“Parenthood is hard, whether we’re home or away or single or married or rich or poor. Parenthood is hard, not because we’re doing it wrong. Just because it’s hard. Like life. . . . I’m not sure there is a way to do it right. We just listen to life as it makes its demands and we respond thoughtfully and we remember that sometimes, the more out of control things feel the better, because the less easy it is to pretend we’re in control.” – from Momastery.com (http://momastery.com/blog/2012/03/18/enough-already/)
Is there a way to do it—life, marriage, parenthood—right?
Clearly there are ways of doing anything that are better (more appropriate or beneficial or sound) and ways that are much less than optimal (ways that are less sound, half-assed, ways that make things unnecessarily harder than they need be).
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” – Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning“
So just because the answers are hard to find, doesn’t mean that there aren’t answers.
Or just because something seems difficult to do right or difficult to get right or to do well, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done right or in an optimal way, and that it’s not worth the effort. Yes, we may reach points of diminishing returns, there may be some plateaus reached where the extra effort doesn’t seem to be yielding much improvement. But typically by persisting, by consistently exerting right effort, we usually can and will continue getting better at doing something, even though that increase may not be clear to us right away.
And just because the amount of control we have in life is difficult to eke out, doesn’t mean that we have “no control” or can’t be in control to some extent.
“Life is difficult“— this is the opening sentence to M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled.”
Once we really “get” this—once we have a light-bulb moment and get that life is hard, that it’s “a constant struggle driven on by relentless tension” (Richard Rose)—then we can get to work on ourselves and our own “whininess” and in dealing with the ways in which we contribute to our own difficulties and make life even harder for ourselves (and those around us) than it need be.
Our attitude, our habitual way of thinking (that little recording [self-talk] that goes off in our head whenever the going gets tough—either some form of complaining and “woe is me” or some form of rising to the occasion and “hmm, this is going to be tough; how do I want to define myself in this situation?”), the amount of perspective we have, our ability to self-soothe, our resourcefulness, how patient or impatient we are, et cetera, all determine whether we and our nervous system are an ally in a given situation or an even bigger adversary.
And it’s not that difficult things—life, love, parenting, self-control—become easier in their own right, it’s that we become stronger, better, wiser, more skillful.
Here’s the intro to Peck’s book—this is my abridgment and at points my editing and rewriting of it—
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth. It is a great truth because once we truly see the truth of this, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept the fact—then life is no longer quite as difficult. We’re no longer fighting ourselves, fighting to keep our blinders on.
“But most people do not fully get this truth that life IS difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, their difficulties, as if life were generally supposed to be easy, as if life should be easy.
“Live is a series of problems and difficulties. Do we want to moan about them or deal with them? Do we want to role model for our children how to complain about life’s problems or do we want to teach through our example how to rise to the occasion and solve them?
“Fearing the pain involved in facing difficulties head-on, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, attempt to avoid facing problems. We procrastinate, we ignore our problems, we pretend they don’t exist, we whine and complain, we take drugs, et cetera. The possible means of escape and distraction and self-anesthetizing are multitude.
“This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering and discomfort inherent in them is the primary basis of all mental illness.
“Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are to a greater or lesser degree mentally ill, lacking complete mental health.
“Some people will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid facing their problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is decent and sensible in order to try to find an easy way out (path of least resistance), building the most elaborate fantasy worlds in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality. In the words of Carl Jung, ‘Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.’
“But the substitute itself ultimately becomes more painful and limiting than the legitimate difficulty or suffering it was designed to avoid, and thus the neurosis itself becomes an even bigger problem.
“And true to form, most people will then attempt deal with the pain and problem of their neurosis by in turn avoiding it as well, thus beginning the process of building layer upon layer of neurosis.
The obvious alternative to this is the easier said than done “warrior approach” where we develop the courage and wisdom and grit and self-discipline and perspective to deal with life and ourselves directly. Again, clearly easier said than done. But just because it’s easier said than done, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing and not something that will prove to be highly rewarding and beneficial for ourselves and those around us.
And one of the first ways to begin this process is by becoming more mindful of how often each day we have to deal with some life difficulty—financial, parenting, health, relationships, traffic, et cetera—and how often our emotional response to a life difficulty is appropriate and beneficial/helpful to the situation and how often it actually makes matters worse.
This was my objection to the “Don’t Carpe Diem” post at Momastery. It lacked perspective. The elderly people who were telling Glennon to enjoy even the tough stuff, were telling her that with time that difficulties wear off and all that remains is the joy.
Perhaps like childbirth.
I have to assume that for many women, the joys of being a mother far outweigh the actual pains of the birth process, thus why so many moms have more than one child—on sum, the happiness exceeds the pain.
That’s what the elderly people were trying in some manner to tell Glennon—don’t make this harder on yourself by whining about it or by having a negative attitude—”Parenthood is already hard enough, try not to make it harder on yourself than it will be.”
We can’t have kairos moments when we’re whining or being ungrateful or when we think that life is supposed to be easy.
Whenever we’re being bitchy or whiny or complaining—whenever we’re being unappreciative, ungrateful—it automatically shuts the door to kairos moments.
The two are incompatible—kairos and whining.
And the more we deal with ourselves and our own whininess—the sooner and more deeply we accept that life IS difficult—the more we open ourselves to the possibility of more kairos moments—more moments of deep appreciation, reverence, gratitude, calm, happiness, joy, beauty, truth.