To All My Fellow Parents:
I hope this week finds you healthy and safe. I imagine it has also found you filled with frustration, anxiety, fear, sadness, concern, stress and hopefully- joy and pleasure, too- at times. My week has certainly been an emotional rollercoaster of all of those things. The other day a friend texted me to ask how my morning was going. I responded by describing how it took my kids literally an hour to put on their shoes. At that current moment I was being growled at by one of them for the mere suggestion that fresh air was necessary. Despite how annoying this situation was- and believe me- it was pretty infuriating: I just wanted to get out of the house- is that so much to ask?!- The situation was also entirely predictable. (Transitions between activities at my house have never been easy. During shelter-in-place that has not improved.) And so- I was able to keep my cool and laugh about it. Mostly. (There have certainly been other moments where I wasn’t able to keep it together- but that is a topic for another time.)
Recently- to help me get through- I’ve been drawing on the principles of “Radical Acceptance.” Radical Acceptance stems from the Buddhist tradition and the universal truth that pain in life is inevitable, but our suffering is optional. What this means is that there will inevitably be things that cause us sadness, hurt, and anger- whether that’s a broken leg, a loved one dying, or a child’s behavior regressing. What causes us suffering- increasing and extending all of our difficult feelings- is by fighting against and denying the reality of the situation.
We deny reality- and make things harder for ourselves- when we say “Why me?” “This is so unfair” think about all the reasons the current situation shouldn’t be happening, and wishing things were different. To be perfectly clear, it is a totally human, understandable response for those initial thoughts and feelings to pop up. The thing is, if you stay in the denial- rather than accepting the present moment- and all of its givens- the pain goes on and on.
Radical Acceptance means acknowledging the painful feelings you’re experiencing in the moment while also holding the idea that “this is the way it is” currently. It is not possible to change the current moment- you can only get through it.
What are some of the givens in the context of COVID-19 and sheltering in place? At least in my home here is what I am attempting to stop struggling against- and trying to accept:
- We will not have the same variety of foods options from the grocery store we’re used to
- My children will inevitably take 6x longer than is necessary for every transition
- More screentime will be consumed than is good for them
- Less schoolwork will be completed than their teachers have prescribed
- The news will be filled with terrifying updates and predictions
- Everyone will be crankier, less patient, and edgier than normal
- My spouse and I will be significantly less productive at work than is ideal
By accepting these givens- that this just is the way it is right now- we can tolerate the difficult moments- laughing and crying our way through them.
Acceptance of what is frees up emotional energy to appreciate some additional givens:
Educators, healers, religious leaders, and manufacturers are innovating and creating in amazing ways
Spring is coming with its flowers blooming and new buds on the trees
Distant loved ones- and friends just around the corner- are reaching out for more frequent connections through our screens
Our community is finding ways to continue to bring food to those who need it and supporting local businesses even while not being able to enter them
Children- fighting, refusing to do work, tantrumming, being generally obnoxious- means they are here and safe
Wishing you good health and acceptance this week,
Beth Pearson, Ph.D.