Yesterday, during that witching hour between dinner and bedtime, I walked out the back door and into our yard. I sat in an old faded plastic lawn chair, stared out into our too-long grass littered with foam arrows and bubble wands and wet sidewalk chalk, and thought about running away.
I thought about what would happen if we weren’t a family of eight. I thought about what my life would be like if I’d never married Gabe. I thought about what might have happened if I’d stayed married to my children’s father.
I played all the hits on my Anxious Questions album.
“How on God’s green earth did I get here?”
“What possessed me to leave my small, tidy life as a single mom to join this circus?”
“Why did we ever think this would get easier?”
“Are the kids okay? Really okay?”
My dark thoughts and nagging questions tumbled in my head like sneakers in a dryer.
The last three months feel like six years. Our six children might as well be a dozen. We’re mired in the messy middle of this blended and coparenting gig and I am low on energy and emotional reserves.
It’s not the first time.
The truth is that this life in progress is so complicated and busy and wonderful and messy that sometimes I love it and loathe it equally. I worry and plan and celebrate and worry some more.
Some days I am sitting next to Gabe at the head of our dining table marveling at the miracle that brought our family together and some days I am hiding in the yard plotting my escape.
Time and experience have taught me six lessons to remember before bringing the suitcase down from the attic.
Don’t take action.
“Do something…fix this.”
That’s always the urge. Because this coparenting blended family life is so often itchy and scratchy and complicated, my first inclination is often to change it. I’m a take charge kind of gal, and if something is wrong, I take action to make it right.
But how might I make our family “right”?
It’s not wrong. We’re not screwing up. By most measures, the kids are thriving and Gabe and I are good partners. It’s just sometimes wildly uncomfortable. I just don’t like it sometimes.
Get curious about negative grumblings.
I’m often tempted to ignore or resist negative thoughts like the ones swirling in my head last night. I talk sternly to myself about positive thinking and present carefully articulate counter-arguments to my grumpy position. I tell myself those feelings aren’t valid, and blame them on lack of sleep or too many carbs.
But I’ve learned suppressing thoughts is futile. Those bad boys pop up like over-analyzed rodents in Whack-a-Mole, stronger each time they emerge.
Today, I am filled with negative, dark chatter. I’ve spent the morning getting curious about it, turning over rocks in my mind to see what lies underneath. What am I really worried about? What is in my control? What’s really bothering me?
I don’t have any answers yet, so I’m still sitting with the gremlins in my head. It’s not particularly comfortable, I’d much rather be hanging with the rainbows and unicorns. But that’s not where I am today. And pretending I’m somewhere I’m not just burns energy I don’t have.
There’s no way around what’s in your head. There is only a way through. And the way through is to get comfortable with how you’re feeling. Sit right down next to the feeling and introduce yourself. Get curious about what you’re really grumbling about. Think carefully about what triggered the sudden urge to buy a one-way bus ticket to anywhere. Own it.
Don’t take thoughts too seriously.
I’ve thought about cutting off all my hair and perming the top. I’ve thought about going to circus college. I’ve thought about vandalizing cars and throwing surprise birthday parties and writing old boyfriends. I haven’t done all of those things.
Wanting to run away and hide in the playhouse for a week or dreaming about your life before all this happened isn’t harmful or wrong.
You don’t have to accept or reject those ideas. You don’t have to do anything with them at all. You can watch thoughts like cars traveling on a highway or clouds in the sky.
I don’t criticize myself for the thoughts I’m having. Thoughts are just thoughts.
Notice your state of mind, and adjust.
Because my default setting seems to be grumbly today, I’m spending time outside and not overloading my schedule. Cleaning the closets and sorting the playroom will happen another day. So will any sticky conversations I have on my to-do list with my children’s father.
Today isn’t a day for hard things.
Dwell in possibility.
Today, I’m not planning to run away. But I briefly allowed for that possibility yesterday in the back yard. The truth is, I may do something differently based on how I am feeling today. Thoughts do often drive action, after all. But I want any action I take to be well-founded and balanced.
I allow all answers to the question of what I want or what might improve our situation to stay on the table today. There’s no wrong answer. Today isn’t a day for eliminating options or limiting possibility, it’s a brainstorming day.
What are the 20, 30, 50 things that would make this feel better? What’s really possible? I remember I’m not trapped and I have choices.
I remember I’m not alone, and this will pass.
It often feels that way. Even Gabe’s experience of our family is vastly different from mine. Most of my friends don’t have blended families. No one else in my family is divorced.
But the truth is, I have a committed and engaged partner. I have a support community that lifts me up. I know I have a plan that puts my train back on track.
Today, I’m working this plan. I’m confident tomorrow will be brighter. Until then, you’ll find me out back.
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