My life is so completely different than I planned. I’m a dreamer and I’ve had some big dreams in my life. At this point I have many different versions of my dreams since I’ve had to re-write them often. Even the dreams I had that have become a reality are different in real life than I thought they would be.
Life on Planet B
Being a wife and a mother in real life is entirely different on the inside than it looked from the outside. I recently saw the movie “Mom’s Night Out,” (which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend) as the chronically fatigued mother of 3 struggled with the disillusionment we moms sometimes experience in the midst of the daily grind. She is so confused why she’s unhappy since she has everything she ever wanted. Sometimes we get so caught up the messiness of life that we completely miss the joy in the mess. In the end she discovers the delightful truth that she is enough and what she does has real meaning. In the last scene, she has put wooden frames around the drawing her daughter had made on the wall of her home and smiles. Symbolically, in reframing her daughter’s artwork she has reframed her own reality. She’s living on “Planet B” now. (This is my fun term for Plan B.) She’s created her own alternate reality by finding new meaning in her suffering, practicing gratitude and letting go of expectations.
Misstep #1: We get caught up in the messiness and miss the meaning.
Mindful skill: Find creative ways to reframe reality through gratitude.
Parenting is for grown ups
In Momfulness, the exercise at the end of the chapter “Plan B” is called “Plan B Practice” that I have done as part of Project Momfulness. I so appreciate Roy’s graciousness in calling it a “practice,” because the truth is…“plan B” is more often reality than “plan A.” When, not “if,” things do not go as planned, we either take it in stride or throw a tantrum. When it comes to parenting, we’ve usually got our hands full with the tantrums our kids are throwing…so we don’t get to have one ourselves. This is why parenting is for grown ups.
Misstep #2: We don’t like what we get so we throw a fit.
Mindful Skill: Practice allowing the reality of life (be it plan B, C, or Z) to catapult us into better adults and more skillful parents.
The great illusion
What creates the suffering is the attachment we have to our original plan and the grief we hold on to when we refuse to let it go. We want to believe we can control our lives (and our children). Reality—most things are out of our control, and even though plans make us feel like we have control, ultimately, control is a myth. Stress management 101 is to determine if the stressful situation is in or out of our control. If it is in our control then we move into basic problem solving: Identify the problem, generate possible solutions, evaluate pros and cons, implement the best choice and if it doesn’t work, go back to step 1. If it is out of our control then we move into calming skills to self-soothe like reading, taking a bath, running or something that will set us at ease in the midst of the chaos.
Misstep #3: We buy into the myth that we are in control.
Mindful Skill: Practice letting go of what we cannot control through self-soothing behaviors or practices.
An important part of spiritual practice is to learn to let go, to recognize that Plan A exists only in my head. When I find my self irritated by changes in my schedule or resisting whatever is happening around me, I tell myself, “We’re now in Plan B. In fact, it’s become a daily mantra: Life as Plan B. It makes it much easier for me to relax and surrender to the moment. Denise Roy, Momfulness
What is a plan anyway? An expectation or a hope?
Usually plans are rigid and created without flexibility. When things don’t go exactly as planned we focus on the stuff that went wrong and then we can miss the joy all together. Like the bride who feels her whole wedding day is ruined because the cake doesn’t look like she thought it would. The reality is…our expectations never turn out to be reality. Sometimes what we get is better. Sometimes not. In this regard, expectations can be premeditated resentments…self-inflicted disillusionment. Even if what we get is better we still have to work through the grief of not getting what we really wanted.
Yet on the flip side…hoping without expectation most often yields gratitude. When we hope, we move away from a focus on perfection, allow flexibility, experience gratitude when things go well and disappointment instead of despair when they don’t go well. Hope makes space for the unexpected. Hope acknowledges the reality of uncertainty. This is called the “wisdom of uncertainty.” (one of a therapist’s best skills). Of course this is the harder path because it acknowledges our place in the universe. We are a part of something much larger and we can’t see the whole picture.
Misstep #4: We turn our plans into things we deserve and expect them to unfold perfectly.
Mindful skill: Move from “I will” to “I hope” and shift toward hoping for the best while maintaining awareness of the worst.
Perception is Reality
When it comes to planning, I’ve been through the alphabet a few times in my life already and I want to think I’m still young! I changed my career ambition about 8 times before I settled into what I really love. Turns out the things I wanted in life were not as great as the things I’ve received that I didn’t know I wanted. There are qualities I have discovered in my husband and children that I absolutely adore, but I had no clue how delightful these qualities would be in order to anticipate or look for them. Life is not supposed to go the way we plan because we don’t know how to plan for what hasn’t happened yet. We can’t want something we don’t know exists.
As we learn gratitude in all things, we discover the beauty of a real authentic life is far richer than the misguided perfections of an ideal life. Things are usually better when we get to experience them in real life, so long as we are willing to let go of the notion that they will be exactly like we think they should be. Real children are much more delightful than perfect children (especially since perfect children don’t exist).
Looking at a picture of a beautiful waterfall is one thing, but the reality of its majesty in person is another. That is, if we aren’t disturbed by the parts of nature that are unpleasant. I once spent some time in a swampland and I was overcome with grief at the reality of death and decay in nature. As I looked more closely, I began to see the beauty in the decay. The decaying rotting wood that was once strong and beautiful had become a home, sustenance and safety for the swamps tiniest creatures.
Misstep #5: Fiercely holding on to what we want or how we think things should be.
Mindful skill: With curiosity, look deeper to find the beauty in all things…even in the unexpected. Perception is reality.
The good news is…my perception is within my control so long as I let go of previously conceived notions. Sometimes we have to let go of our dreams so we can wake up to discover joy in the present.
As a follower of Christ, I have seen over and over how God’s plan B has beat my plan A every time. I’ll confess, sometimes I still yearn for what I wanted anyway. Plan B usually means I have to deal with discomfort or pain or something else that will make me grow, change, face reality or move through my own shame. Plan B’s force us to flex our resiliency muscles. We only grow on the edge of our comfort zone. However, often times we cannot see how plan B is better and sometimes we don’t grow but instead grow weary. This is when it’s helpful to remember that even God had a plan B. His plan B involves restoring His original relationship to humankind…and this is our best hope.