So you’ve navigated the vast majority of your childbearing years without producing progeny, whether through conscious choice, challenging circumstances or delightful distraction. You imagined that the frequency of your visits to Toys R Us was going to be limited to procuring birthday and festive gifts for the offspring of your fertile friends. You thought you would never see the day where you tried to hide vegetables in Spaghetti Bolognese or that you’d ever cast a glance at the kids menu at your local for any reason than trying to get a cheap, miniature Parma on one of your hungover days. Then, through the wizardry of online dating, an investment of time and a fair amount of ‘I’ve got this’ bravado, you’ve become a step-parent. Statistically, this is about as likely as you lining up at the start of a marathon *
And that’s not the only similarity. Here are a few reasons why bearing the badge of childless step-parent is akin to waltzing around town boasting a New York Marathon medal.
It’s not all Lattes and Lululemon.
Any first time marathoner will rush to the conclusion that the training plan warrants an uplift in their investment in quality active wear. The volume of training, the need to layer up in winter months and the subsequent strain on the laundry schedule will demand a substantial Lycra injection into the wardrobe. For a new step-mother who is entrusted to their first solo school pickup, everything they have ever learned from mummy bloggers and Instagram will suggest that you should turn up as if you’ve just stepped out of an Ashtanga yoga class. Like anything that can be solved with cash, this is not going to be the most challenging part of acquiring a parenting life-skill.
The tricky bit? Every one of those kids looks the same. School uniform polo, black shorts, sun-smart hat. All of them. Not having that parental knowing that allows you to recognise the distinctive gait of their run, not having the attention to detail to know that their school backpack had a miniature Pokemon hanging off it, means you have zero ability to distinguish the child you are there to pick up from their myriad of school mates. You are also, no doubt, standing in the WRONG SPOT, in a place where their biological parents would NEVER hang out whilst waiting for them.
If you are actually united with them it’s a fortunate coincidence of epic proportions.
If you are picking them up from after-school care, you are going to have to produce three forms of identification and a coherent explanation of your relationship to one of their actual parents in order for the child to be released into your custody.
There’s plenty of advice, but no blueprint for YOU
Make no mistake, whether you are running your first marathon or acquiring a stepchild, there is no shortage of advice. Blogs, books and well-meaning enthusiasts in either field will spout advice faster than you can consume it. Whether it’s carb-loading or toilet training, countless others have done it before and are determined to tell you how it is done.
But until you personally feel those stirrings of gastro-intestinal distress that come from an ill-advised mid-race trial of a new brand of electrolyte or the disturbing knowledge that it’s the end of an era of sleeping blissfully naked given the unpredictable appearance of a nightmare-challenged eight year old, you can’t simply ingest the theoreticals of this.
You just need to give it a crack. On your own.
You WILL go hard too early, and you WILL hit the wall
Just like your early-relationship attention to personal grooming and layered fragrances, you will approach both meeting the child and crossing the halfway mark of a marathon with a level of effort and enthusiasm which is, frankly, unsustainable.
You will run the first 25km at a pace that every molecular-level understanding of your run-prep will scream is completely unreasonable. You will meet your future stepchild with a level of enthusiasm that would power 3 seasons of a hit kids show, you’ll be bearing an armful of high-calorie snacks and you will attempt previously-scorned feats like bowling, despite every essence of your being rejecting THOSE SHOES.
With every high, there is a low. You simply cannot sustain a pace that is 45 seconds faster than your long run training pace when you belt out your first marathon. (unless you are 23 years old, in which case you are unlikely to be reading this blog)
Equally, you will not be able to operate consistently at the level of insane enthusiasm those entertainers who are paid to rock up to kiddies parties do if you have any kind of responsibility to a full time day job.
In either case you will hit a wall. It’s either a ‘screaming calf-cramp, limp a kilometre’ wall or a ‘hide-in-the-pokies-area-for-a-breather-while-the-kid-eats-a-parma’ type wall.
Accept it. It will happen.
Notwithstanding all the challenges, anyone who gets through a marathon (without ending up in the care of St John’s Ambulance) or a period as a step-parent (without ending up in the care of a prescription narcotic) will tell you this…
It’s worth it.
*No statistical similarity between the two events. Self-serving stat concocted to serve blogging purposes only.