Monday, June 09, 2008


When I teach writing classes, I always tell students that the most important factor in the success of writing is the quality of the questions we ask ourselves before we begin. The same thing is true in life with any challenge we face. It was true this past week as I was making a dress for my daughter to wear to a friend's wedding and it's true for me in looking at the changes ahead for my son—and by extension my ex-husband and myself. The result in my daughter's case is that she has a dress she says is the nicest thing she's ever owned. The result in the situation with my son is that I can look at the situation, look at my emotions and acknowledge what I'm feeling without being overwhelmed by it, and I can look ahead to see ways I might be able to make the process go more smoothly for all of us.

It begins with being honest with myself about what I feel. It means acknowledging the emotions I wish I didn't have as well as celebrating what's good about the whole situation. It means looking head on at guilt and grief and asking myself whether or not the feelings are useful, based on valid or erroneous assumptions, and asking myself what I can do to address them.

When I was telling a friend about the upcoming changes, I found myself saying to her: I thought I'd have more time to figure out how to be the mother I wish my son could have had.

Think about the layers of emotion in THAT statement—many of which my gut reaction is to run from! But by stepping back and looking at those layers, letting myself feel whatever I feel, I can begin to take it apart, level by level. If guilt surfaces, I can look at ways I was a superb mother to my son—and acknowledge where his father might have had the greater strengths. I can look at the assumptions behind the guilt and realize that no one is ever a perfect parent and ask were the choices I made the best given the circumstances at the time—and discover that for the most part, the answer is yes. I can ask myself if guilt serves me or my son or the situation—and realize that it gets in the way of doing anything useful. And so I can let it go—at least for the moment.

I can look at the emotions and note the one that echoes my deepest fear when my son was born—that some day he would be helpless in a situation where he would be abused because he didn't fit in. I can ask whether that fear is a valid one. I can ask what steps I can take to make sure it doesn't happen—and what steps to suggest to my ex-husband (who will be living much closer). I can ask myself what I can do to help my son with the transition so that his behavior is less likely to trigger frustration and anger on the part of anyone supervising his housing situation—whatever that turns out to be.

I can create a list of questions my ex-husband can ask as he and our son tour group homes (starting this week!).

I can ask myself what actions will help ME with the transitions ahead—including scheduling a slightly longer visit in July and planning to go more thoroughly through the house to make sure I bring back with me anything of mine that I left there that I truly want—in case my ex-husband sells the house quickly.

I can remind myself to ask: What good will (or could) come out of this? And then I can celebrate the answers.

Questions are powerful tools. For one thing, they take us out of the level of emotions and into the mind where we can look at the thoughts and assumptions behind the emotions.

Wishing for all of you wonderful, useful questions this week! Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Kahless said...

Yes, questions are powerful tools.
In fact your post inspires me to go back and look at some questions I wrote in my journal this morning.

Marble Earth said...

The thing about questions is that a lot of them don't get answered. However, when I touch my pen to the page, I don't think it's about answering the question; it's about coping with it and realizing that 'you know, I don't understand this or that, but I can deal with it'. The writing in itself seems to be the answer for me, when I can't find one. So yes, the right questions are extremely powerful. They allow you to be honest with yourself. The only thing is, that you can't drown yourself in the "no answer" questions and become obsessed with them. The writing should become ther process of letting go.

I hope this makes sense.

Mary said...

Some questions that I have a hard time dealing with are "The what ifs" what if I had done this, would it have made it better? What if?
That question always haunts me..Mary

April_optimist said...

Kahless, Thank you.

Marble earth, Right. The key is to use what we do have answers for and not stress about the rest. Writing it down seems to sometimes do an end run around the defense mechanisms we often have in place.

Mary, (((Hugs))) What if--you did the best you could? What if--it was meant to turn out the way it did? What if you loved yourself enough that decisions got easier? What if no matter what, you can start from this moment and begin to create the life you want to have and be the person you want to be?

Mary said...

Thank you April for visiting my blog. It has been so hard for me to even love myself for who I am. And to try and capture that "inner child" and hold her is so hard, but slowly I'm hoping I can, just like in my poem, sometimes its just so unbearable, and tonight seems to be one of those times...huggss Mary

keepers said...

a lot of what you said hit very close to home so we thank you for writing it so we get another perspective on the parenting and second guessing ourselves.



Marj aka Thriver said...

Yes, it's so important to ask those tough questions...and look for honest answers that will serve us in being true to ourselves. You are such an aware, brave person, April. You inspire me!

April_optimist said...

Mary, For me, at first it helped to find a doll that reminded me of myself as a child and hold and love that doll. Later I could just do it in my head the beginning that doll really helped.

Keepers, Big ((((((hugs))))). I look at it this way--at least we ask ourselves these questions. My mother never wanted to consider much less admit the possibility that she had been less than a perfect, wonderful, loving mother.

Marj, Thank you, my dear brave wonderful friend.