There are so many things we benefit from learning to let go of as parents—comparing our children to others, expecting them to be the people we imagined they would be, attempting to be a perfect housekeeper/caregiver/playmate/chef/lover (insert unrealistic expectation here), and, on some days, even expecting to take a shower!
How do we do it? Often I hear from people in the therapy room that this is one of the most difficult parts of being a parent—relinquishing control and the need for things to be perfect. We hold on so tightly, imagining that this holding on is the only thing keeping things, or us, from falling apart. And yet it is often this unrealistic desire for control that causes us (and then, inevitably, things) to fall apart.
What it comes down to, in my view, is the belief that we live in a friendly universe. Whether it’s true is irrelevant. We benefit from cultivating the belief that things are OK. That we and the people we love are OK. That even when things are not OK, it’s OK.
Our need for control is rooted in a fear that is far greater than the things we fear. We imagine that if we don’t clean up the house, not only will the house be messy, but the world will end. We fear if we don’t wash our children’s hands, not only may they get sick, but we will not be able to cope. We imagine that if our children fall behind in development, not only may they have delays, but their lives will be ruined. Often, the worst thing that can happen is far less terrible than the tragedy we imagine will happen if we let something go.
Cultivating mindfulness is a wonderful strategy for learning to let go. Being able to notice and observe what is happening in the present moment, in our bodies, our emotions, and our environment, without having to analyze or judge it as good or bad, is an important step toward feeling that things are OK. It’s easy to find five-minute mindfulness exercises online that are a good first step toward developing the ability to notice what is and take attention away from our thoughts, which so often lead us into trouble.
Often, the worst thing that can happen is far less terrible than the tragedy we imagine will happen if we let something go.
When practicing mindfulness, you will have thoughts that come and go. Sometimes you might think, “I can’t do this very well,” or get caught up in whatever thoughts happen to come to you. Observing the thoughts without judgment is part of the process. Imagine your thoughts as leaves floating by on the surface of the water of your consciousness. Even if you pay attention to them briefly, they will pass and you can again focus on what is happening in you and around you. Allowing yourself to be aware of your emotions without labeling them as good or bad lets you experience them and see them pass over time.
In your daily life, the ability to be mindful will help you to let go. When you get caught up in thinking about what you should be doing/not doing/doing differently, or find yourself focused on controlling things you really want to let go of, imagine your thoughts are a train passing by. You can notice the train, but you don’t have to get on it. Not getting on the train means not believing your thoughts, not trying to analyze, judge, or change your thoughts, and not drawing conclusions about them, such as “that thought is going to ruin my day.” Let the train pass you by, and notice the scenery around you. What you notice in the moment, however challenging, is really OK.
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