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Our days as parents are full of unexpected moments, from behaviors to emotions, to interactions with others. In the midst of all the flexibility that is required to roll with these momentary changes, it’s nice to know that some transitions in our lives are completely predictable. The change of seasons is one of them. Mother Nature has created a world for us where weather, plants and animals will predictably transition. In some parts of the world, the transitions are smooth and subtle, and in others they bring quite dramatic change. Either way, the changes happen and they always provide an opportunity for adjustment and growth.

Here in Wisconsin, Spring is just about ready to pop. We are all excited about warmer weather, longer days, sunshine and gardening. There is a sense of growth in the air, and an urgency to do some ‘Spring Cleaning’ to make room for the new changes.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how we can do Spring Cleaning for ourselves, internally and emotionally. It seems we have the chance to do some personal dusting and washing, some clearing out of the old, unproductive aspects of our lives that might keep us stuck emotionally. We can find those hidden piles of dust in the corner and move them—either out of our lives entirely, or at least get them closer to the dustpan and the front door. We can look at that stain on a couch or sweater that has been there for months (or years), and make a decision to start working on getting it out.

Below are 3 simple questions to get us thinking about what might benefit from internal Spring Cleaning in our lives. As you’ll see, they’re all somewhat related and ask about similar processes, but in slightly different ways.

What patterns keep getting repeated in my life that aren’t useful to me?
This question usually gets illuminated during or just after times of stress, when we have that discouraging thought: “this always happens.” Maybe we realize a certain behavior always seems to set things off in the same way. Or maybe we realize we are discussing the same difficult issues with people we love, but nothing is changing. Either way it can be so disheartening to feel like the pattern can’t be broken. This is our sign that it’s not useful to us, and something might need to be changed.

What expectations am I holding onto too tightly that might not be useful for me?
This question requires us to confront the fact that it is hard to loosen our grip on expectations. We can rationally say “I realize life isn’t always fair,” but it is an entirely different thing to experience something very difficult and feel the pain of the reality that life isn’t fair. Similarly, we can have hopes and dreams for our children and relationships, but it is awfully hard to allow those to change because they are important to us. This question usually gets illuminated in times of disappointment or frustration. When do we notice the sadness that something didn’t work out as it was supposed to? When do we feel frustrated that the world hasn’t come together perfectly to facilitate the plan we had designed? These are our signs that we may be holding on so tightly that there isn’t room to flow with the changes of life.

What perspectives do I have that could use a slight alteration or shift?
This last question is all about how we view and make sense of situations and people. For me, I can usually identify perspectives that aren’t useful because they are stated in all-or-nothing terms in my head. Whether it’s a judgment of a person, a conclusion about how an interaction went, or a definitive statement about myself, I can see I am describing the world in absolute terms. I also notice that I become fixated on that one perspective, repeating it often in my head, and I’ve left no room for an alternative way to think. These are usually the times I know that I am stuck in a viewpoint that doesn’t allow for change.

These three questions require us to identify things that aren’t useful—in essence, negative aspects of our experiences–so that we can begin to find space for those things that will be more useful to us. It is not about running away from the negative or stuffing it in a corner; rather, it’s about bringing it all to light and starting to understand it better. Sometimes just the process of spending time to reflect on these questions and answer them honestly is an accomplishment.

Once we have increased self-awareness, the question naturally becomes “Now what?

I ask myself this a lot, and I am learning to sit with the fact that I don’t have an immediate answer. I don’t know how the story will end, I don’t know what will change, and I don’t know if it will all work out. I believe this is all part of the process of cleaning.

For now, my Spring Cleaning involves taking the time to find those hidden stains and spots of dust and begin to notice them. Even though they might be painful and annoying I might be able to find love or humor in them since I know that they are an essential part of life. For now, I’ll bring them forward and start to shake things up. I’ll poke and prod, and maybe even sweep or get a washcloth. Tomorrow, we’ll see what I’ll choose to do next. Like every day, tomorrow will be a new season of possible change…

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