Changing the Conversation: The Problem with "The Work Is Hard"
This morning I realized I hate the saying or phrase "the work is hard," and I don't say that lightly.
The last few months I have been "working hard" on myself. I had put so much of myself, my energy, my time into the day-to-day rat-race of life -- working hard at my job, to keep my job, so I could support my family. Inevitably I found myself burned out and very unhappy, but I didn't know how to fix it. I had put all of my focus into making sure those around me were happy, and as a result I didn't know what, if anything, made me happy. It's a familiar story, one that many parents and working parents have told, but it doesn't make it any less true. I was a statistic.
So I started "doing the work." What made me happy? I started with hobbies. Did I still enjoy the same ones I did before I was a married, working mom? I cut back on my TV time, which was just really wasted time. I started reading more, journaling, and digging deep to see what I enjoyed doing, what made me happy, and where I saw myself in 10 years. And ... it wasn't as hard as I thought.
Coming up with those lists, reading more, watching less TV ... that wasn't hard. Facing the truth about how I was feeling to begin with and how I allowed myself to get to that point ... now that was hard.
Once I admitted I was unhappy, once I decided to make a change, once I decided I was worth the effort, the work was relatively easy because it's easy to do work that you either enjoy or that you know will get you to a place where you are no longer unhappy. The work being hard? Not so much. Admitting that I was unhappy? Painfully hard. Painfully. And therein lies the rub. We say the work is hard, and that's not to say that personal growth is always smooth-sailing. But that part before the work begins? That's the hard part. That's the uncomfortable part. That's the part that can be painful. And as humans we don't want to feel pain. So we do whatever we can to mask it.
For some it's keeping busy. If you're busy with work, and family, and just don't have a spare moment to yourself, then you don't have to time to acknowledge how you're really feeling. For some it can be social media. Maybe if everything looks picture perfect on Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat, you can convince yourself that nothing is wrong. Maybe binge-watching the latest talked-about series on a streaming service is the way to escape. There's comfort in knowing some fictional character's life is crazier than yours. And unfortunately some use substances to mask the hurt and pain.
Each of those coping mechanisms, though, are simply band-aids. They are temporary. They are not meant to last forever, like how an actual band-aid falls off in the shower. They only stick for so long. Then what do you do? Perhaps you deal with what's underneath, or you find another band-aid. I hope, if you ever find yourself here, you choose to address what's underneath the band-aid.
All of this leads to be a video I saw this morning on Facebook, of all places.
I definitely feel the work I have been doing on myself and being happier has made me a better mom. Without a doubt. It's sad but important to admit that when I was busy being busy and making sure everything was running "smooth," I wasn't taking into account how my behavior and unhappiness made my husband and son feel. I wasn't the best version of myself, and subsequently wasn't fully present for them. Now, I am. And as my son heads towards puberty, I have been working hard to see myself in him, to remember what it was like to try and navigate those changes, those feelings. I see me in him.
But parents aren't the only ones interacting with kids. There are so many other kids and adults in your child's/children's lives. Kids don't always get along, but you start to see yourself in the kids your child interacts with. And you've done all this work on yourself, and you start to see the "old you" in the parents interacting with your child. They are short on patience. They are easily annoyed. They don't have time to get to know your child and have a better understanding of their behavior or feelings. They don't see themselves in your child. Instead, they fall back on a narrative, one that absolves them of any responsibility in that relationship.
And as a parent, that just might be the hardest and most heartbreaking thing to witness.
So what have I learned from this unexpected lesson?
Don't get angry. Instead hold that adult in grace. I know, I know. Easier said than done. But both you and your child will continue to have encounters with people who "haven't done the work." And you can't make someone "do the work." So learning how to deal with those situations is essential. And so is talking to your child, not just about his or her experiences, but your own as well. We've all had a teacher who would lose his/her patience when we didn't pick up the lesson as quickly as the rest of the class. We've all had a coach or instructor that didn't give us half as much attention or instruction as the other kids. We've all had a mentor who we felt let us down. We've all felt unseen. We've all been on team, in a class, or part of a group where we felt lonely, even though we were not alone. Tap into that, remember, share your experiences and work through them together. It will be hard. It will be uncomfortable. It will hurt. But feeling your feelings and acknowledging them is the first step to feeling better.