Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On stepmoms, working moms, and missing out

The hardest thing about being a working stepmom isn't the kids. It's knowing that my time with them is short -- even shorter than it is with the kids I gave birth to. Which makes the whole working-parent gig that much more difficult, as I pointed out at The 36-Hour Day recently.

I just got home from the airport. My three big kids are winging their way back to their mom and stepdad as I type this, and my husband and I have just tucked two heartbroken little kids into their beds. My husband is venting in the garage, working on one of his many car-related projects. I'm throwing myself into my work. The only things that makes this bearable is the fact that I know they had a fun summer and I know how excited they are to see their mom and stepdad again. The fact that there are people who love them dearly on both sides of this flight, people who have missed them the way we miss them now.

This stepmothering thing... you get used to it. You learn how to manage and juggle. But it never really gets easier. At least, it hasn't for me, even nearly 10 years into it.

It's hard not to resent the hours I spend at the office. The hours more I spend typing away after they're in bed I can deal with, because the only thing I'm missing out on then is sleep. I have to work; it puts food on the table and a roof over our heads and pays for karate and horseback riding and the million other tiny necessities you want to provide for your kids, whether or not you're the one who birthed them.

But at the end of my life, I'm not going to wish I had put in a few hundred more hours of overtime. I'm going to wish I had snuck out of work early to watch our oldest boy dance the "Cotton Eyed Joe" for the umpteenth time, or that I helped our oldest create a prom dress out of garbage bags and pink ribbon for dress-up day at her camp counselor job, or that I managed to get to our preteen girl's karate graduation ceremony to see her get her next belt in person instead of on video.

So I did. And I'm glad. If my work suffered, it's because our kids didn't, and that's a choice I'll make every time. I'm pretty sure, though, that work didn't notice that the circles under my eyes were a bit more pronounced, or that I was consuming even more caffeine than usual, or that I finished a project or two by 5 a.m. instead of 5 p.m. But the kids noticed that I was there for them, I think, and that makes everything else worth it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Our time with our kids is short. Much shorter than it seems when we're right in the thick of it, hip-deep in diapers and Dora the Explorer and daycare.

But my time with my stepkids is even shorter. And I never feel that more acutely than when they leave and I realize that an entire summer -- with the stress and scheduling and juggling and clashes between siblings, big and little -- has flown by in an instant, and I'm left with a houseful of clutter that I'm reluctant to clean up, because I wish they were still here.

Working stepmoms, can you relate? How do you cope with your juggle?

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