How do you handle change? Do you try to embrace it? Ignore it? Go it alone? Get help? Change is one of the few constants in each of our lives. Sometimes we initiate it and sometimes it comes unbidden and without our conscious awareness. Either way, change is both deeply personal and a community affair.
More than 15 years ago, I was young and newly married with a stable and engaging job. Almost all the pieces were in place to be ready to have kids. However, one critical piece remained; I was still holding on to behaviors from my earlier years that no longer served me. Many of these behaviors, like being incredibly steadfast, even rigid, had helped me stay focused and be very successful academically and athletically. Even anger at past hurts and perceived injustices gave me stamina; driving my persistence and accomplishments. I knew intuitively that such characteristics as rigidity and anger were a recipe for disaster when attempting to raise healthy, happy kids. I was very clear I needed to change my behaviour patterns and how I interacted with the world BEFORE I even attempted to get pregnant.
So I embarked on a journey to heal and change myself and my relationships with those near and dear; most specifically my husband, family, friends and coworkers. Over the course of 18 months, I attended several weekly support groups, read innumerable self help books, dug in the dirt with my therapist and wrestled with my spirituality. As a result, I found I needed to renegotiate my most important relationships.When you change on this scale, you need the people around you to adjust as well. Unfortunately, some of these negotiations were drag out ugly; not all of these people were ready and willing participants. Some had their own issues and insecurities. Others did not believe there was a problem and much preferred the status quo.
I discovered that the most important tool in recalibrating these connections was naming the change for the other person: “I am changing and I need your help.” For example, on numerous occasions, I found my interactions with my husband escalating into a heated debate (a fight, honestly). As I was trying to change, Alex & I would drop into old patterns. He would get mad at something he thought he heard me say based on what he was used to to me saying historically. I, in turn, would be hurt and mad at him for getting upset over something I didn’t actually do or say. Then, fortunately, I would catch myself. Instead of continuing the pattern, I would break it. I labelled what was happening. I called him out; asking him to stop and really listen to what I was saying. I asked him to see and hear the changes I was making. For each change, it would take this scene playing out several times before the new interaction was locked in. The first time, Alex was stunned and perplexed to become aware of his automatic responses. To Alex’s credit, each subsequent time, his recognition and acceptance of the change was much quicker.
It was only after all of this intense reconstruction of myself and my relationships that I felt ready to bring a child into the world. These changes I brought on myself and worked hard to usher in, but I could not have done it with how my nearest and dearest changing with me.
More recently, change has been sneaking into my life and continuously catching me by surprise. As mentioned in a previous post, I am currently struggling with health issues that have changed the way I currently am able to interact with the world. Most poignant and heartbreaking are the changes in some of the ways I interact with my children. I feel fortunate that my kids and I have a pretty loving relationship. I am grateful to be fairly in tune with how they are feeling. So over the past nine months, it is blips of intense fighting that have tipped me off to my changes impacting our relationship.
In January, for instance, I noticed my eldest teenage daughter, R, was pretty pissed off at me and not holding back. Rather than dismiss R has a moody teen, I took the time to reflect on why the heck we were fighting. I realized we were both used to me being able to answer her questions while listening to music, cooking dinner, and responding to a text. No exaggeration; this had been a regular evening scenario in the kitchen. However, now, I could only do one of these things at a time. I understood that she had been repeatedly asking me questions and talking AT me while I was texting. I had no idea in the moment that she was talking to me, but she believed I was ignoring her.
Once R cooled off, I explained this new inability to multitask and we talked through how we could do better next time. As I spoke these words, my heart cracked open at the loss of the part of me and us that I was presenting her. I neither asked for, nor wanted this change. However, I needed to name it for the both of us because we BOTH needed to change. Otherwise, we would have kept fighting and hurting each other. What was so beautiful was that at the end of the conversation, R said “OK Mom. I love you” and gave me a great big hug. God bless her! She is such a cool kid!
For me, these changes keep turning up with their impact showing up in so many unanticipated ways. While my rate of change may be unusual, the reality is that change is inevitable for all of us. Recognizing that we change individually together is the key to an easier transition.
So, what’s changing in your life? How do you feel about that personally? And who do you need to help you along in the process?