Unraveling the Difference between Theory and Reality
Do you ever find yourself liking the idea of something but not really wanting to do what it takes to actually have it or do it? For example, I have a whole stack of books I want to read, but I often let other things occupy my time when I could be reading instead.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting something but not wanting it bad enough to make the necessary changes to actually work on having it. But… I have found there is great power in acknowledging that even though I like the idea of something, sometimes I don’t really want to put forth the effort to get it.
Now, stay with me because I’m going to show you how understanding this same principle of “theory v. reality” can help you find some peace in your parenting.
While the above example (wanting to read but not making time for it) is totally dependent on me, when it comes to our relationships with our boys, we do not get to control all aspects of our reality. I know from experience ~ as I am sure you do ~ that I could not pray enough, talk enough, or jump through enough right hoops to change my son’s choices or his behavior. If I could have, I would have ~ and I’ll bet you would, too.
But I learned an important lesson this past Christmas that helped me see how my unrealistic expectations (in this case, the “theory”) was creating one miserable reality for me.
We have three sons. This past Christmas, two of them lived near us, and one was returning from a year in the Middle East. One of our sons has created a lot of havoc in our family, and even though he’s made many changes in his life in the last year, some of us are still dealing with the hurt and betrayal of the past. In other words, there is still some contention and turmoil within our family relationships.
But it was Christmas time and we had a son returning from dangerous military service overseas. It had been five years since we had all been together at Christmas. We should all be excited about this time to be together again, and we should let the past stay in the past, even if just for the day. I worked hard to plan for and create an opportunity where we could all just play and enjoy time together, a time for healing, a time to be the kind of family I have always believed we could be. And it should include all seven of us (two of our boys are married!).
But this past Christmas did not happen the way I wanted it to, the way I planned for it to. However, that is not the important thing here. What is important is the lesson I eventually learned from this experience.
My idea, my desire of having this “ideal family experience,” was that we not only had a wonderful time together, but hearts were also healed for good (hey, I’m just being honest here!) ~ this was my hope and dream, my “theory” of how things should be. Oh, and everyone else should have wanted it and been ready to make it happen, too.
Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting this kind of family experience, except for the fact that I don’t get to control everyone else. And, in my desperation to have it, I might have been controlling and cranky, and I definitely felt gypped that things didn’t unfold the way I wanted them to. I’m not proud of this, but I share it to show the downside of putting so much importance on “how things should be” (the theory). It only ensures we create more angst and turmoil for ourselves.
But that’s not even the worst part. Because I was blinded by my desire for the perfect Christmas, I couldn’t see ~ and therefore couldn’t appreciate ~ some of the sweet things about our reality:
My relationship with my boys individually is pretty solid, even with the one that has created a lot of havoc in our family.
Two of my sons, who have a hard time getting along when they are in the same room, actually get along quite well when they are apart (they call each other, text, Snapchat, etc.). Since our kids are all adults now, they spend way more time apart than together, and when they’re apart, these two make an effort to communicate and stay connected. That warms my mommy-heart!
Those in our family that are having the hardest time forgiving are still trying. Even though it’s messy at times, it dawned on me that they wouldn’t keep trying if they didn’t love and care about our family.
Coming to terms with our reality ~ rather than keeping my focus on how I really wanted things to be, how I deserved to have them be ~ has opened up a whole new dimension in my relationship with myself and my relationships with those I love the most. And while it was not an easy experience to go through, now that I am on this side of it, I promise you ~ it was totally worth it.
Theory v. Reality ~ where is your focus?
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Questions are a great way to get out of your regular way of thinking about things. I used to resist questioning because I wanted to keep believing my current way of thinking was right and there was no need to consider anything else.
But not anymore.
Now I love questions and I strive to be curious rather than judgmental (of myself and others). Here are some questions for you to consider this week:
Does your “theory” of how your family should be evoke desperation or compassion? Sadness or patience? Angst or confidence?
What scares you about letting go of your “theory” of how things should be? What is most scary about it?
What are some of the sweet parts of your current reality? Can you name at least three?
A PIECE OF MY HEART: The scary part of letting go
Let’s consider one of the above questions a little more deeply: “What scares you about letting go of your ‘theory’ of how things should be?”
Like most people, I have a strong desire to be right, to do things right. So, even considering that a beautiful Christmas experience could happen without my entire family being together was something I resisted for so long because then maybe it would mean I was wrong about spending so much time wanting it all these years.
That’s part of it, but if I’m really being honest… for so long it felt like I couldn’t be a “good mom” if I didn’t have this dream of one big, happy family, if I wasn’t constantly working to make that our reality. And, for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a “good mom.” So, to even toy with the idea that something like Christmas could be beautiful and heart-warming even if we weren’t all together seemed, well, like blasphemy, like I couldn’t really care about my family as much as I say I do, even like there was something really wrong with me.
But what if none of that is true?
What if you could loosen up your own “shoulds”? What would that make room for, right now, in your own situation?
This past December, I had planned a fun family outing since we would all be together. But before the day arrived, it became apparent that one of our sons and his wife wouldn’t be joining us. At first I was soooooo upset and fell into the “woe is me” head space (and I’m sure I complained about it out loud, too!). I mean, after all we have been through over the past few years, didn’t I deserve a nice, fun, family day?!
But then I realized that I was on the verge of ruining everything with my attitude. I also began to realize that, as much as I don’t want it to be true, our family time is sometimes nicer when everyone’s not together at the same time. I decided I could concentrate on the two people who weren’t there, or I could focus on the four people who were with me on the outing. I’m so glad I chose the latter.
I allowed myself a little bit of time before we left to be sad that one son and daughter-in-law weren’t joining us, but then I chose to be present with everyone who piled into our vehicle so we could head up the mountain. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to my son and his sister-in-law catching up after not seeing each other for over a year while everyone else slept on the drive. We all talked non-stop on our Christmas train ride. We even bought one of those overly-priced pictures because it was a great captured memory. And I couldn’t stop giggling on our way home when I made a wrong turn and we took the long way to the restaurant for dinner.
If I would have been too scared to even wonder if it was possible to have a good Christmas memory without my entire family present, December 26, 2019, would be a source of pain and anguish for me. But it’s not ~ I’m so grateful for that day… for the sweet memories and for the important lesson learned.
What could be different for you if you loosened up your most adamant “should”?