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I Couldn’t Set Boundaries Between Work and Life. Then, I Became a Stepmom

Starting a family later in life meant learning that I didn’t have to say “I’m sorry” for missing work.

My mother told all her friends (repeatedly) that I wasn’t married when I turned 30 because of my career ambitions—but that wasn’t true. I just hadn’t met anyone who could stimulate me like my career in entertainment public relations could.

That all changed right after my 36th birthday. A quick trip to my hometown of Atlanta with a pitstop at my best friend Stephanie’s house became an unexpected interrogation. She wanted to know why I was letting my career impact my love life. (At this point I was running a department for one of the country’s largest PR firms.) Instead of letting me respond, Stephanie grabbed my phone, opened Tinder and madly swiped until she confidently announced, “This guy? He’s your future husband!” I laughed at her wishful thinking that I would date outside of my homebase of New York City—but I was drawn to the handsome face and warm smile in the photo.

A year after that pivotal Tinder swipe, Jason (the owner of that handsome face) and I were married. I quickly fell in love with him first—and then madly in love with his two kids from a previous marriage. Before I knew it, I was packing up my comfortable life in New York City for uncharted territory—family life in the Atlanta suburbs. I feared my clients, colleagues, bosses and even my industry would perceive me as “out of the game” for moving away and becoming a stepmom. I presented my company’s CFO with a plan to open an Atlanta office, yet continue building my New York and Los Angeles teams via frequent travel. He agreed, though his response was suspect. “I’m not worried. You’re just becoming a stepmom. It’s not like you have the kids all the time, so let’s see how this goes.”

“Just” a stepmom? There’s no such thing as “just” when it comes to any kind of parenting. No matter how you come to raise kids, they’re counting on you to keep them alive and happy. (No easy feat I’ve learned.) Adding “stepmom” and therefore “working mom” to the many hats I already wore was a big leap outside my comfort zone and a huge shift, since my career previously held my undivided attention. Leaping into life as stepmom meant suddenly missing client events for sporting events, cutting meetings short for dance recitals and pushing deadlines back when my husband was unreachable and one of the kids got sick at school.

It’s also a big misconception that stepparenting is a part-time gig. The days my stepkids are with their mom does not mean a “day off” for me. Instead, I plan for their return, shop for clothes and food and deeply miss them. I didn’t get a maternity leave to acclimate to the life change of becoming a stepmom, but I still needed my team, clients and managers to respect my new schedule and shift in priorities. That was tough for them to understand.

Adjusting to my new life as a full-time, working stepmom meant many days where I felt I was failing—at everything. My only response was a barrage of “I’m sorrys.” So when my boss implied that perhaps I was starting to “lose my edge” since entering stepmotherhood, I knew something had to change. Instead? I apologized profusely, even though I had no idea what I was apologizing for. I knew, however, that these apologies felt incredibly wrong every time I uttered one.

So I stopped.

I stopped apologizing for leaving New York City or stepping out early to attend a school play. I reminded myself that at my core, I was still a rockstar employee. Being a parent didn’t change that. Today, I no longer work for that CFO and my new company is proud to employ moms. In fact, I found out I was pregnant during my first four months of working there. I was worried to go on maternity leave so soon, but my new boss was so supportive, sharing some words to live by: “You’ll never regret showing up for your kid. You can always take that client call afterwards.”

But even though I want to show up for all my kids and embrace the family I waited so long to have—I don’t apologize to them either. I gush with pride over my latest projects at the dinner table and regale them with funny stories from my latest business trips during bedtime. I want my kids to know that making sacrifices and shifting priorities is never something to feel “sorry” about. I think it’s working. Just the other night, my stepdaughter peered over my shoulder while I typed furiously on my laptop and said, “It’s so cool to love your job. I want to be like that when I grow up!”

Written by Maggie Gallant Isenberg for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Working Mother