An uncomfortable thing for a parent to admit to their adult child
I’ve had to dispense some difficult advice to my kids over time. The most recent was to my eldest daughter who will soon be finishing University and making her way into the world as a fully-fledged adult.
She was lamenting that as an onlooker to my life, someone that she (hopefully) looks up to as an example, even in my mid-forties I still seem to find life a struggle at times. Her hopes for me as my daughter are undoubtedly similar to mine as her father — that our lives would seem settled, safe, secure, structured and ordered; inherently happy.
She seemed alarmed by what I told her and as a parent I have to confess it’s a message that I never imagined myself delivering:
Life is a struggle, and I don’t have the answers to why this is or how best to deal with it.
The good news is that I don’t think anyone else really does either.
They can’t do. Life is a constant process of change. It ebbs and it flows between chaos and order. When we think we’ve got it all figured out and that things are finally on an even keel, something changes to upset the balance. It may not be in the areas of life we were previously focused, but something will change which forces us out of order and into chaos once again. Life then feels inherently unsettled once again.
The failures, the sadness, disappointment and the times of hardship yield the lessons and growth that are necessary for us all. They drive us to achieve and make us appreciate the successes and the accomplishments that come to those who are willing to work for them.
It’s naive to live in the hope that there is some miraculous and all encompassing silver-bullet solution that makes life workout and everything seem easy. It’s futile to hope that such a secret that will suddenly become apparent or be passed down as you enter adulthood.
This is just how life is.
Chaos in work
A career is a long time and it will include many months and years spent working at a lowly level, dealing with the crap that others above you don’t want to deal with. It’ll involve many disappointments as you try and advance and get knocked back. You’ll feel undervalued and deprived of opportunity and your biggest challenge at times will be to cling on to your enthusiasm and optimism in spite of it all.
The payoff for sticking with it is that by coming through the times of adversity you’ll refine your ideas about what you want to do with your life. You’ll develop skills and traits that bring out your unique strengths and nurture your talents. The process will teach you what you value the most in your work and will guide you to the vocation that gives you what you need from life.
Chaos in love
A happy, stable, loving and supportive relationship seldom begins with a childhood romance. You will be let down and feel ignored, neglected, mis-treated. You will likely do the same towards others. It may take the kissing of a few frogs before you find your prince or princess. Even then, a lasting relationship doesn’t merely cruise along year after year without discord or argument. There will be differences of opinion, times of disagreement and periods when harmony and affection will be sorely lacking.
These are the times when the strength of a relationship grows and the foundations of it are strengthened. Harmony, romance and true and lasting love and friendship endure through the good times and bad, in spite of the many bumps along the way.
Chaos in life
You’ll strive to create the life you have idealised, enjoying wealth, health and an abundance of joy and fulfilment in daily life. As you work towards this, it’s likely you’ll experience what seem like unjust and unforeseen disruptions that seem to prevent you from getting what you want.
It’ll feel like a struggle to exercise regularly, eat sensibly and drink moderately and just as you start to find it easy, illness or injury will strike and knock you off course. When money starts to flow from your work, you’ll fight temptation to buy material junk that you think will make you happy. Investments may take a nosedive, and just as you start to build up a nest-egg, an unforeseen expense will crop up that sets you back to square one.
Each of these experiences will teach you the valuable lessons that instil the habits of saving, taking care of your health and prioritising community and fun in your life, once you understand that they are essentials, not the mere icing on the cake.
Life can be tough, and there is no solution or secret to overcoming that fact, at least not that I’m aware of.
We can fight that fact, resist and to wish it were different. Or, we can accept it as the reality and adapt our way of living and our expectations of life in accordance with that.
I know this isn’t what my daughter wanted to hear. We parents try and ensure that our kids are given safety, stability and predictability in their lives. It’s essential as infants so that they can learn what being a human is really all about without risk or danger.
And yet, things will likely happen that inherently upset their stability no matter how much we try and protect them. They’ll form and lose friendships. Elderly relatives may pass away. A bully will disrupt their enjoyment of school. Their parents may end up divorcing (as was the case for me and my kids’ mother). Each of these events and many more besides, teach our kids that life is comprised of regular change, and not always for the better.
But it is through growing, learning and adapting to such changes and events that we become more complete, capable and well-rounded humans. It’s through the learning forged in the crucible of chaos that we become equipped to function in a world that is inherently chaotic.
I’m pretty certain that my daughter started at university expecting that she was continuing on the next stage of a smooth, safe and proven path that started with her schooling, continued through college and at the conclusion of university would deliver her into a well-paid and stable job that would give her the life she desired.
If that was her wish, I can only feel a little disappointment on her part that this won’t likely come to fruition, at least not quite as seamlessly as she expects.
That’s not a bad thing though. It’s merely the way of the world, and in truth it’s the reality that most of us who’ve chalked up a few years of ‘adulting’ have learned to some degree or another.
There is no ‘happy path’ that can be relied upon to take us through life without incurring at least a scrape or two along the way. There isn’t a formula or model that can be followed to deliver all the upside of life without experiencing some of the downs as well. Anybody who tells you they’ve got it all figured out is lying to you and themselves as well.
But this is okay. It’s good. It’s reality.
There is strength and good to be found in reaching this understanding. In a sense, it means that you have actually figured out this thing called life when you are able to reach this understanding and find acceptance of the lack of order and structure that prevails.
There is no secret, and maybe that in itself is the secret!