I have a friend who loves to play the role of what I call: Change Optimist. Every time someone in her life goes through a shift—a lost job, a move, marriage—she turns into a cheerleader for new beginnings:
Your boss was awful. The next job’s going to be the golden ticket.
This neighborhood is so much better than the last one.
Single life sucks. Married life rules!
I appreciate her enthusiasm. I really do.
It’s just that, as time goes by, I’m increasingly uneasy with minimizing what-was to make room for what’s-starting.
William Bridges, an expert in this kind of stuff, makes a great distinction. He says that change is an external action or event—like, say, having a baby—whereas transition is “the inner reorientation and self-definition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life.” Yep, like becoming a parent.
Here’s the rub: If we don’t make that inner transition, if we don’t pay as much attention to what we’re letting go of as we do to what we’re inviting in, then change will be stressful, dissatisfying, or it just plain won’t work.
I think a lot of us parents are suffering from transition whiplash.
Amy*, a working mother to a 3-month old son, thinks she has yet to fully transition to being a mom. In fact, she suspects that because so many women (and men) leap into parenthood, without truly acknowledging what we’re leaving behind, skipping that internal step might contribute to post-partum depression.
I don’t know if Amy’s right about PPD, but her perspective echoes Bridges’ simple message: We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one.
The whole idea of letting go sounds a lot easier than it is, especially for those of us who choose to have kids, never mind struggle with fertility.
It seems that in the very act of choosing to become parents, we’re no longer permitted to long for our childless pasts. In other words, we asked for it, so get over it.
It’s no wonder that talking fondly about what we loved about our lives and relationships prior to parenthood can start to feel suspect or outright taboo.
We worry that missing what-was negates, undermines or somehow disrespects what-is: namely, our baby, our parenting efforts, our current lives.
So much so that—even if we secretly yearn for a time before parenthood—if our spouses dare to utter that sentiment aloud, we sometimes lash out, get defensive, accuse them of not embracing the present, of shirking responsibility, yada, yada.
Yet the truth is that we have every right—and according to Bridges every need—to mourn and celebrate what we’re saying goodbye to, not only because it deserves our attention, but more importantly because our future fulfillment, both as individuals and as a couple, depends on it.
All of this fits perfectly with a simple exercise called Myth Change, created by the Center for Right Relationship. Simply put, it helps us navigate transitions.
So whether you’re expecting your first child, or already have a family, ask each other a few questions to ease your transition to parenthood. And do your best to listen with compassion, curiosity and openness; meaning, listen how you’d like to be listened to. One more thing, hold off on going into fix-it mode:
What do you want to celebrate and acknowledge about yourself, your life and our relationship before we became parents?
What do you miss (or imagine you will miss) about yourself, your life and our relationship from that time before we became parents?
What do you most want (or imagine you will most want) to leave behind about yourself, your life and our relationship from before we became parents?
After you’ve heard each other out, ask: What past experiences or attitudes do you want to maintain or reintroduce into our lives as parents?
Now, together, think of 1 or 2 ways you can honor each other’s requests, even if that means honoring, say, 80% or 60% or as little as 10% of what’s being asked.
Why? Because sometimes our transitions into new experiences, like parenting, benefit from nurturing a wee bit of our past so we can better embrace our new roles, and each other, in the present.
*Name/specifics have been changed.