This past Sunday afternoon, we hosted a little gathering of friends and their kids to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday. That morning, the five of us were in the house (me, hubs, our little one, and my stepkids) and everyone was under my feet. Well, that’s what it felt like. Finally, I asked/told my husband to take everyone out for some fresh air and leave me to clean and prep in peace. Immediately, the anxiety that had been building inside me waned, and I happily proceeded to clean the toilet. Because yes, sometimes I would rather clean the toilet than go for a walk if it means I get a few minutes to myself. Call me crazy, but that’s me.
Let me step back a little. This story doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the result of two realizations…
1. I accept my mental health challenges and needs.
I live with anxiety and depression and have been on medication for many years. For a long time, I tried to mask the ways my anxiety manifested itself. For example, when the house is a mess, I feel extremely anxious and uncomfortable. I equated this to being a “nag” or “bossy” and hated the way I felt and how I looked to others – mostly my family. It took me a long time to accept that these feelings are a part of who I am, a part of the anxiety I live with every day and that it didn’t make me a bad person. I realized the more I fought against those feelings, the stronger they became. When I accepted anxiety as part of me, I no longer had to fight, to push back, to swallow my own reality.
2. I prioritize self-care.
Women, moms, stepmoms… we are notoriously bad at putting ourselves first. And no matter how many times you hear “you can’t pour from an empty vessel” if you don’t actually put that into practice, burnout can quickly follow. Especially in my role as a stepmom, I often felt that when the kids were with us, I had to be present for every activity, every movie, every meal. But you know what? It is actually really important for your partner to have alone time with his kids – to create memories, maintain their bond, and work on their own relationships. At the same, it is crucial for you to take time for YOU. Now, even if the kids are with us, I no longer feel guilty if I meet a friend, go shopping… or kick everyone out of the house, so I can clean the toilet. At the end of the day, I am a happier stepmom and mom, a better wife, and a less anxious person, when I take care of myself.
When my husband and the kids came back from their walk, all rosy cheeks and laughter, I had cleaned the house, prepared the party snacks, and welcomed them home with a smile. That little bit of time to myself was all I needed to recharge, get the house looking the way I wanted it, and quiet those anxious feelings. It is the restorative power of “me time”.
Until you throw a toddler birthday party… oh, the mess…
Hugs stepmama, you’ve got this.
Erin Careless is the founder and owner of Steplife – Stepmom Coaching and Support where she works one-on-one and in group settings to support blended families. She is a contributing author to Stepparent Magazine and has been published in The Divorce Magazine and Huffington Post. She is a wife, stepmom of two, and mother of one baby girl. See her blog at http://blog.steplife.ca.