My family went to dinner the other night to celebrate a birthday. It was a small gathering, only two adults and one kid in attendance. Usually I feel pressure when we have both adults and all three kids together. The vying and jockeying for the dad-attention becomes the canvas upon which all else rests. So, the other night I was expecting something more casual, a peaceful time of sharing a meal and reflecting.
I forgot that it’s summer and summer jobs have politics and when kids don’t see parents every day there’s a lot to tell. In the first nano seconds of being together, I could feel in myself a big wall go up and I assumed it was because of the usual suspects: he didn’t properly say hello (he did), I’m feeling protective of my husband, and so on.
It was very hard to settle during the meal, but I kept at it and kept at it. I breathed and waited and took my time eating. I let the jostling and bigness and noise and jarring go sliding by me and out into the nearly-empty restaurant on that hot summer day.
It took me most of the way through the meal and halfway through the drive to gelato, when it occurred to me. I was picking up on the anxiety of the others and it wasn’t my own that I was feeling. A wave of relief washed over me and I could breathe again and laugh and smile and interact with freedom and ease. My posture lightened and I could join in easier, whether verbally or simply in gesture, and we ended the meal not too much worse for the wear.
But, that’s what got me thinking, how many times does a stepmother pick up on anxiety that isn’t her own? How many times does she misread the signals from her own internal state as something wrong when in fact there isn’t anything wrong? It isn’t the kid’s obligation to arrive at the dad’s house free from worry or anxiety. It isn’t the kids’ job to put aside the conflicts between the houses, those big issues must be dealt with at the adult level and modeled for the child. Which means that if the kid comes over, there will be a wave of emotion coming into the room and the house with him, regardless of the underlying cause. And, if the kid is communicating, for sure it’s not good to shut that down. Far better to have the chatter and processing be out loud and in the open. That is a kid who will be okay.
You may recall the Self-Soothing Series from last summer. The making of that series into a book is still underway, in amongst the pages of life that often get away from me. And now, I realize there is a companion series for me to write, The Anxiety Series. This is a big topic and relevant to my students as well as the stepmother blog, therefore I’ll blog over on the other site and post links to A Healthy Stepmother.
I’m excited to share the first post. Anxiety Doubled, is up for reading and reflecting.