I love our life. I love gathering noisily around our dinner table and piling on our couch shouting at the television and running around town together. This is where I am meant to be and I want to be present and enjoy each moment for the gift that it is.
Sometimes all of this becomes much too much. Sometimes I’m left wondering how I ever believed that tall blue-eyed guy who told me six kids would be easy-peasy. Sometimes I think back to our early dreamy days and am shocked at how far my reality is from my initial expectations.
This blended family coparenting life is hard.
It took me a long time to be able to even say that out loud. I used to think if something was hard it was also bad. I worried if I admitted this stepfamily life was hard I was somehow labeling it as less than or wrong.
I don’t believe that anymore. Lots of things are both hard and good, like learning how to water ski or going back to school or raising a teenager. Coparenting after divorce and blending a family is hard and good. Knowing that doesn’t make the hard times any easier, though.
Last weekend the kids fought like cats and dogs, teenage hormones ran wild and our air conditioner went out on the very day temperatures soared. Gabe and I had been two ships passing in the night for days and the expensive brand new hot water heater sprang a leak. I snapped at Caden and began to spin.
The stepfamily spiral is real.
The stepfamily spiral starts when I forget that hard doesn’t mean bad. I focus on our challenges rather than our successes. I think about what “should” be happening rather than what is happening. I get strung out and exhausted and worry we’re doing this wrong. The spiral feels dark and lonely and overwhelming. Hope gets slippery and hard to find in the darkness, and I spiral deeper and deeper.
After what feels like more than my fair share of rides on the stepfamily spiral, I’ve learned three things that slow my roll. Here’s what I did last weekend that helped me survive.
I asked for help
I felt myself spiraling and told Gabe I needed to step back for a bit. I asked for the space I needed. We’d planned to spend Sunday all together and I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the logistics and planning required, and I told him the truth. I asked him to lead with his kids and I’d lead with mine. We found some time for all of us to be together and some time for us to spend in smaller groups.
There was a time I wouldn’t have asked for this. I would have pushed myself to spend every minute we could together as a family, even if it didn’t feel fun or comfortable. I would have worried about hurting Gabe’s feelings or letting him down. I’ve learned from experience that when I push on after I feel the spiral start, things just get worse. Asking for what I need, even if I am a little uncomfortable, prevents a meltdown later.
I focused my attention elsewhere
Distraction works with toddlers and tantrums and works for me. I used the time and space Gabe gave me to focus on things entirely unrelated to our complicated stepfamily dynamics.
I worked outside, tidying the chicken coop and checking on the cabbage Lottie and I are growing. I read a book on our porch. I taught Simon how to make guacamole. Focusing on simple things I enjoy helps remind me that our life is bigger and broader than the current moment’s drama.
I remembered I am not alone
I called a fellow blended family mom and we went for a walk around the lake. I chatted with other divorced moms in an online forum. My friends acknowledged what I was feeling and reminded me it was okay to be frustrated. They’d been there too. They shared their insight and made me laugh and gently suggested things might look different when we’d all cooled off. My support system lightened my load.
Sunday night found the eight of us snuggled on the couch shouting at the television. The space we’d granted each other allowed us to enjoy coming back together. The time I spent in the garden and with Simon grounded me in how rich and deep this life is, and filled me with gratitude. Reaching out reminded me I am part of a large tribe.
This recipe of asking for help, focusing my attention on the positive and relying on my support network is one I turn to again and again when I find myself spiraling down into a dark place. It stops the spin and centers me every time.
What do you do to stop the stepfamily spiral?