It hit me one day: My anxiety is worse than I had realized.
We had driven 10+ hours from our home to a small town we’d never been to. The court agreement says my husband gets one long weekend a month with his daughter as long as he either 1) exercises the time in the region she’s in or 2) pays for her flight to our state. He’s military, so we will likely never live in the same region as she does, and flights are too expensive from her area to be do-able.
While we were on the road during that 10+ hour car trip with our dog and toddler, a rock hit our windshield. Neither of us thought much of it when it happened. We pulled into our hotel’s parking lot and checked in at nearly midnight. All of us were just ready to crash and get a good night’s sleep before my stepdaughter’s mom dropped her off the next day.
The following morning, my stepdaughter arrived with her other sibling and mom. They came to our hotel, and then we walked over to the restaurant next door for lunch.
We parted ways after eating and went to see some things we’d passed in the town we’d never visited. As we were driving, we noticed a rather large crack in the windshield.
“Didn’t a rock hit the window yesterday?”
A rock sure did hit our windshield. And it created a nice little dent that we couldn’t see because it was at a place where the car frame blocked it from the inside, so we didn’t notice it until it cracked.
How a Broken Windshield Helped Me Face My Anxiety
My husband called the closest windshield repair shop we could find on Google and learned that we would need the entire windshield replaced, and it would cost $399.99, plus tax and additional removal fees. I couldn’t believe it!
In the end, we opted to not replace the windshield that day. On top of what we had already spent for the weekend, it just wasn’t financially possible. We also didn’t want to spend hours waiting at an auto shop during our parenting time, which we hadn’t had in two months.
But as the day progressed, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much it sucked that we were stuck with a broken windshield. I was fixated and furious. I was mad that we had driven over 600 miles for this to happen.
I immediately started Googling “how to fix a crack in a windshield” to see if there was anything we could do. Countless articles stated it is imperative to replace a broken windshield immediately. I felt defeated.
Did you know that if a windshield is broken already it’s more likely to cause the roof to cave in if your car rolls over? Yeah, me neither, but apparently it’s a thing. Was I planning to get in such a serious car accident that my car would roll over? No, but the idea that it could even happen was enough for me to be convinced we needed to replace it much sooner than my husband was thinking.
I was spiraling.
My anxiety was beginning to take over before I even realized what was happening.
We pulled up at the Family Video (I know, it’s rare to see one that’s open) to pick out a movie for our rainy evening. I stayed in the car while the kids and my husband went in.
As soon as they walked in the door, I broke down.
The resentment that comes along with the parenting plan took over. I thought about how much money we’d spent to even get to the same region as my stepdaughter this time. Replacing the windshield would significantly impact our travel budget for next month’s parenting time, as well as our holiday budget. I continued to cry.
I was so angry this happened away from home when we were doing something for my stepdaughter.
When everyone came back to the car, we drove back to the hotel, and I pouted through the whole ride. I was a grown woman pouting over a total accident of which none of us had zero control over.
My husband took the kids swimming when we got up to the room, and I sat upstairs with our dog. My anxiety continued to stew.
I started to remember the tools I’ve learned in therapy.
For the past three years, I’ve been seeing a therapist for my anxiety. One therapist gave me a name for how I react when I’m anxious—I catastrophize.
All of the lessons I learned in therapy came flooding back. An exercise my therapist had me do at the end of the summer popped into my head.
She had me write down three positive things for my husband, my stepdaughter, my toddler, and me, that happened during our parenting time. So, I started thinking about all the positive things this trip had brought and was going to bring.
I was living in and feeling through the moment. At the time, I didn’t think about it, but I did later. My anxiety was getting the best of me through that entire day. On that day, my anxiety won.
My catastrophizing really won that day.
When I was presented with something, like a broken windshield, I thought of all the worst things (like the car crushing me when it rolls over in an accident) that could possibly happen.
I took something that should be considered good like getting to see my stepdaughter and focused only on the bad part of it—we had to replace a windshield and cut into our budget for the holiday months.
Catastrophizing doesn’t help me to be happy. It doesn’t make me be my best self for my stepdaughter and toddler. What it does do is make me an irritable stepmom and wife who gets mad about fairly small things.
Knowing now that I’m a people-pleasing, anxious, perfectionist stepmom helps me to manage my reactions and be proactive instead of reactive.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still surprises that cause a reaction. But now I’m better prepared to accept the last-minute changes to the pick-up schedule or the attitude change that we see in my stepdaughter when she’s getting homesick.
It’s hard to get through anxiety alone. It can be even more difficult to handle the unknown and sudden changes that can be results of being in a co-parenting situation. You’re not the first stepmom to be overwhelmed by being a stepmom, and you’re definitely not the last.
If you’re struggling with your role as a stepmom or just having a difficult time figuring out how to manage your anxiety, I would encourage you to seek help from a therapist.
There are so many ways that a therapist can help you. Once you’ve been in the groove for a while, you’ll see the professional’s help appearing when you need it most.
P.S. If you need someone to talk to, our stepmom coach is here for you!