This year, I resolve to feel bad about myself. I am going to worry that I am not meeting my goals, and have negative thoughts about my weight, my job performance, and my parenting skills. I’m going to have anxiety about social situations. And, I’m not going to try and avoid these feelings, or try and feel “better.” This year, 2017, I’m going embrace all of it.
This is a little bit of a “different” resolution than most people have, I know. I’m not ruling out going to the gym more, or learning to bake my own bread, I’m just not resolving to do them more. Instead, I’m focusing on embracing pain and suffering. It’s for a good cause … I’m going to live more of my life than I have in the past.
The connection between suffering, pain and discomfort and living your life isn’t always obvious, but they are connected. Every time I do something that I care about, that matters to me, there is a certain amount of suffering that comes along with it. When I am in the role of “dad”, I worry that I don’t really know what I’m doing, or that I’m doing it “right” so that my children will grow up to be happy and well rounded. I am plagued by that worry and fear (and I know I’m not alone out there in that!). So what are my options? I can hover over my kids (many parents do just that) and try to make sure they experience awesomeness at all times. Still, I’d have no guarantees of their happiness (in fact, my only guarantee is that at some point, they will be sad) and I would continue to be anxious, worried, and in pain about their pain. Has my attempt at controlling my anxiety and worry (by trying to control my kids’ discomfort) actually helped? Not really.
I haven’t even gotten to the costs of my hovering … what did I have to give up in order to hover like that? Well, for one, it takes a lot of time and effort to hover. I have to watch my kids like a hawk, so that means socializing with the other parents is pretty much gone. Goodbye making new friends! And, my kids can’t experience discomfort, so if they get into a struggle with another kid, I need to swoop in. Sorry kids, no learning how to cope with difficult situations or how to work things out with peers. Oh man, maybe I don’t even make those playdates, or go to the park because it’s all just too unknown! The list can go on and on, and the costs keep piling up.
Do I have options? I can stop parenting, but that’s not a real option for me (I do actually like being a dad!). So, if I like being a dad, and I don’t want to spend my energy being anxious for my kids about things that I can’t really control anyway, my only option is to embrace my own pain about my kids being in pain. And, to start the new year, I was given a prime opportunity to suffer. Flying home on an overnight flight on New Year’s Eve (so technically, January 1), my 4 year old daughter was exhausted but refused to sleep. She was acting as overtired 4 year olds act, whining and crying about not getting what she wants, hitting her sister, and kicking the seat in front of her. I pulled her aside, to the back of the plane to try and mitigate any disturbance of the other passengers, pleading with her to listen to me and to just go to sleep.
After a few minutes of fighting, which felt like a million hours, I looked into her tear-filled eyes and realized that I was trying to calm my own discomfort rather than sitting with hers. I was trying to feel like a good parent and a respectful passenger who doesn’t let their kid run amok on a plane. So, I switched my approach, and just stood in the back of the plane with her. I let her feel uncomfortable, and I felt uncomfortable. I know the discomfort of being so tired that I just don’t know what to do, and that’s what she was feeling. I know the feeling of wanting help and support, but not knowing how to get it (and feeling like everything offered to me is just not what I want). I know those feelings because I have them all the time, and here was my daughter having a 4 year old version of them. So, I joined her in her pain, and we felt bad together.
Suddenly something happened. No, she and I didn’t both feel better! She calmed down, asked for her mom, and went to sleep on her lap. And I continued to feel that pain and suffering, and relief that she was sleeping, and contentment that I had “parented” that situation.
We can apply that plane story to almost every situation we run into in life. If you care about doing something, there’s no doubt that you will feel bad at some point. You can run from that bad feeling, or try to control it, but it won’t actually work. Or, you can embrace it and engage in your life. I resolve to do that latter this year, I welcome you to join me.