I’ve been worried about my son.
It’s the classic parenting dilemma: your child has a problem, and you want to fix it for them, but you can’t – even if it were possible, it’s not your place. So, you smile and casually ask, “How’s it going with x?” and encourage, “You got this!” and you want to just trust and leave them to it, but the truth is, you’re completely preoccupied.
It isn’t pretty inside my head at times like these. “You should have seen this coming!” I yell at myself. “You think you’re enlightened, ‘leaving him to it,’ but really, you’re just lazy. Now your negligence is blighting his future.”
Ugh! Have you ever been scared about your child’s future? Ever believed that if you’d been more vigilant, dug deeper, and been just generally better, then they wouldn’t be suffering with this (apparently) bad outcome?
Let’s work through this knot together. There are just two steps.
- Write down all your thoughts without editing or moderating. Let the mean or scared voices have their say.
- Pick the thought that hurts the most – it’s often the first one out of your mouth – and do The Work on it. The Work is a meditation that allows you to investigate your thinking: is it even true? What effect does that thinking have on you and your life? What would be different if the thought were not there, though the circumstances remained the same? Could it be that the opposite of the thought is actually truer? What do you see and feel when you hold the opposites in your mind?
Here’s my worst thought: My negligence is blighting his future.
Is it true? Yes! My ego usually fights the first question.
Can I be certain it’s true? The word certain tends to flood my ego with possibilities, and it gives up. No, I can’t be certain.
How do I react, what happens, when I believe it? This is where you can see the effect this thought has on your body, your emotions, your thoughts, and your actions, including the way you treat others. I feel heavy. I cry. I stop breathing. I treat my son like he’s broken. I see times in the past when I chose to go with the flow, instead of leading assertively, and hate myself for having been so weak. I see a bleak future, as if we’re in a downward spiral. It’s horrible!
Who would I be without the thought? This question returns me to the present. I breathe and look at the same exact situation but without the painful thinking. I would be a woman talking to her beloved son. I am relaxed, peaceful, present to this moment. I notice he seems tired and a little down, so I say, “You seem tired and a little down. I wonder if you’re feeling x.”* I see him as a young person figuring it out, imperfectly, courageously, which is the way. I see the whole sweep – his achievements as well as his challenges..
Turn the thought around to its opposites and look for evidence that the turnaround is just as true, if not truer, than the original thought.
My conscientiousness is blighting his future. To be conscientious is to do one’s work thoroughly and well. Have I been too serious, too controlling, after all? My supportive and kind husband has said so more than once, but I dismissed this feedback. Now I seem to be getting it from my son, too!
My negligence is blessing his future. This turnaround feels like an amplification of the previous. They encourage me to trust more, not less.
I feel open now, no longer stuck. I begin to see through to the other side of these thoughts, to possibilities.
What can I trust?
Even if this thing (am I certain it’s a problem?) results in some doors being closed to him, what’s so bad about that? Does it follow that the remaining opportunities are no good? Or that it’s bad to struggle? Opportunities are what we make of them. This isn’t the end of the story! This is one moment on a timeline that continues, God willing.
If it were the end, what would be true (because if it’s true at the end, it’s true)? His joy. He is a musician. His joy in music is real and true and utterly untouched by this issue.
I remember how nervous he was – his heart on the line before he’d played even his first note! – when he asked me if he could take music lessons. I remember his elation after his first public performance, a talent show tryout: “There’s nothing like playing, Mom,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.” I remember that I’ve never had to ask him to practice or coax him into camps or playing for family. Music makes his spirit soar. It is his joy, and joy is trustworthy.
What if this “problem” was his airy soul’s way of cutting a tether? After The Work, I feel inspired to let go more, not less – to release my son to his destiny, instead of insisting he stick to the safe routes I mapped out for him.
*I learned from Bonnie Harris to offer a guess rather than ask why. It’s easier to modify a guess than to come up with the right answer.