Shoot for “Good Enough”?

“A perfectionist is a person who takes great pains, & gives them to other people.”  – Chuck Swindoll

Today’s topic:  parenting.  One of the things that contributes to my smidges of happiness is when my kids are happy.  Last night there was an amazing amount of belly laughing coming from the other room – and it put a smile on our faces. But a lot of times, we wonder, like probably all or most parents:  Are we doing it right? And if we’re not, how badly are we screwing them up??

An interesting article – I’m curious what you think of it – about Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success – a new book by psychologist Madeline Levine.  She’s worked with lots of overstressed, high-achieving kids and says that a lot of what (some of) today’s parents think they’re doing right…is dead wrong. All the pushing, perfecting, do-it-all-ing…

I may have to get this book, though I’m guessing it already lines up pretty well with my parenting style, such as it is at the moment.  I don’t feel pressured to have the Offspring constantly involved in some kind of enrichment, though we push for outdoor time and creative time and all that good stuff. And the Boy Child is involved in sports, but only one at a time.  Frankly, sometimes they get too much screen time, which is not ideal, but… Not perfect, but maybe good enough.

When I was first learning about research on parenting and child outcomes in grad school, I learned something I found shocking: there was such a thing as “good enough” parenting – and in general, kids did just fine with it.  Of course everyone is different; we all have our own lovely sacks of crap we carry around with us, and our kids are no exceptions. But if you are “good enough” at parenting, maybe their bags will be a bit less full.

I’m a big fan of Charles Sykes and his 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School. Not because I feel like slamming educators (I have lots of friends who are amazing teachers) but because sometimes I think what seems like a good idea becomes doctrine and spreads rather wantonly through systems, without analysis or criticism. Sort of an “emperor’s not wearing any clothes” thing.  Example:  red pen corrections. Really, I can’t mark my student’s papers with a red pen because they will develop a fear of red ink?  Come ON. Whatever color I point out their mistakes in will become associated with what I wrote. Shall I just not correct the mistakes, then?  Oh, I won’t go down that road…maybe in another post.   I was gratified to find “red pens for correcting” on the school supplies list for the 3rd grader.

Another favorite is The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.  More about that in another post, too. I need to re-read it first.

Sometimes I’m referred to as “the meanest mom ever”, though admittedly those times have dramatically decreased as the Offspring have aged.  I told them that was fine with me, because of course I was not actually mean, just telling them how it was going to be. Which was not how they wanted it.  Nowadays, I remind them that if we don’t teach them about how the world works, we’re not doing our jobs. This, they seem to get, though they’re not pleased about it.

Okay, we can all take the Push/Excel posters off the nursery room walls now. 😉

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Why you’ll never be happy all the time – Part Two

 Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.  – James Baldwin

In my previous uplifting post (ha ha), I talked about the fallacy of continuous happiness. Now, I know that probably no one really believes they can be happy ALL the time – we’re all pretty realistic people, right? But we do often get trapped into thinking that we should be happier more often than we currently are. And that bothers us, and when things bother us, what do we do?

We either (a) run from the problem – including denying the problem, or (b) try to fix it.

One way to run from the problem, that was covered earlier is tuning out. Getting busy with something else, losing ourselves in some other pursuit. And of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing, at least not in the short term and as long as it doesn’t involve criminal activity or something really harmful. But I didn’t really need to tell you that part, did I? J

I tune out bad things all the time. I’ve included one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics as an example. Sometimes when people do things that don’t seem to follow what I think they should (the nerve!!) I go into a cleaning frenzy, or grab a book, or work out, or hop on Facebook, or write a blog post. Most of these things are fine to do, at least in moderation, but if I don’t deal with what’s bugging me, it’s unlikely to change. It’s a short-term fix, and I know it. But at least my kitchen is clean…

Another way to deal with problems is by trying to fix them. Most of the time, you’d think this is a pretty good idea, and I agree. But some problems can’t be fixed by you, or at least not at that particular moment, because they’re someone else’s problems, not yours. What happens when you try to change other people, and they don’t particularly want to change, or don’t have the capability right now? I’ll give you one guess.

And other problems are your problems, which is actually a good thing, because it means you can do something about them. One that I’ve struggled with is this whole concept of happiness. I told you I’m a happy person most of the time, and that’s true. But what about the times I’m not? What about when I wake up and think “Uh-uh, no way, not feelin’ it today.” Days when I’m actually sort of dreading what’s ahead? And then the mind chatter begins – you shouldn’t feel like that. Your life is great! Think of that show you saw last night where the guy was trying to lose 200 lbs and he had to break up with his fiancée and he was homeless and living in his car and then his son died? You have NO problems! YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY! If you’re not happy, you’re ungrateful!

My mind is right! I should be happy. I should be grateful. I should be carpe-ing the diem. But, in that moment, I’m not. And so the game begins. The mental tug-of-war between how I feel and how I think I should feel. The berating myself (how are you going to help anyone else if you can’t even help yourself), etc.

I know I’m not alone in this. Russ Harris, who is one of my very favorite authors in the ACT realm, has a great book called The Happiness Trap. I’m stealing liberally from him and also from Steve Hayes, who has another book I like called Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life. These guys openly and readily admit that their minds beat them up all the time – and they are ACT gurus!

One time I stopped and listened to all the crud my mind was spewing about a particular topic and I thought, Wow, I would never be friends with someone who talked to me like that. Hmm. Interesting.

I’ll talk more about what we can do when our minds are blathering away in an unhelpful fashion in the next post. Ah, the suspense! But this post is getting too long…so until next time, what is your mind going on about right now? Noticing it is step one.

Testing, testing…and food for thought

“The things we hate about ourselves aren’t more real than things we like about ourselves.” -Ellen Goodman

This is another speedy quick post, predominantly to see if my RSS feed magic has worked correctly, and if it has I have Zack to thank! Even if it doesn’t, thanks Zack! 😉

This little picture made me laugh when I first saw it, so of course I promptly stole it for all of you to enjoy. Birds with french fries do appear quite happy.

But what if you’re having a craptastic day? How are you supposed to be like that little guy happily ingesting trans fats and whatnot?

As I mentioned earlier, you won’t (and honestly can’t) always be happy. But what you can be is intermittently happy, and sometimes all those intermittent smidges (or blobs or whatever units you like to measure your happiness in) add up to a pretty good afternoon, day, week, etc. Even though things are going to happen that stress you out, depress you, worry you, anger you, good things are going to happen too.

Your job is to see the good stuff, to notice it, and take advantage of it. Like that bird with the fry.

The tricky bit has to do with all our judgments – we’re SO good at judging things, people, events, ourselves. The quote I picked for today, though, made me think.

What if our judgments of what’s “wrong” with ourselves or other people or whatever just happened that we may be judging….are wrong? Or at least not completely right? What if the things we think are so awful are really products of our viewpoint, and not so much the external reality (whatever that is). Oops, I’m going a bit metaphysical.

What I’m saying, really, is that the way we evaluate things, good, bad, or neutral – these are really just stories we tell ourselves. One isn’t necessarily more true than another, depending on how you look at it. I’ll have more to say about this when we get to  The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.   And when we talk more about ACT.  For now,  maybe we can all work on questioning those automatic judgments a little more, especially when they start to lead us down a mental trail of crankiness or gloom or anger.

Now I’m going to try really hard not to eat fries with lunch!

You can still be happy some of the time!

Just in case the last post left you feeling a bit forlorn, bereft, or confused (which was not my intention, but it could happen), I offer a smidge of inspiration. I’ll have much, much more to say on the topic of ACT and of course, on happiness.

For today, though, let’s listen to Nelson Mandela. I think if anyone knows about tough times, he probably does. I’ll bet he sometimes thought that ever getting out of prison was impossible. It wasn’t. It just took a long, long time.  Did you know he was actually offered release, but it was on the condition that he never speak out against Apartheid. Guess what? Back in he went, for 5 more years. Wow.

What is it that YOU think is impossible? Maybe, just maybe, it’s not.

Why you’ll never be happy (well, at least not all the time!): Part One

“Seek to do good and you will find that happiness will run after you.” – James Clarke

I know, what a horrible title! Here I am, supposed to be doling out smidges of happiness, encouraging and inspiring you, blah blah blah…and now…this? If it weren’t free to read this here blog, you might want your money back. I understand.

I have to admit, the first time I started learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; remember, I told you I’d have more to say about this) I was more than a little disheartened to find out that the goal was not to make my clients HAPPY. Come on, I thought. How am I going to motivate myself or anyone else by letting them in on THIS little secret?  After all, isn’t that what we all want?

We want ourselves to be happy. We want our loved ones to be happy. Everyone on TV and in the movies seems to be happy, or else their story is so dire that we feel happier by comparison whilst viewing their plights. Hey, isn’t our whole entire country founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?   Happiness must be a pretty big deal.

Here’s the clincher:  YOU CAN’T BE HAPPY ALL THE TIME.  Some days, you can’t even be happy MOST of the time. Ugh. What a downer.  And I’m a therapist!

I’ll say it again, you can’t be happy all your life. People who say they are happy all the time, well…how do I put this delicately? They’re lying.  Or delusional.  I’m often accused of being happy all the time. Not true, though I will freely admit that I’m in general a happy person. And I’m happy about that. 😉

You can’t be happy all the time. Nor should you be, really. Think about it: if you were happy all the time, you’d have to be completely unaware of the world around you. There is so much that is good in the world; very true.  At the same time, there is also ugliness, pain, and crappy annoyances. “Turning every frown upside down” just isn’t realistic, and this is coming from a relentless poster of inspirational sayings.  So to live in this world well and fully, we have to truly see the world, and sometimes what we see is going to make us feel the opposite of happy.  It sounds like that is a bad thing, but it really isn’t.

Buying into the lie that unless you are happy all or most of the time, there’s something wrong with you is a very dangerous path. It leads you to do all sorts of things to “feel better”, most of which are fine or at least minimally harmful in the short term/in moderation, but are quite frankly a hot mess in the long term.

What do I mean?  Well, tuning out for one. How many times have you been sad/annoyed/frustrated/vaguely discontent/angry and turned to something to help you escape?  It could be surfing the Web, checking out Facebook, watching TV, mindless gorging, even reading a book. Anything to check out of your life and into something else, just for a little while.

Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it, this disconnecting from the here and now. We were out to dinner one night recently,  and I looked over to see a family near us – every member of the family was on his/her phone.  They weren’t saying a word to one another.  I’m not lecturing; I’m noticing.   We all have a tendency to fall into the immediate gratification trap.  Not a problem here and there. Actually, if you are really upset, sometimes distraction is the best thing to do, while you let things percolate in your brain a bit. However, over the long haul, if you medicate every un-fun feeling by attempting to turn away from it, it doesn’t work.

Thus endeth Part One – more to come.  For now, do me a favor: if you are currently trying to tell yourself that you should be happy all the time, and beating yourself up when you’re not, allow yourself to at least question that statement.  Ironically, when you stop running after happiness, it sneaks up on you.  And, as the quote I opened with suggests, there’s more to living the life you want than your happiness…hmmm…

Make time to laugh!

Okay, this one will be a quickie, because I’m swamped at work. But I promise to write more and keep sharing all the little smidges of happiness that add up to fulfillment!

I’m aware that I’m technically cheating by using a quote as a picture…hmmm. Next time = separate quotes and pictures.

Trust me, there is a huge list of post ideas quite literally sitting on my computer. No shortage of brain dump here.

I should probably update: I did have to recycle one more pint last Monday, but so far the parking lot is unsullied this week. Well, at least it’s unsullied by party detritus.

Until next time…