When I interviewed Dr. Paul Rosch, the president of the American Institute of Stress, he told me that when you don’t feel like you have control, you feel stress. This comes as no surprise to stepmothers everywhere. But I’ve noticed in my own life and in talking to stepmoms that we often react to this lack of control in our home lives by becoming tense and controlling over things that the research on stepfamilies tells us often result in backfiring. (Manners, cleanliness, rules, grades, food, schedules, ex-wives, etc.)
I reacted to the stress of moving in with three children and their dad. Boy did I ever. But after a while, we found our equilibrium. I found little things I could control that made me feel more involved in the family. And I worked hard to develop a really strong marriage so I felt safe enough to let go of some control. Most days this works. Some days it doesn’t and I continue to struggle with the things I have no say over.
When I had my daughter, the lack of control that is inherent in getting pregnant, giving birth, and raising a child brought me to my knees in a way that stepmothering didn’t. I had a say about what I put in my mouth while I was pregnant so my child got all the nutrients she needed. But I didn’t have a say in how or whether she grew in the dark of my tummy. I have a say in how this girl is raised like I have never had with my stepchildren, but she can still choke on an apple and all of my carefully laid plans are thrown out the window as I work to help her get the food out of her throat. I have a say in what school she goes to, what books she reads, and her access to the Internet, but she can still fall and break an arm.
This is what I’ve been meditating on lately. We need to feel control over our lives and our environments. I agree. And at the same time, life will have its way with us no matter how we plan or clean or prepare healthy foods for our families.
It comes down to the same things it has always come down to: How do we feel safe enough to let go of control just for the sake of having something to control? How do we make peace with the fact that, really, we don’t have control over the big things in life? The ones that matter more than anything else?