Acceptance Element #3: The willingness to resist idealizing alternative ways in which life “might” have gone
If I could give the parents I talk to on behalf of my work a gift, I would give them the gift of being unable to fantasize about their child’s future. I know, I know parents can’t help it. I’ll learn this very soon myself. But parents so often talk to Teresa/mom and myself about how their child’s substance use disorder is such a shame and how they just know their child would be a doctor, lawyer, programmer, or whatever if they had just not gone down that particular path.
There is so much grief over what might have been. Believe me, I know it is not easy to see your child struggle and to wish things had gone differently. That is natural, normal, and probably healthy to an extent. But, it can also become an unhealthy obsession that prevents a parent from seeing and interacting with their child as that person really is.
I think that considering negative realistic alternatives for our lives can be incredibly useful. Considering the ways in which things could have been worse has the potential to push us ever so slightly in the direction of gratitude in the midst of turmoil. Considering the ways in which things “should” be better, as we often do, does not serve us particularly well. It opens us up to additional resentment and contempt and distracts us from whatever work is actually in front of us, today, in real time, in our real lives.
There is no alternative universe where things went perfectly well. There is only the life we have. Let’s focus our attention on what is lest we miss opportunities to love and care for the people and world around us. In so doing, we find a piece of acceptance.