1. REDEFINE "NORMAL"
"The other day I told my parents, 'You guys set the bar so high, you've ruined everything!'" says Crow, laughing. Crow grew up in Kennett, Missouri, the youngest daughter of Wendell, a lawyer, and Bernice, a piano teacher, who have been married for 56 years. Crow used to crave that "normal" life. "I wanted to get married, have kids -- the whole thing," she says. She was engaged to Tour de France winner and fellow cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, though they famously split in early 2006. But after her illness she had a revelation. "I thought, it's not normal for someone from small-town Missouri to become a world-recognizable recording artist. There hasn't been much in my life that's been normal. So why am I holding up normalcy as a template? Letting go of what I thought my life should look like has been one of the biggest shifts -- and opportunities -- for me."
Now, instead of dating famous alpha males, Crow seeks more low-profile, "empathetic" guys. "I used to be really strong going into the relationship, and then I would make myself really small," she says. "I'd sort of make myself...wallpaper. That happens to a lot of strong women."
She is currently dating a local musician, whose name she declines to give. "You should be everything you are in a relationship: have desires and needs and weaknesses as well as be strong and accomplished. It's nice to be able to share your vulnerability and not scare off the other person." Does she still want to get married someday? "It's just important that my boys grow up in a healthy situation," she says. "If I get married, I want to marry a man who wants to be a father to my kids."
2. PUT YOURSELF FIRST
This is not an easy one for Crow. In the past she stretched herself too thin, giving to friends at the risk of depleting herself. "Sheryl almost never says no," says close pal Kimberly Williams-Paisley (the actress and wife of country singer Brad Paisley). "In terms of going the distance for a friendship, she has raised the bar for all of us."
Forcing herself to tone down that impulse "is one of the reasons I've kept the tattoos around my breasts," Crow says, pointing to her chest. Under her shirt are the marks from her radiation therapy; she could have had them removed but chose not to. The cancer, she says, was her wake-up call to take care of herself. "Sometimes I find myself slipping back into the position of being everyone's caretaker. Then I'll get out of the shower and see the marks. They remind me that I have to be the most important person in my life."
3. LET YOUR KID PEE IN THE BUSHES
In the middle of our talk the nanny comes home, holding a half-asleep Levi in his carrier, while Wyatt careens into the living room. Crow: "Hi! Can I have a hug?" Wyatt: "I don't want to!" Crow: "Ooooh, let me see that face." Wyatt frowns. Crow: "Oh, that's a mean face!" Crow laughs, and then admits to giving her mom the same brush-offs when she was young. "Certain things are not worth the battle," she says. "I expect my kids to toe the line in terms of manners, but with other things -- maybe it's because of what I've been through -- I'm not so flappable anymore." Williams-Paisley is grateful to know a like-minded mom. Her older son, Huck, and Wyatt are good friends. "Sheryl is so laid-back, she doesn't fuss over things," says Williams-Paisley. "Both of our kids like to pee in the bushes, and we don't apologize for that. I saw a sign that said, 'Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.' We both live by that rule."