Several years ago, a friend with 15 years more life experience than me surprised me with her reaction to the troubles I’d been describing. “There are no problems,” she explained, “only experiences that we judge as problems.”
Observing my immediate resistance to this concept, she elaborated, “When you judge something as a problem, you spend unnecessary energy obsessing on its flawed nature. If, instead, you see your life as full of circumstances that either need attention or not, you save yourself the emotional drain and free up space to manifest the change you desire.”
This was new for me. At the time, had she allowed me, I could have given a rather elaborate account of my problems: more kids than I knew what to do with, no time for myself, a difficult marriage, a feisty teenager, a filthy house, a weed-infested garden and not enough money, to name a few. My life felt like one overwhelming problem after another, and I had grown weary of my load. But because I was ripe (desperate) for change, her words were like sweet music.
Half a dozen years into the acceptance (and further exploration) of this concept, I find more truth and profundity in its wisdom than ever. My life is not your ordinary textbook story. It requires an immense amount of intention and focus to keep my center. You can likely say the same about your own.
It is not in the judgment, but in the embrace of our current circumstances that we’re able to handle them from the healthiest state possible. Resistance to what IS is not only a waste of precious energy, but an ineffective tool with which to create change.
What does this mean in practical terms? The following are examples in my own day-to-day that come to mind. I am choosing rather light and surface level “issues” because the point is not to share my dirty laundry but to explore situations we likely have in common.
- The house is usually not clean to my liking. This has the potential to turn me into a freakish psycho cleaning lady, ever-armed with all-purpose spray and exactly zero fun to be around. Alternatively, I can let go of my expectations, embrace the state of things and either enlist more help, or let it go. It isn’t really a problem when the house is a wreck. It is my reaction to the mess that is the problem.
- I can’t meet all the emotional needs of my family. It’s just not possible. The freedom came when I realized it is also not my job. My time is better spent modeling healthy behaviors/reactions/choices than trying to fix their perceived “problems.” I am here to offer guidance and support, but the sooner they learn that mama does not exist to “make it all better,” the quicker they will be forced to develop tools of their own. (Disclaimer: I am not referring to the needs of babies here. I believe tiny people are very much dependent on us and that their capacity for emotional health as they grow is determined by whether their instinctual needs for attention and affection are met early on.)
- No one is cooperating. If there is something I need or want to do, I can bet there will be resistance to it from at least one, if not all members of the family. Nearly every time I sit down to write I am called to break up a fight, make a snack or tend a bloodied knee. As soon as I think I have all the kids organized and distracted and pull out my yoga mat, someone breaks a glass or lets all the chickens out of the coop. When I resist these inevitabilities, I feel angry, resentful and defeated. If instead, I keep breathing, stay in the moment and find the beauty or humor (or some days, just the headphones), I may get less work and yoga done, but without labeling this as a problem my contentment is not nearly so precarious.
- If only I managed my time more efficiently. As someone with many passions and interests it is a constant challenge to keep perspective on the fact that it’s okay that I didn’t have time to make the bread from scratch. It’s okay that I may never learn to play the guitar. It’s okay that half my kids don’t know how to sew, despite my own proficiency. There is not time in the day for all the expectations we set for ourselves. Life is adequate as is, and less is more in most cases.
I love the image and message behind a simple quote by Gautama Siddharta, “When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” My goal is to dwell in this state as much as possible.
Thank you for adding substance to my embrionic thoughts on the matter!
Honored to encourage embryonic growth. Thank you!
Thank you, Beth. Needed to hear this today.
You’re welcome, Rita. Just a message passing through me from one lovely soul to the next.
every time I read your stuff, I feel like you’ve written it for me and I learn something. thank you for that, lovely. can’t wait to read your stuff in darling or some other awesome publication. xoxo
Thank you, Luisa. Again. Your comments are like little gems that I carry around in my pocket. I’m working on something darling for the first of the year.
my sister is 7 years older than me and had 4 kids before I even had 1 so she was my go-to-person when I was having parenting problems. I have often found my firstborn to be very challenging and my sister used to say to me “just stop expecting it to be different.” When dealing with behaviour, I’ve found this really hard to assimilate into my thoughts as I was raised to believe that parents could “make kids be good.” Sure, behaviour needs to be addressed with loving authority and clear consequences, but the truth is that it’s only my expectation that things be different that makes the situation upsetting. This is still a huge struggle for me.
Regarding your 4 examples above, I’ve recently started telling myself, “this is but one season in my life.” This is really helpful for me to accept the current circumstances for what they are. You can’t rush the change of seasons and you have to dress and behave appropriately for whatever season it is NOW, and otherwise, all you can do is plan for what’s ahead.
“You can’t rush the change of seasons and you have to dress and behave appropriately for whatever season it is NOW.” RIGHT ON. And I couldn’t agree more about the expectations we maintain. Our eldest threw that one in our faces pretty hard, too. Ultimately, I am grateful that she challenged my notions of control so early on in the game. Sure feels better to think of parenting as a dance, rather than a dictatorship.
I always love your posts, Beth. I also struggle a lot with the messy house thing so I really loved one day when a father came to pick up his daughter from a play date and I made my usual, “sorry, the house is kind of messy” comment when he said very passionately, “Houses are made for living. They are not museums!” I’ve tried to keep that in mind ever since.
So true. The real test is to applying that to the internal messes!
i always apologize for a messy house and its usually cleaner then the norm. but i dont feel too guilty because i try to do my best and thats all we can do!
A wonderful perspective, thank you! 🙂
My pleasure. Thank you!!
Really needed this today. Even thousands of miles away, you can bring an insightful smile into my heart. Thanks;)
Right back at you, Milinda. Your enthusiasm and creative spirit fuel me. You’re in an interesting leg of the journey — here’s to finding treasures in the vulnerability.
I love laughing with you!!!
And I, you, Holly. Looking forward to next time already.
Thank you. Long story short, I have been up since 3am and wasn’t even able to get my run in. I got to work and have been attempting to get my head in the game. How did I start? Well, by reading your blog of course!! And it worked.
Thank you. I will take some deep breaths and aim to let go of my panic for the day.
Keep breathing, my friend – through one opportunity at a time.
I always enjoy your blog posts.
Thank you, Erin!
Beth, I know your Mom and your sister and so started reading your blog quite a while ago through their links. It has been funny knowing them and yet never meeting you so in a way I feel like I was looking over their shoulder at their family’s life. So instead of lurking, I shall properly introduce myself!
This post was amazing. I’m a mom of 7 kids, and yet I always carry the emotional weight of “making them ok.” Just the thought that, “My time is better spent modeling healthy behaviors/reactions/choices than trying to fix their perceived “problems.” is amazingly brilliant.
You truly have a voice that is important to hear. Thanks for putting it into words and out there so we can enjoy and learn.
Well hello, Barb! Nice to (finally) “meet” you! I really appreciate your encouragement and complements. Meeting the emotional needs of SEVEN kids? Now THAT’S quite a load. Glad a to help you lighten it a bit – at least in theory, if not in loads of LAUNDRY. My best to you and yours this holiday season, and hug my fam for me when you see them. They’re something special, aren’t they?
Once again I am inspired and opened up by your writing Beth. So transformative. A shift in being, in how we hold our thoughts, certainly holds the possibility for freedom, ownership and peace. It is always amazing to me how a simple shift in perspective can cause an incredibly different outcome in how we live. God bless you sister! Much love, Heide
Thank you for such an eloquent reminder! I am sure a less problem-labeling, more circumstance-responding mindset is the reason parenting my baby son seems so easy when compared with his older sister. It’s a lesson I seem to keep returning to from all different angles.
Wow! I am so thrilled to find your blog. Like a breath of fresh air and an affirmation of what I do here at home in the mountains of WV and who I am at heart. I’ll be checking back in often.