It is easy to love and enjoy our children and have a positive outlook on their futures and our lives when things are going smoothly and according to our predetermined plans. Life, however, seldom agrees with what we have decided it should do, and our children, being part of life, are not always easy going.
So how do we handle when the going gets tough? When the report card comes back with a ‘fail’ or our kids have a medical emergency or they start acting strangely or just have a full-blown tantrum? How do we navigate the times when everything seems to be going wrong all at once and we don’t feel we have the strength to make it through another day like this one?
The first, and most important step in any crisis is to stay present. In the midst of a crisis it is easy to imagine that the whole future is going to be bleak and to extrapolate this current moment into an infinity of tragedy.
I love the story of the Buddhist monks who survived water torture: where a person is strapped down and has water dropped, one drop at a time, onto their forehead. Most people go mad within a short time, but the monks seemed to be immune to it. When asked how they did it, they replied, “There was only ever one drop”.
Things seem unmanageable when each moment is compounded by the remembered moments that came before and the anticipation of the moments still to come. A child’s illness seems that much worse when you are aware that they have been sick for a long time and imagine that they will continue to be unwell indefinitely. If they are just ill in this one moment, it is suddenly not quite as intense. You can handle just this moment. Always.
The problem comes not in what is actually happening in this moment, but in how we think about it.
In what if down thinking, we spiral ever further into doom. What if he fails every year and never gets a decent job and ends up living on the streets and turns to drugs and alcohol addiction? What if she continues to have tantrums like this for the rest of her life and can never find someone to love her and dies lonely in an apartment filled with stray cats? What if she doesn’t recover from this injury and is permanently scarred and emotionally damaged and I have to take care of her until I eventually die of exhaustion?
What if up thinking takes the same starting point and simply spirals in the other direction. What if his failure this year leads to him realizing the consequences of his actions and starting to really work towards something that interests him and ultimately leads to him living a fulfilling and satisfied life? What if this tantrum is just from the sugar she had at the party and it will wear off quickly and she’ll sleep really well afterwards, giving me a chance to catch up on my reading? What if this injury exposes her to the world of medical intervention and she is fascinated by it and ends up becoming a doctor?
The truth is that neither of these ways of thinking is true or realistic or in fact what is going to happen. The real truth is that the future has not yet happened and we cannot possibly know all the things that may result from one moment in time. It is also true that no matter which way things go there will be both a positive and negative side to the actual future that arises. So why concern ourselves with the ultimate unknown and unknowable?
Right now, in this moment, you have a child who needs your full presence. They never ever need a parent who is lost in the quagmire of future thought. They don’t need a parent who is either spiraling up into a positive future or spiraling down into a negative future. They need a parent who is here, now.
And don’t use this as a tactic to try to trick the future into a positive spiral either. Your presence in this moment will not secure either a positive or negative outcome. The future will still be whatever it is going to be, and in each of the subsequent moments that arises – no matter what it looks like – you and your child will navigate it better if you are actually there to face it.
When we distill life into the one moment that you are experiencing right now, there are no tough times. Tough times require orientation in time – a past buildup, an ensuing drama, and anticipated future suffering. In reality, there is just the one drop.
This article is reproduced here from Transformational Parenting with permission from the author.