For most of us, stepmothers and mothers alike, knowing what is coming is one of the ways we cope with our lives. We grew up learning to anticipate others needs, we jump up and get something for the company or the family when others are just as capable of playing the role of host. We schedule, plan, problem-solve, organize, and evaluate, all in the name of efficiency and being a good woman.
And, we had better look pretty damned good while we’re doing all that too, as Bette Midler says. Recently saw this video and found it coincided with my worries about young women and the messages about being female in our country.
But, back to the coping and doing it all . . . said stepmother sails along making sure she’s got all the just-right foods for kids lunches, makes herself available for carpool and after-school homework sessions. She plans and schedules meetings and work around the stepfamily and extended stepfamily she married when she married the man.
And, it all comes crashing down when things go sideways or the unknown and unthinkable happens. For most of it, it happens in the form of, “Oh, did you hear there’s a play tonight at 7pm?” Well, no, I didn’t hear there was a play. No, I didn’t hear there was a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and Johnny needs a ride. Nope, didn’t know we needed 3 freshly ironed white shirts for that new after-school job.
Is that you? Do those types of unknowns send you into a tailspin? Are you instantly evaluating yourself and your adequacy when the last-minute big stuff gets thrown into the mix? Do you somehow think you should have known?
The not-knowing can be a trigger for the tailspin, for the anxiety reaction, for the measuring and evaluating every single thing about ourselves. The not-knowing is enough to puncture the toughest resilience and bring us to our most vulnerable. Brené Brown, PhD, says it’s because of our shame. I know I learned that to anticipate every little thing that was about to happen gave me a sense of control, as though I had the power to change another person’s behavior. I spent decades after I moved away from my growing-up family trying to learn to let go of this need to know, to anticipate, to prevent, or to make happen in a certain way.
How do we get used to the not-knowing and grow able to roll on through it without damage to ourselves? How do we get to the place where our reaction isn’t an evaluation of our lacking, but rather simply a realistic assessment of how possible it is to take care of the unknown problem at the last minute? Just because I can see it, am I therefore destined to solve it. Just because I can, should I? Am I taking away a learning opportunity or a natural consequence when I stop shepherding or reminding someone of the deadlines or making suggestions that guide them to follow through. Yes, they might miss an opportunity, and, they might learn that they need to plan ahead. Is that my job to do the planning for them?
In order to self-sooth through this, I think you have to ask who owns the problem. Is it yours?
Then, you have to decide what is yours to do about it. If the answer is nothing, then do that. Nothing. Go find a place to be alone and scan your posture and your feelings and your thoughts and see if you can bring them all back into a place of ease and calm. You may need to make several passes at is, but stick with it. Walk right on by the unfolded mound of clothes as though it doesn’t belong to you. It doesn’t, it isn’t yours and you decided to not take it on.
Finally, practice (over and over and over and over) resisting the urge to take on the responsibility when the sense of urgency about the consequences increases. The urge to step in will grow and grow and grow and you’ll be dying because it would be so simple for you to solve the problem. At this point, it might be useful to tell yourself, most women do too much, most women do too much, (and again) most women do too much. And then say to yourself, even if it was my own kid, I’d want them to be able to do it for themselves. And again, even if it was my own kid, I’d want them to be able to do it for themselves. And keep repeating and walking away and repeating and scanning your ease. If all else fails, keep repeating!
It’s not easy, this letting go of the impulse to jump in and help. It’s not easy to let go of anticipating what others want and need. It’s definitely not easy to learn how to let go of the wanting to know. I still want to know. I have to work with this every single day of my life. It’s worth it, however, to let it go. Life gets easier, less pressured, less caustic, and I spend far less time evaluating my performance. I get to spend my time living . . . I love that part!