I remember when my kids were in elementary school and I was still married, we were surrounded by other nuclear families during drop-offs and pick-ups and school events. In junior high, not so much. In high school, neither one of my children had friends whose parents were married. Not one.
Think about that for a moment. Not a single nuclear family to be found amongst our circle of friends. I know it’s the same for many others.
This is shocking and should alarm us.
But perhaps not for the reason you’d suspect.
I’m all for kids growing up in an intact family, with two involved parents (stressed by work though they may be) and siblings (squabbling or not). I’m even for kids growing up with a hands-on, single parent (stressed by work though they may be) – or a stepfamily based on love (imperfectly “blended” though it may be).
What I’m not in favor of are all the lies we tell ourselves.
About who’s doing what to whom and why.
About how you’re not to blame, but the other person is.
About why any of it bothers you.
I’ve had to learn what I’m about to say the hard way and will continue to learn about it for the rest of my life.
The reason we have such a hard time with the other woman, our ex, or the other household is because we’re not right with ourselves.
We’re still caught up in old tape loops from long ago, about how we’re unworthy. How we’re going to be abandoned. We’re wincing when someone unknowingly scratches at an old scar, our skin still thin and tender and over-sensitive, or accidentally bumps up against a hard, but fragile scab, not yet healed.
We’re hiding from our fears, from a sense of free-floating shame, from a gnawing anxiety about when the other shoe is going to drop.
We’re pretending to feel more in control than we are. We’re trying to hold a big, wet soggy blanket of guilt up over our heads with locked, shaking arms and we’re so, so tired, wondering when we get to put it down.
We distract ourselves from all of it by leaping from one online lily pad to the next, compulsively getting lost in promises of entertainment or self-improvement, or whatever’s on TV or in the cupboard or any other way we tune out, just to get away from that weird feeling…
As we fall asleep at night or wake up in the morning, we are occasionally faced with some clear, but uncomfortable alarm bells going off about those we love: I must do something about what’s going on with ____. The time is now.
But life always piles on, every day, and the ringing of the bell becomes so muffled by activity that eventually we can’t hear it anymore. Until we do again.
None of this is stuff we really know what to do with.
It’s deep and it’s big and it’s odd and it’s overwhelming.
Our family life was hard then, and failed for the same reason it’s hard now: because of what lives inside of us.
We are the problem, not them.
You ask, But how can you say that, when ______ (fill in the blank with the other person’s unacceptable behavior)?
Well… remember the last time you felt centered? When you felt strong and grounded? Not all amped up and ready to blindly tackle the world. Just calm, clear-headed. Humble, accepting of yourself.
Remember when you felt a sense of compassion and respect for yourself and all others? When you felt yourself humming and vibrating with the power of love and its ability to blast through all the muck of our minds, all the fear and confusion, all the grasping at control?
From that place, people create miracles.
From that place, you can look at other people’s difficult behavior and feel immune from unkind intentions – or know whether you’re misreading people in the first place. From any of it being a commentary on who you are, your worth as a person and what that means about who will or won’t love you because of it. From that place, people stop operating from the subconscious directives that sabotage their life:
You can’t really trust people – watch your back.
You will never truly be happy – life is too hard. Maybe later.
There’s something wrong with you, deep down – no one will ever completely love you and accept you, just as you are.
People will always, eventually disappoint you – that’s just the way it is.
You can never do anything important well enough – just look at how you’re always behind or have already failed.
Our subconscious minds are very powerful. The majority of our behavior is driven by these old “rules.” If your life is hard, you can actually thank your subconscious for doing such a good job, because it’s only carrying out its original instructions, like an obedient dog.
The reason this matters is because of what we are teaching our kids, what we are transmitting to them in a science fiction-like download.
During the first five years of their lives, our children and stepchildren spend most of their time in a hypnogogic state of delta and theta, soaking up everything without a filter. That’s the important part. There’s no discernment there. Just a red, blinking “Record” button that’s on. (Alpha is regular consciousness and beta is very active consciousness, where you’re focused and purposeful.)
They are learning new, immutable “truths” about two primary aspects of life:
- How the world works, based on how their parents or stepparents respond to their external environment.
- Who they are, based on their parent’s or stepparent’s perception of them.
It’s our job to love and accept ourselves, so that our kids can do the same.
It’s also our job to reduce our sensitivity to perceived conflict, so that we don’t “program” our children to expect that life is hard and you can’t ever let your guard down or you will be screwed — because they will grow up to play out those scripts just like a robot would.
What do you think your children or stepchildren are learning from you right now? What might their lives look like in the future because of it?
None of this is said to add to the weight of your existing soggy blanket of guilt or to increase your fear. These ideas are offered in the spirit of knowledge as power. Knowledge creates curiosity and a new context. A new context creates hope.
So reverse-engineer your life. Ask yourself,
What major negative beliefs is my subconscious dutifully carrying out?
How might the current problems I’m having with the other household reflect those negative beliefs?
Can you live with leaving this as a legacy for your children and stepchildren?
If the answer is no, then figure out how to change those beliefs.
When you do, you’ll create a new pathway into the future for your stepkids and kids with their own marriages (and that of your grandchildren and stepgrandchildren!). And you’ll be a hell of a lot happier. I’ll be writing more in the future about what’s helped me change mine.
Thanks for reading! (And thanks to Seth Godin for inspiring this post!)
© Jennifer Newcomb Marine