Here is another wise guest post from our mom, Judy. She’s always been such a great example to us of being positive, and it’s amazing to see that she continues to challenge her own thinking, even her positivity. I often hear from friends how their parents seem so “stuck in their ways” and how many of them aren’t willing to work on personal growth or challenge themselves beyond a certain point, so it’s refreshing to see our mom model this.
Have you ever experienced quick, flippant responses like “It’s all good!” or “Perfect!” after sharing a difficult circumstance with someone? It seems they are harmless comments as we respond affirmatively and positively. Generally, being positive is a very good thing to be. But, what if things are not at all good? What if someone is struggling? What happens when we don’t really listen and quickly jump to ‘Count your blessings,’ ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’ or ‘Think positive!’ Does it minimize what the person is experiencing?
Recently, my mother suffered a severe stroke which has left her with speech deficits. Many people called me to check in and I noticed an interesting phenomenon. They all needed my assurance that she would be alright, which is so understandable. Yet, they didn’t really want to hear the story. I was scared and needed reassurance from them. They wanted to hear what they wanted to hear. I felt frustrated and a bit defensive. In general, I tend to be a very optimistic and positive person. As Jenelle mentioned in a previous blog, I taught her to look on the bright side of things. I always want to glean the blessings in disguise.
Yet, if we skip over the story and just want the happy ending it minimizes how difficult the situation is and how emotional the person might be feeling.
In retrospect, I think we might have skipped too quickly to ‘count your blessings’ with Joy and Jenelle at times, as they were navigating their worlds with RP. As parents we want so much for our kids to be happy, resilient, and ‘perfect.’ Yet, many times it wasn’t ‘all good.’ Like when they could not get their licenses at 16. It’s something I grieved for them as a parent. It has a significant impact on their lives every single day. But, in their own time and emotional history they did come to an acceptance. They do glean the blessings. They do think positively, but I think they also know how to deal with pain.
They have known something that I am just now learning later in life. It’s okay to feel really sad about something and to say, “this really sucks”. I encouraged my mother and sister to swear anytime they felt like it when they went going through breast cancer treatments. But, that was uncomfortable for them and for me. I have a long history of being taught to be strong and positive.
I think most of us have some discomfort with not being in control, with feeling weak, overwhelmed, or needy. These states might feel like polar opposites and also a threat to being strong. But isn’t it part of our humanness to feel needy at times? Serious illness and impairments threaten our sense of control. But, doesn’t it use up our genuine strength and resilience if we try to deny or ward off such feelings? Isn’t it more frightening when we label ourselves as not being able to handle things; i.e.- “I fell apart.” “She went to pieces.” “I broke down.” “I need to hold it together and be strong.”
There is a quote I read by the late Virginia Satir that helps put much of this into perspective for me, “We do not cope the same way when we are riding the bottom of the wave as when we are riding the top.” Just because we are in a rough place and not ‘on top of things,’ we are still coping. Functioning during hard times includes a full range of coping skills and resources that may not be part of our everyday functioning. As I cared for my mom, I had to be extra patient and humble because the stress level was high. But sometimes I wasn’t ‘either of the above. As my daughters go through challenges, they have to be extra resilient and humble. We cope. We try to ride the waves, rough or gentle, and they bring us to shore.