Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Motherhood Diaries: Cassie Roma on Blended Families And Why Motherhood Shouldn’t Equal Martyrdom

Welcome to our new series, The Motherhood Diaries – a safe space for you to share your experiences, advice, hopes and heartbreaks. We’re looking at everything from fertilitytrying to conceivepregnancythe fourth trimester, newborns, toddlers, children’s mental health and teenagers and everything in between! Today, we talk to Cassie Roma about being part of a happy blended family.

Cassie Roma is an entrepreneur and business mentor, who stars on the latest series of TVNZ 2’s Celebrity Treasure Island, which starts next week. She talks to Capsule about being part of a happily blended family and why motherhood shouldn’t equal martyrdom.

“I’m originally from Southern California but I’ve been in New Zealand for almost 20 years now and, like so many imports are, I came here because of a man. On my 21st birthday, I went on a Contiki tour with my cousin Ashlee and met the tour guide, Tex, who was from New Zealand. And, like every cliché, while I originally didn’t get along swimmingly with Tour Guide Tex… I ended up falling in love with him in time. So cliché!

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that didn’t want children until I was 40 years old. I wanted a career and a steady income first, but that was fast-tracked because Tex was 16 years older than me, so at 24 I had my lovely girl, Chelsea.

We moved to New Zealand full-time when Chelsea was six months old, because my ex’s mother was sick and wasn’t expected to live very long. She ended up living four years, so by the time she passed away we were deep in New Zealand culture. I stayed on because this American accent, my voracious curiosity, and maybe the slight swagger inherent in being an expat meant that my career in digital and social media started to take off. I knew I was lucky having a career that I got to write myself – so we stayed.

‘Tex was fundamentally a fantastic husband – and he’s an even better ex-husband.’

I became the bread-winner in our house quite quickly and Tex took on a lot of the onus of spending time with Chelsea when it came to doing a lot of the household jobs. He worked full-time, but was a very involved dad and husband. I would drop her off in the morning, he would pick her up in the afternoon, do dinner, do the washing up. I have no complaints – he was fundamentally a fantastic husband – and he’s an even better ex-husband.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Cassie’s dad Phil. Chelsea, Cassie, Carly and Cassie’s mum, Jennifer

When Chelsea was nine, Tex and I wanted different things out of life. It was a really sad time – any relationship when you’ve spent 15 years loving somebody, it’s a hard thing to visualise a new normal. We had to navigate a lot of sadness together over this time. When Tex and I split, I was working at Air New Zealand and that’s where I met my now-wife, Carly. She met Chelsea about six weeks after we started dating and from day one, they’ve been the bestest of friends.

In fact, I should say right here and now that Carly has been a balanced, loving, kind, patient & giving parent. Other than my own mother, she’s taught me more about being a good mum than anyone else on this earth. There’s something wildly beautiful about a new person coming into a family and making the family FINALLY make sense – and that’s Carly. Chelsea adores her and so do I.

‘There’s something wildly beautiful about a new person coming into a family and making the family FINALLY make sense – and that’s Carly’

Carly always knew she was gay, she had relationships with women and she always wanted children, but she never had them, so Chelsea was a blessing in Carly’s life as well as mine. I’ve tiptoed the line of sexuality my entire life, so it wasn’t weird for me to go from a heteronormative relationship to a homosexual one – but everything sure shifted monumentally at this time.

At the same time I met Carly, my ex met his new partner Carla and we’re all a big ‘ol modern family now. Chelsea is with Carly and I most of the time – I think being with her Mommas makes sense for any 16-year-old girl – and we absolutely love the energy and joy Chelsea adds to our lives. She’s a big fan of movies, music, and theatre – so we’re spending time now diving into Elvis Presley’s backlog of movies and live shows. What a treat!

When it comes to communicating, Tex and I are much better communicators since our marriage ended. When you’re two adults and you have a child and decide to split, you have to do the hardest of hard work outside of a marriage that you never did within it. That’s tough, but worthwhile.

We still text on our anniversary – this year was 20 years since we got together. It’s no small feat – to be able to laugh together, share a beer and be proud of our child together, that’s something that comes with little proof points, every freaking day, even when it’s hard.

This kind of relationship was modelled for me by my parents – my mum and dad were both married before they got married to each other, when they were 32 (that was considered old, way back in the ‘80s!) I never knew much about my dad’s ex-wife, but he’s never said a bad word about her.

My mum got married when she was 19 – she and her first husband Tim were married for 10 years, through his tours of duty to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. After they split, Tim was always a part of my life. When my daughter was born, Tim was one of the first people to come and visit.

‘I grew up thinking it was normal for people to still be nice to each other after a romance ended.’

I grew up thinking it was normal for people to still be nice to each other after a romance ended. What was strange for me was seeing adults stay in unhappy relationships. You don’t have to stay if something doesn’t feed you – but you also don’t have to burn that bridge.

Co-parenting hasn’t been perfect – a lot of the time, as a mum, I wanted to fix things, especially when it comes to my kid. But it’s taking a deep breath and going, ‘We were all raised in different homes, we all have different traumas and experiences, and even when we’re pissed off and in our own feelings, it’s so important to take that breath, make a tea and go ‘what is that person feeling? What is their stress?’

It’s also teaching kids that adults fuck up – we are also trying to navigate the world through the lens that we were given by adults that were also messed up. A lot of the time, the older generation didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about the emotions they were feeling.

It’s not hard to be kind to others and I try and teach my daughter to that, as an adult it’s just as important for me to listen to her. If she has a bad day or is emotional or is learning things as a teenager, it’s not my job to yell back or to have the last word. I’m the most fallible human you will find but also, I’m always thinking: how did my parents react that didn’t help, and how do I change that?

In motherhood, we’re told ‘once you become a mum, that’s it – you don’t have a life anymore.’ And I’m here to say that’s a big steaming pile of bullshit. Especially now that I can see that my daughter has her own dreams, at age 16. All of the guilt I felt in building my career, going away, chasing my dreams… well, now I’ve dropped that guilt.

The boundaries that you set around your time and happiness are so important because they teach your boys and your girls that mothers are not martyrs. We’re trying our best – and we’re people too, so it’s super important to take time for yourself.”

Celebrity Treasure Island starts at 7.30pm on TVNZ and TVNZ+ on Monday September 5

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