Well, yesterday I had a hard day. I really did. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen sometimes. And it’s always a great parenting lesson, so I decided to share it with you.
We woke up at 7am. We had a lovely morning and everything was going great 🙂 A few friends called us up and suggested a little field trip, something fun and different for the kids to enjoy, and so we happily agreed, packed our bags with lunch and snacks and headed of.
I ALLOWED MYSELF TO DREAM
As we were getting in the car I told Jon that this field trip is great not only because it’s going to be fun, but also because Ilay will be exhausted and will definitely fall asleep in the car on our way back, which will allow me a two hour nap! And so, as of that moment, the idea of the perfect nap was hovering above my head. I enjoyed the trip, it was actually really great, but what I really wanted was that nap. I wanted it, I felt I deserved it, and as Ilay was drifting away in the back seat on our way back, I was already smelling the sweet smell of my sheets and sensing how lovely the pillow would feel as I lay my cheek on it. Guys – I was already there. In bed. Napping.
We parked the car and took Ilay out. He woke up. THIS NEVER EVER HAPPENS.
AND I HELD ONTO THAT DREAM, UNTIL IT BECAME A NIGHTMARE
In that second, as I saw his wakeful eyes, my dream of a nap shattered and started raining over me like a gray, heavy cloud. I was upset. Royally upset. I was going through the seven stages of grief over my lost nap for ONE AND A HALF HOURS! One and a half hours of suffering.
It went something like this:
- Shock: I can’t believe it. He never wakes up when we transfer him. What the ****???
- Denial: He’s going back to sleep. He must. He’s still tired. It’s in his benefit (all this while actively trying to put him back to sleep – which is something I know one can’t ever do. Putting someone to sleep is impossible).
- Guilt: This is my fault. A sleep cycle is 40 minutes. He slept for 40 minutes exactly. We should have waited a few more minutes before we took him out of the car. Why didn’t I think about it??????
- Anger (and bargaining): Why are you doing this to me? Can’t you see how tired I am? I’m really tired.. Please…. You know what, you don’t have to sleep. Just lay here with me and I will sleep. Ok? He agreed. He laid there for 40 minutes. In the first 20 I think I drifted away. In the next 20 I was actively trying to not lose my cool as he was poking my eye, playing with my hair and tickling my feet. I don’t like that.
- Depression: I asked Jon to make me coffee. I never ask anyone to make my coffee. I like making my own coffee. I’m so upset I could cry, I told him. So cry, he said. And I did. I cried. Felt a bit better.
- Reconstruction: After I’ve had my coffee, all these feelings of shock, denial, guilt, anger, and depression were starting to dull. Still there, but less present. My brain was ready to begin accepting the fact that I will probably never nap again. Kidding.
- Acceptance: Having understood and really internalized the fact that I will not nap today and that’s final, allowed me to, well, accept, and move on with my day.
Now why did I tell you all this? Because all this could have been prevented had I made one choice differently. A choice I make every day as soon as I wake up, and then again probably 100 times each day. The choice of compassion. The choice of empathy, to myself and to others.
You see, I was so tired, and so ruled by my own expectations, that I forgot what I teach hundreds of parents each year: I forget we can’t ever make someone do something they don’t want to do. I forgot that sometimes we can’t change a situation, no matter how much we want to. After dreaming about this nap for the entire morning, I just wouldn’t accept that it’s not going to happen. And I was the only one suffering from it. If I would have accepted the situation as it presented itself to me, I wouldn’t spend the next 90 minutes going crazy trying to achieve something that I myself knew is not about to happen, the way I wanted it to happen, at that time.
BACK TO THE DREAM…
We ended up having a nice evening, thanks to this understanding. Sure, he watched a bit more TV than he’s usually allowed, yea – he ate a bit more snacks than he’s usually allowed, and we went to play outside a bit later than we’d usually do, but acceptance made happiness possible. Accepting that sometimes it won’t go as we planned, accepting that sometimes we’re too tired to cook, entertain, and keep busy as we always do, and accepting that all of this is not a bad thing.
It’s okay. I’m okay, he’s okay, we’re all okay. And none of this leaves any implications on our lives, relationships, states of connection, or anything else. This is what life is all about.
AND NOW TO WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM THIS
Remember those seven stages of grief? We don’t realize it, but this a sequence we go through dozens of times a day, each day. Sometimes we go through all stages (the nap issue was rather minor, I admit), but more often than not – we’re trapped and spiraling somewhere between stages #2 through #5: denial, guilt, anger, and depression.
I’m working with quite a few moms who can relate to this, but one particular is a mother whose 14 year old son hates math. He has no motivation to study math, he’s not interested in it, he doesn’t care about the grades factor. And she is devastated by it.
She’s been through the shock stage a while ago, as this has been going on for a few years, but she is constantly spiraling between denial (I’m sure you’ll learn to like it once you become better at it, all you need is to want it), guilt (it’s my fault because I wasn’t strict enough when he was younger), anger (just sit down and do your homework!), and depression (acute and real depression, because she was taught one can’t make a life for himself without mastering math, and this is the fear her relentless journey to her son’s math mastery stems from).
FEARING THE WORST BRINGS THE WORST FORTH. FASTER.
Each time she addresses this subject with her son, she brings all these feelings into that discussion. Do you think that unpleasant feelings can somehow present themselves pleasantly? No, they can’t. Her son feels all that. He feels all this pain and it lingers deep into the pain he is already baring with his math challenge. And making people feel worse doesn’t help anyone do better, does it? It makes us want to distance ourselves from all this pain, so now, instead of just taking a step away from math, he’s taking a few steps, each day, away from mom, because the interaction with her brings so much pain. And there’s nothing worse than that. Not even failing math.
THE POWER OF ACCEPTANCE
There’s probably a solution to this math challenge, and we will find it. But the first step to finding it is removing this barrier of pain. The denial, the guilt, the anger, and the depression that mom brings into being each time the subject arises. And how do we do that? Through acceptance. Accepting he just doesn’t like math. Accepting that not liking math didn’t yet build or ruin lives. Accepting that there is a deeper reason to this dislike. Accepting him. Loving him with this challenge. Not trying to change him from the moment he wakes up and until the moment he goes to sleep. Giving him the FREEDOM to be himself, even if that is not what she was taught.
An external challenge (like math) that poses a challenge on connection becomes impossible to overcome.
No mom had ever managed to motivate her kids to do anything with anger. She might have managed to make them JUST DO IT, but it always comes with a price. My step father, for example, was forced to complete his musical studies in the Russian Conservatory. He did, with flying colors. But he never touched the piano since. Oh and the price his mom paid for that was so so big.
Unable to break free from these feelings, we are trapped in a present we wish to change, and cannot change. Because change requires compassion, it requires acceptance, love, exploration and curiosity. Change requires air, water, and movement, while denial, guilt, anger, and depression are stagnant deserts that allow for no growth.
All human beings always want to do better. Doing better makes us feel better. And feeling better makes us do even better. Happiness, you see, is contagious. But other feelings are, too.
Which feelings do you carry? What are you eager to change? Tell me here. Together we’ll bring change forth, through acceptance.
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