

    • Db
      Db says:

      I apologize if I am one who came off as any kind of ” know it all” to you. The truth is, I’m in my 60’s and have seen and done a lot – really a lot- and I feel very protective too- of someone whose naïveté could jeapordize the whole family in ways you may not imagine. It is my personal opinion and experience that one should Never advertise your wealth or home situation to one ( or many) potential strangers on the internet- that’s all. And were all strangers here. Half my family got there homes broken into while my daughter was being married bc it was announced on FB! Her fathers house , stepmothers and others- if u can believe it! Nowadays I have learned to value personal security at all cost for all family members- w children at the top of that list. Respectfully yours, D

  17. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    Penelope was not wrong for wanting to help. Kate needs help. But we often think that because we are compassionate, intelligent, resourceful, etc. we then think we have the ability to fix these types of problems. But Kate’s issues run deep and are more complex than can be fixed by some love and care. But you can’t know what you are dealing with until you are face to face with it. Penelope and Matthew did nothing wrong. Others would thrive with that support and encouragement. I don’t think Kate is bad. She is mentally unstable due to childhood trauma. Read the work of Gabor Mate. She needs serious help; different help. But not judgement.

  18. Evy MacPhee
    Evy MacPhee says:

    This came at the right time for me.

    I attempted to provide emotional support for an incest survivor I had been in a therapy group with. Read rescue.

    I am now processing in therapy the consequences to me of trying to maintain that support for years.

    The blog post and comments have really helped me think about this from a variety of perspectives.

    Thank you, Penelope, and commenters.

  19. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    I too have been known to take in strays. I feel for both of you.

    I am concerned about the personal details in this post. Even if she gave permission for you to write about her, it’s unsettling. For one thing, it is very clear that she has poor judgement and is quite immature, though as a “teen,” she may (or may not) be a legal adult. Later she may regret giving permission.

    Not sure if you’ve written elsewhere about exactly where you live. If so, consider that this post offers photos and the work location of a teenage girl who is new in town, knows few people and comes off as quite open to suggestion.

  20. Heather
    Heather says:

    I’m so sorry this did not have the happy ending you wanted. It sounds like you learned a lot. I hoped she learned some things too. I’m sure she did.

  21. jestjack
    jestjack says:

    First Your husband is a SAINT. I swear … hearing this story makes me pissed….and it didn’t cost me a dime…. It has been my experience that in life there are “givers” and there are “takers”….I’m thinking Miss Kate is a “taker”…. Think I’d “cut bait” on this “project”. And for the record disobeying a restraining order is not a felony in any state that I’m aware of….

    • Db
      Db says:

      Well- she said ‘ felony” so she probably didn’t tell the whole story on what that really was….
      And I also don’t know many spouses who would put up with all this! Y’all must have real big dogs and lots of weapons!! IJS haha

  22. not my real name
    not my real name says:

    What if one’s bad decision was taking in a stray cat as one’s “to have and to hold” spouse?

  23. Hexapodia
    Hexapodia says:

    Kate was, and is, a sociopath. For a sociopath, it’s all ME! ME! ME! all the time. They manipulate and use people. Such people do not see other human beings as existing on the same level that they occupy — they either don’t realize or don’t care that other people actually have minds and feelings and can be hurt.

    As previous commenters pointed out, your family was very lucky that she left when she did, because had she stayed she eventually would have corrupted your kids or accused your husband of raping her. You or I would call that unspeakably evil. Kate’s reaction would have been a blank look followed by “Yeah, so?”

    Sociopaths can change, but it’s difficult. As the old light bulb joke goes, it only takes one, but the bulb has to WANT to change. But why in the world would Kate ever want to change? She had someone giving her free stuff and free money and emotional support, and whenever she violated your trust THERE WAS NO PUNISHMENT.

    Now, I’m not saying that when Kate violated your trust you should have hauled out the old belt and gone medieval on her … but brutal as that old-time method of behavior modification may have been, it had an actual success rate. You might have succeeded with Kate if you’d had some effective way of punishing her; alas, I can’t think of one. Withdrawing your material support couldn’t work because she would just move on to the next patsy.

    You tried, and that’s good. But some people can’t be helped unless and until they have a good reason to want to change.

  24. Db
    Db says:

    Look y’all, I was an ever lovin’, ever trusting, naive do- gooder from decades ago- but I cannot believe the number of gullible woman out there responding to this post!
    Unless women have been living under rocks for the last 50 years- the US has unfortunately become one of the most dangerous and violent industrialized countries in the world.
    The Age of Aquarius turned out to mainly be a great Broadway play and nowadays trying to reform any strangers – IN YOUR OWN HOME, no less- is a really dangerous thing to do.

    • Liz
      Liz says:

      Frankly I did not see this sequence of events coming. But after reading this post the first (tragic) three words of which I thought: Elizabeth Smart kidnapping.

  25. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    It might have been a bad decision for you – you’re out a bunch of money, had disruption in your life you didn’t need- but seems like it was a good decision for Kate, PLUS you got a blog entry out of it.

    Will an IUD still work if you’ve had a miscarriage? Since you were busy pouring money on her I hope you got that IUD replaced. It sounds like she needs it.

  26. Linda Lou
    Linda Lou says:

    I understand the desire for rescue efforts. But at this point they impact your children. And these types of rescue efforts have close to zero chance of success. The best place to pour your loving energy is in your own children.

    PS Your husband is a saint.

  27. Corrine
    Corrine says:

    Wow, that is so amazing what you did for a stranger to help them have a better life. She may not have appreciated it then, but one day she will regret not trusting in the opportunity she was given. All you can do is lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink. Its the same with people who are lost, you can help show them the way, but in the end they have to find it for themselves. Even if she never turns her life around, you set a good example for her, your sons and all the people around you. You showed them to love others even when its hard, have hope even when there is none and how to recover when things don’t turn out how you wanted.

  28. Iris Alive
    Iris Alive says:

    Way to “own up.” It’s the only productive way to move forward. No stuck thoughts! You used your past wisdom as empathy. Next time you’ll remember to use it for ‘profiling.’ Also have pride in knowing that you’re different, “special.” Just because you overcome your obstacles and broke cycles that your children will not have to repeat doesn’t mean the rest of the world is capable of that sister. You rise above. Most people don’t. Not your fire. Not your baby. Not your problem.

  29. Anna
    Anna says:

    What happened to the first kitten, the one that was blind on one eye? Did she give that cat too to animal control, or does she still have it?

  30. Jorge
    Jorge says:

    Hey, you know? For a change it was nice to read this. I read it through, and let anything distract me.

    If it is of any use, I helped someone long ago too, and she didn’t reciprocate as she should… or as we would have expected she would —which is, in my opinion, the correct way to state it.

    Long story short, she was a former rape victim, she felt sad and stressed all the time. I helped her cheer up, gave her money for her medicine when she was sick, and when she became old enough to get a job, I even helped her get her first two jobs…

    …but she was fired from the second job, accused of stealing a mobile phone from another employee. As how she evaded me since then, I bet she’s not innocent.

    So I understand how stupid you felt when you wrote this. I’ve been there too. My advice is this: Don’t feel sad because you helped someone. Smile because you could help someone.

    As for her, some day she will turn back and remember you as a person who really gave her a chance. And she will cry.


  31. Dave
    Dave says:

    I’m just putting it out there, but perhaps the miscarriage she had was quite traumatic, and might have had an effect on her subsequent behaviour?

  32. Cathie
    Cathie says:

    I think you are awesome. People who need help are often really messed up and helping them takes sacrifice and courage. Messed up people cause messes and you’ll be involved. You have to have thick skin and set boundaries and be prepared to lose some possessions. If it were easy then there would be no messed up people. But you’ll never ever know the good you’re doing, well maybe sometime you will. Just this week a homeless man I helped 30 years ago came and found me and said thank you. He turned his life around…I think he stole from me at the time, however, some knickknacks I had. I’ve rarely helped someone without some cost on my part. But now he has his own business and trade.

  33. Cynthia McIntyre
    Cynthia McIntyre says:

    Wow- what an experience. You are such a wonderful person to try to help this lost soul. I am certain it fool a great deal to write about it and admit to the problems you experienced. God bless you. I tried to help a your women years ago- she too stole things when she left my home and caused major problems at my job. In fact, had I not quit, I probably would have gotten fired over the problems she caused.

  34. Cloudbuster
    Cloudbuster says:

    The most troubling part of this story is that on this website, Penelope presumes to charge other people to coach them on making important life decisions.

  35. Edward Kyle
    Edward Kyle says:

    You have incredibly poor judgement. Its not enough that admit that you made a mistake. You are a do-gooder fool. You ought to have known better. People like you put yourself and – more importantly – you families at risk.

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