First off, I feel that I need to tell you that I advised my four-year-old she was going to get worms if she doesn’t wash her hands well enough after using the bathroom.
I clearly did not think that through, because she is terrified of bugs and, therefore, it backfired on me big time. She now pees with her eyes shut and won’t look at her underpants in case worms are present.
She also nearly removes an entire layer of skin when she washes her hands.
I can’t say it enough: Mother of the Year over here!
I was recently talking with a new step-mom who is struggling and whom was also under the (very false) impression that I have somehow handled my step-parenting role in a very zen-like manner.
No. Nope. Noooooo way, ma’am!
Although my situation is very low-conflict and everyone gets along perhaps better than many co-parenting families, we are nowhere near perfect. None of us. Especially me.
But as I listened to her, I realized that she was struggling most with the one thing that can never be conquered: control.
When step-moms write to me, the most I usually do is listen and empathize. Every situation is so different and what works for one family may not necessarily work for another. But this mama’s struggle made me think of my own. Especially when I was a new step-mom. And it also made me think of how I have learned to adjust in my own life – and not necessarily just with regard to step-parenting.
You learn as you go, right? And I’m still learning. But in the last year or so, I have definitely made strides to control what I can and relinquish what I cannot. A big part of that lesson was learning to let go of things I thought were important, but were only doing me (and my mental health) a huge disservice.
Here are the top three things that I have stopped trying to control and have made my life (and the lives around me) dramatically better:
What others think of me / my children / my marriage / my life.
This has always been a struggle for me: particularly as a public writer and a step-parent.
Some people think that because I write a blog, I must be a generally secure person. And in some areas, I am. But I am also extremely vulnerable in other areas. You have to have a tough skin to write publicly in any capacity. You will never have 100% of readers/followers on your side. Many times, you won’t even have half. Sadly, there will always be people out there who read your words purely to pick apart and criticize you. Even sadder, these readers are often people you know in real life! Every writer/blogger out there knows and experiences this. It comes with the territory. It has been difficult to deal with at times, but the benefits have far outweighed the sting of judging. It is impossible for me to control what each and every person who reads this blog thinks of me or how they interpret my words, and so it is pointless to even attempt it.
As a new step-mom, I would spend endless hours worrying about how I was perceived by so many people, including my own step-child! I would overthink the tiniest of things I may have said that could be misconstrued and/or twisted. It was maddening knowing I had no control over how situations were conveyed and/or interpreted and also what other people assumed of me and/or my marriage.
Being a second wife and a step-mom comes with a truckload of preconceived notions. My husband and I have such a deep love and respect for each other that I have always hated the idea of our marriage being dissected by others because I am the “new” wife. I became incensed at the idea that some may assume I was a sort of consolation prize because I came second. My husband could tell me fifty different ways that I was the love of his life and, for some ridiculous reason, I’d still get hung up on what others thought.
And then one day I realized that I could spend the rest of my life chasing down that perception (imagined or not) or I could listen to this man right in front of me and live happily in our truth.
I still get a little startled when I am occasionally awkwardly greeted at functions by others. After ten years, I sometimes forget the dynamic of our family and what that may look like to other people. Ooh, the step-mom. I wonder what the story is there. Is that what they are thinking?
Or is that what I think they are thinking?
Either way, it is out of my control and it no longer matters.
My fellow anxiety-sufferers will understand this more than others. I have driven myself nearly insane trying to control the unknown. I convinced myself that if I were proactive in every aspect of life, I could control the future. Or, at least, my reaction to the future. I thought if I reminded myself of every possible terrible outcome that could happen, I would somehow be bracing myself for less pain later.
I was making myself and, very likely, those around me miserable. I have written before about how our miscarriages, in particular, trained my brain to think that I could count on nothing. To be optimistic would only lead to more hurt later. That train of thought brought on an endless cycle of panic and anxiety. The girl who was once Queen of Half Full was now the Countess of Bone Dry Empty. All optimism was considered trickery, and so I spent half a decade terrified of what was to come next. And I tried to prepare and control my response to whatever that was.
It was exhausting.
Exercise has helped tremendously with my anxiety and has somehow allowed my mind to make room for better thoughts. The space that was once filled with doomsday projections has now filled with ideas and plans and living. I am not saying that I am now cured from all anxiety, but I have relinquished the obsession of trying to control the unknown. And instead, I enjoy the now.
I think lots of things in life are perfect.
Reese’s Peanut Butter eggs at Easter time. Clean sheets and new pajamas. The penultimate episode of Season 6 on Game of Thrones.
I am none of those things. Neither are you.
I am not the perfect wife. I am not the perfect friend, sister, daughter. I am not the perfect mom (hello! worms!) or step-mom. Not even close. Not by a long shot.
Recently, I became a bit derailed on my YoYo’s Guide to Getting Fit. In fact, I had a major binge session over Easter which really did a number on me. I realized that eating disorders don’t go away overnight (or over years) and this is something I will always struggle with on some level. However, the old me would have screamed internally, “Well, that’s that! Might as well throw in the towel!” Yet, the current me stopped myself. I had a few days of self-loathing (and eating more) and then I found myself writing in my journal:
What is failure? Permanent.
Have you given up? No.
Then: You have not failed.
Why do we think we need a perfect record to keep going? That is not how life works!
Wait, let me make that as clear as possible and say it again:
YOU DO NOT NEED A PERFECT RECORD TO KEEP GOING.
Not in your diet. And not in your life.
What if we all gave up on ourselves after our darkest moments? What if we chalked ourselves off as damaged and broken and unrepairable? How much life would we have missed?
A perfect track record doesn’t make you perfect. Moving on and forward and learning from each moment makes you real. And, hopefully, eventually happy.
Derailment, mistakes, regret. They do not define who you are in this moment. You decide who you are in this moment.
Wow, that turned very motivational. Sorry.
So, anyway, control. Yeah, it’s a hell of a thing. Don’t get me wrong. Having control over some things is good (like, for instance, your bladder).
But when the need for control hinders your own happiness, well… it might just be time to chuck it.