My sister asked, “Can you come over and hang out with us next Thursday?” and I immediately replied, “I’m not sure, let me check our custody schedule and see if Krista will be home!” Several variations of this conversation occurred throughout my first couple of years dating a man with kids.
I didn’t attend events, didn’t go out with my friends, didn’t visit my family, or do things alone, if we had my stepdaughter in our home. I felt an obligation to be home when she was home.
My partner never verbalized this expectation, he never set the rule that I needed to be home, but I still felt like it was understood that if my stepdaughter was here, we needed to be a family.
Boy was I wrong! I slowly began to realize one of the biggest mistakes I have made as a stepmom: I stopped taking time for myself.
It may sound counterintuitive to hear that taking alone time for yourself is better for your family, but it couldn’t be more true.
I wasn’t the same person my partner fell in love with.
By putting pressure on myself to spend time as a family every time my stepdaughter was in our home, though my intentions were good, the results were not.
I felt drained instead of eager and excited. I was distant, maybe a little resentful, and a shell of the person I used to be.
It turns out, all of the things I did before I became a stepmom made me who I am. They filled me with joy, purpose, and me.
I loved my new family and they also filled me with joy and purpose, but it simply wasn’t the same. I needed both. What I really needed was balance.
I show up better for them.
Once I started visiting my nephew and sister again and spending time with friends, my personality bounced back. Once again, I was the vibrant, dynamic person Kevin had fallen in love with, and Krista began to know.
I had more energy, I was more alive, and I didn’t feel burned out or drained.
I began to show up 100% for them part of the time, instead of showing up a watered down version of myself all of the time. It made a world of difference for our family, and for me.
I had been afraid to take that time for myself because I thought it was selfish. I was part of a family now, and I thought that meant I needed to be with my family all of the time. The family needed to be first.
But the truth is, I show up better for my family when I show up for myself first. They don’t deserve the irritable on-edge version of me; they want the self-care version that is excited to show up with and for them.
Practicing self-care is one of the most selfless things you can do for your family.
It gives them time together.
An added bonus of taking time for yourself—to get a mani pedi, to go to yoga class, or to catch up with a girlfriend—is that it gives your partner alone time with the children.
It’s equally important that they have that time together as it is that you have time alone, and that you all have time together as a family.
When a stepparent comes on the scene, it can be a threat to a child of divorce. I remember growing up, feeling like my new stepmom might take my dad away from me, like our relationship was going to be put on the back burner for him. But those moments when it was just the two of us? Invaluable. Incomparable.
This doesn’t undercut the stepmom’s relationship or the important role you play in your stepchild’s life, but a stepparent is a supplement to the existing parent-child relationship. It’s so good for them when they get time together, too.
Step away from the guilt.
So, set your guilt aside and learn from my mistakes. Doing things for yourself is just as important as doing things for your family.
Practicing self-care and doing the things that made you you before you became a stepmom are just as important today as they were then. You avoid burnout, give your partner alone time with the kids while you’re away, and come back a happier, more fulfilled version of yourself.
There’s no reason to feel guilty for needing and taking that time away to do things for yourself.
Take it from someone who’s been there.
P.S. I think this might just be what you need to hear today if you’re feeling exhausted in your stepmom role.