Choices, “Have to” and the Stories We Tell
by Anna M. Brown
Life is filled with choices, from the mundane to the epic. For the most part it’s an invisible process. We make decisions on the fly through out the day. Other decisions are made with much deliberation and forethought. The ability to choose is something that empowers us, the knowledge that, no matter what, we have a choice. If a situation is out of our control, we still have the choice of our reaction. This knowledge can permeate our lives and our interactions with others. When keeping in mind that we always have choices, we are able to be present with whatever is occurring around us.
Unfortunately, there are times when we can lose sight of that. When we start feeling that we don’t have a choice, often times a feeling of “have to” is involved. The phrase “I/you have to” has become so common place in our language that we are actually starting to believe it. We say we have to go to the store, have to brush our teeth, have to brush our hair, etc. Using the word for such innocuous statements has allowed it to worm its way into our subconscious. Suddenly, we start to believe that we “have to” do things, that we don’t have a choice, that we are in fact prisoner to a long list of “have to’s”. Then we begin to project that on to our children, believing that they have to do things like go to bed at a certain hour, learn to read by x age, do what we tell them to do, etc.
When we are able to look at a situation and see that choices exist, there is no feeling of being trapped. It is when we believe that there are no choices, when we buy into the “have to”, that we start to feel the need to impose them on others. Then we start to tell our children “it’s time you learn there are some things in life you just *have* to do”. A couple of things have happened at that moment, the first is the fact that we have effectively shut down all communication. Second we have resigned ourselves to our own current state of misery. Instead, we can look at that statement, and ones like it, as merely red flags, signs to step back and see where *we* are feeling pinched, where *we* are feeling controlled. At that point, we can identify our own underlying needs, and begin to address them. Then the need to impose on others to meet our needs becomes unnecessary. We can become advocates for our children’s, our spouse’s, and our own freedom. Changing this paradigm paves the way to living consensually. This can be one of the most empowering shifts in thinking.
Suddenly, past areas of struggle become open for new ideas. Many people will say, “children *have* to go to school to learn”. Actually, there are hundreds of thousands of homeschoolers that don’t believe that. “Kids have to go to bed at 8, kids have to eat at dinner time, kids have to obey”. In fact, kids can sleep when they are tired and eat when they are hungry and dissent when necessary, all things that are assumed for adults. Examining these cultural norms in light of a belief of freedom and choice opens new doors to communicate with those in our lives. It allows us to make decisions based on the here and now, instead of outdated memes and mores.
So the challenge is to look at conflicts and disagreements with new eyes. Look with eyes that see the possibilities, eyes that see the *choices*. Choices always exist. It’s just a matter of being open to them. So when your child says they aren’t ready for bed, instead of insisting, choose to engage and connect. Enjoy the extra moments that you will be able to spend together that night. When your child is unwilling to share her toy, instead of forcing, choose to listen and understand her point of view. Facilitate her need for playing with that toy, while helping the other child find something just as interesting. When your child skips dinner but is hungry before bed, instead of being frustrated, you can choose to share a quiet bowl of cereal and chat about the day. In each situation and the other unlimited examples out there, you always have the ability to choose joy and connection.
This leads to another area where our choices influence our perspective, an area where we often give away our power. We tell our own stories, we are the creators, the writers and the orators of our stories. We tell stories all the time, big stories like the story of our childhood, little stories about our trip to the grocery store. In both scenarios, we have the power to look at the positive, to tell a story that reflects joy instead of pain, growth instead of anger. Our childhood can be “full of stress, hating school, oppressive parents”; or that same childhood can be “trips to the lake each summer, popsicles with sisters, late night sleepovers and joyful Christmas mornings.” It’s the same childhood, just a different focus. Same with the grocery store, “the lines were huge, the deli was closed, some jerk was in front of me in line” OR “I got almost everything on my list, there was the sweetest little boy behind me in line, it stopped raining just as I was loading”. It doesn’t have to be the proverbial “putting on rose colored glasses” either. It can also be gratitude for the growth opportunities, even when they stretch us. In the midst of challenging situations, it is difficult to have perspective. It is often after the fact that we can see the journey and enjoy more clarity about its purpose in our life. The next step can be to openly greet each situation and to remain present with acceptance. We don’t have to wait for later. We can experience gratitude and joy all the time. Changing the focus empowers us. It benefits us by moving us out of a place of powerlessness and victimization to a place of awareness and joy. In that place, we can be more connected partners and parents. Accepting the journey for all that it is we can live fully present in today.
Our stories have a way of defining us, for ourselves and for others. For ourselves, they become a sort of “self talk”. If that talk is negative and full of worry and distress then we become that. If that talk is positive and full of joy and gratitude then we become that. For others, it colors the way they see us, they trust that our story is our truth. If that truth is steeped in frustration and anger then we attract the frustrated and angry. Misery loves company. If that truth is infused with joy and gratitude we attract the joyful and grateful. Where we put our energy is what grows. So again, it boils down to a choice. How do we want to spend our energy and what do we want to attract with it?
This process is especially important with kids. They look to us for information and emotional cues about the world around them. We can model a view that we are *exactly* where we need to be, that there is value in all of our experiences. We can model that there is value and purpose in our experiences and our feelings, even the tough ones. We can show them how we direct our energy and why. They can then make the choices for themselves.
Together we can navigate a world with a variety of situations and we can face those with the confidence that we always have choices, that we don’t *have* to do things we don’t want to do, and that our story is ours to tell. We can remain open to seeing all the options and hearing all the sides. We can keep doors open, instead of closing them. We can attract joy and happiness, instead of pain and anger. The choice is ours.