It’s common in parenthood to feel that your time is no longer your own. You delicately balance a career, children and your spouse, while trying to fit in “me time” dedicated to your personal interests – whether that’s working out, knitting, or indulging your guilty pleasure of watching Real Housewives. New parents get 9 months of preparation to accept these trade-offs and adjustments to their lives. The life change that occurs before having a child is expected, discussed, and commonly talked about by society as a major event that will change your life. Forever.
The same is true of (step)motherhood, except no one has time to prepare for the life change that occurs when you take on the role of a (step)mom – not your partner, the ex, your (step)children, your parents, siblings, your in-laws, friends, your dog groomer, your hair stylist… nobody. But most importantly, you. You have had no time to prepare for what is about to ensue. One day you live in a single girl’s dream apartment, and the next day you’re tripping over Legos with the small village you now live with. Let us pray.
There is suddenly homework that must get done, mouths that must be fed, soccer games that must be played, and important relationships that must be nurtured. And there is a very real possibility that once being thrust into this life changing experience that us single, driven, not-so-wicked (step)mothers can feel a sense of loss about having “me time.”
However, there is one very real, important fact that us (step)moms can easily forget: your partner was once a single parent; there was a time when he managed the children, his household, his career, his interests and his ex all on his own. HE IS CAPABLE OF MANAGING HIS CHILDREN’S SCHEDULE AND NEEDS BY HIMSELF. Read that again. This wonderful man in your life is very capable. There was a time when he did everything without you.
We (women, generally) must pause before we go barreling into a single dad’s life thinking that he must need help raising children (because he’s a man – and obviously all men must need help raising children. can you sense my sarcasm?). I’ll say it again: HE IS CAPABLE. In many cases, he is MORE THAN CAPABLE. By marrying a former single dad you may very well be marrying one of the most capable men on the planet.
So what does that mean for you, the new or soon-to-be (step)mom? It means that you’re not obligated to jump feet first into the flames and share in each and every parenting activity. It means that you are entitled to “me time” and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Once you stop feeling guilty about making time for yourself, you’ll (very intentionally) want to carve out time for you and only you.
How does more me-time equate to being a better co-parent, you ask? One word: Sanity. It will keep you sane. It will keep your partner sane. And it will make you a better co-parent. (In fact, we think all parents could use more me time!)
I have lived with my newly formed family for several months now. They were the toughest, most unpredictable, volatile, and embarrassing five months of my life. I was pouring my time into building this new family of ours and while we made gradual progress, massive blowups erupted between my partner and I that made me say a great big, out loud, WHAT THE FUCK. Not just once. More like a dozen times. We were putting in much more than we were getting out. ROI was negative (that’s the marketing executive in me talking).
But instead of getting discouraged and dropping more f-bombs (which, ladies, is often not becoming; And please don’t do that in front of the children, but please do it by yourself in your location of choice), I decided to focus on the only one thing I DID have full control over: myself. I decided that I would fulfill a personal goal of mine: to finish an Ironman before I turn 30.
Ironman is an endurance triathlon. You begin by swimming 2.4 miles, hop on a bike for 112 miles, then lace up your sneaks and crank out a 26.2 mile run – yes, a full marathon for good measure. The thought of completing this was exciting, challenging, and frankly, inspirational. But I didn’t want to just cross the finish line. I wanted to #crushit.
I set out on a 9-month training plan to become an Ironman. (Note: please DO NOT refer to me as an Iron Woman or Iron Person. I know you think it sounds more feminist and politically correct but I assure you it’s nothing but insulting. Women and men complete the same race – we are all Ironmen. No gender distinction need be made.)
Training ramped up quickly from 10 hours per week to 17-20 hours per week. Through the winter, I spent a lot of weeknights on my indoor bike trainer, pedaling furiously as I read the kids bedtime stories, or helped them with homework. Weekday mornings I was out the door with the sunrise (and often before) pounding the pavement religiously. Saturdays and Sundays were dedicated to long workouts that started around 6:30am, consisting of a run-bike-swim combination, ranging anywhere from 3 to 7 hours. I was diligent to start these long workouts in the early morning so I could still get to the kids’ soccer games and be present in their lives. There were most definitely times where I felt like I was missing out on time with my (step)daughters, my partner, my family, and also my friends. But, suddenly, the ROI was tangibly positive:
I always had my own personal “me time,” very intentionally and purposefully built into my schedule. I no longer looked for an escape when (step)family growing pains crept in. I learned to trust my partner’s ability to manage his children all on his own. He didn’t need my help on a day-to-day basis, but when I could provide it (and did so lovingly and willingly), it was an added bonus – for everyone. I began to feel like a role model. Suddenly, I went from being this new woman the kids have to learn to live with to a woman that they didn’t want to live without. Our time together became more cherished and coveted – by all of us. We looked forward to operating as a family. More importantly, I looked forward to doing things for the kids – not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Resentment disappeared, hostility vanished, and we were all happier being together.
While I recognize it may not be in the cards for everyone to complete an IRONMAN, the message remains the same: Hold onto your life for dear life. Don’t let your dreams vanish or your aspirations dissipate. Don’t apologize for pursuing your goals. The wonderful thing about being a (step)mom is that we are largely undefined. (Step)moms don’t have to abide by societal norms, because they do not exist for us. As long as I am carrying myself as a role model, I am a more than adequate (step)mom.
As for the small village I’ve inherited – They say it takes a village to raise a child. But it takes an IRONMAN to raise a village.
Blog pairing: Spa Water
Disclaimer: All opinions are my own.