My son came home from his father’s house yesterday and told me his dad’s girlfriend is having a baby. This is not bad news. My son is nearly seven and spends half his time with each parent. My ex and his girlfriend have been together since before my son can remember. They have been engaged for three years and haven't actually gotten married (a familiar situation), but they seem to have a solid relationship and provide a loving environment for our son.
So why am I feeling so angry?
Well, we have a carefully orchestrated custody schedule that works beautifully with my extraordinarily complex life. I know well what happens when a baby arrives, especially with a first-time mother. How will this effect the way we've been organizing our lives and the fulfillment of everyone’s needs? And more to the point, how will these changes effect my son emotionally? What will my role be in supporting him through the changes of a household I am not even remotely a part of?
Why am I angry? Because my world is changing due to circumstances beyond my control. That’s why. At such times, here’s how to calm down and arrive at a place of acceptance:
1. Revisit and resolve old stories.
Anger is often old stuff resurfacing—feelings which have nothing to do with the current situation. To pretend they do does a disservice, to the people involved and to the healing of old wounds. For instance, I am still hurt by my ex’s reaction to the news of my own pregnancy, and his lack of participation in the entire process of carrying and birthing our son. I thought I had worked through my own feelings of rejection and abandonment. Clearly there is more healing to do.
2. Play out the worst-case scenario.
What’s the worst that can happen? No, really. What is the very worst-case scenario? This is a coaching tool. I will often have clients indulge their wildest imagination in an effort to name their fears. We take it all the way to loss-of-life, if necessary, just to see how absurd and unlikely most of there fears are. In the process, we are able to distinguish the very few fears that are actually useful and informative. In my case, I am dealing with fear that my son will want to spend most of his time at his dad’s house with his new sibling.
3. Proactively counterbalance fears. Take reasonable and resonant action to prevent fears from manifesting.
For instance, by focusing on being the best mom I can be, and providing the healthiest home environment I know how, I can counterbalance the fear of my son choosing his dad’s house over mine. That may still happen, but it won’t be because I have fallen short as a mom. It is reasonable to bring awareness to my parenting in the time leading up to the introduction of my son’s sibling so that if he expresses the desire to spend more time at his dad’s house, I will be able to hear that request with equanimity and not load it with my own insecurity.
4. Stay in the moment; don't project.
Stay focused on the present. Deal with hurdles one at a time as they present themselves. Any time we spend worrying about what might potentially occur in the future means we are missing what is actually happening right now.I choose not to think about the logistics and emotional nuances of the baby arriving months from now while I can be enjoying my son’s soccer game today.
5. Choose gratitude.
As always, an attitude of gratitude serves to keep us focused on what is important.For me, that means being grateful that my son is a healthy, well-adjusted kid who is excited for the addition of a sibling to one of his two loving households.
P.S. So my ex happened to call me today to share a cute story about our son. I told him that I knew about the baby. As I congratulated him, I was relieved to notice that I felt a distinct absence of anger. I’m not sure if the awe and wonder of a new life eclipsed the mundane struggle of my human existence, or if the anxiety I sensed as he said, “Thank you,” made me realize I wasn’t the only one feeling vulnerable.