Changing your picture of life, when life doesn’t go as planned

Those who know me well, know that I’m an idealist through and through and whilst my ideals see me pushing for change for the better, I can also become very worn down by pushing for ideals that just can’t be transformed into reality. Our greatest strength is our greatest challenge, right? My idealism also makes me very “reflective”, which brings me to the point of writing this article.

This year, with all the challenges of COVID-19, nobody has gone about life in the way they would have expected 2020 to look like. The reality of expectations being completely flipped up side down or even ripped away entirely is very unsettling! In my “reflecting” however, I came to the conclusion that 2020, although a year of crazy change, has really been a year that has just magnified and amplified the reality of life – our expectations are often tainted by the shadow of our reality. I know I sound all negative, but hang in there as I promise there is a point to my seemingly pessimistic reflections! So here I go…

My life is very different to what I had expected it would be, as I’m sure is the experience of most. If you’re anything like me you had this initial picture in your mind of parenthood, of your child’s education, of connections with community, of your career, of your own identity… and yet bit by bit pieces of that picture get picked a part. Some pieces begin to lose their colour as relationships change, other pieces become marked or “tainted” as different hurts and trauma touch our lives. Sometimes, when change is so huge or the trials and trauma is so significant, some parts of the picture are even completely torn off to the point where the initial picture we hoped for almost becomes unrecognizable.

Once again, if you’re anything like me, you fight for weeks, months, even years to try and “fix” the damage to this initial “this will be my life picture”. You busy yourself in order to avoid confronting reality, you avoid certain people and relationships in hopes that things will just “get better”, you spend all your time trying to help and fix other people so you don’t have to confront the stuff in your own life that you know deep down inside needs to be addressed. You fight, you flee and sometimes you even bury your head in the sand, until you realize that all these attempts to “fix” this broken picture are so futile. You see, the picture you once held for your life isn’t unrecognizable because it’s damaged. It’s unrecognizable because it’s just not your picture. It’s just not your reality.

So you begin to paint a new picture… looking at the parts of your life that have been messy but that you wouldn’t be “you” without. As you work on this new picture (a reflection of your reality), you begin to realize that although it’s messy, for some reason it is also very clear and comfortably familiar. There is a warmth and a sense of belonging in it as parts of the picture that had once gone unnoticed, now are completely vivid and powerfully moving. You could actually go as far to say that this new picture, that you know will continue to develop and change over time, is quite magnificent, even beautiful. And that maybe (just maybe) it will be even better than the first….

As a parent to three young children, one being wonderfully autistic, another with a magical sensitive spirit and sensory processing disorder, and then a little one who I often feel just gets lost in all the chaos, I have wrestled (and still wrestle) with these two pictures. Parenthood is not what I ever expected it would be and as a mother, I’m not who I expected I would be. Although I’m certainly not at the point where I find this “new picture” magnificent (just yet anyway!), I am certainly releasing my tight grip on the first picture and more proactively painting the picture of my reality with a (mostly) open mind and open heart.

As this new picture of my reality begins to grow and develop, the most incredible lesson I have learnt is this: the beauty of parenthood is that whilst we are giving all we can to shape and influence our children, they in turn are powerfully re-shaping us.

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