It was one such night and I had sent my second son off to his room with some rather firm words and instructions to ‘think about it’. By the time I walked in to say goodnight to him, it was clear that he had done exactly that- but in all the wrong ways.
The boy had grown angrier and more upset than when I had told him off initially. The situation was far worse in his head and I was unequivocally and without question, the worst parent on the planet. Fortunately, this wasn’t my first rodeo and I was determined to break his foul mood, regardless of what I needed to do.
As my sons know, we don’t got to bed angry in this family. Not ever.
So I sat down on the floor in the most non-authoritarian pose that I could muster and asked him what was wrong. He glared at me from the bed and growled- everything was wrong. I probed further, asking him to tell me what ‘everything’ entailed. I then listened without judgement while he recapped blow by blow, the entire unfairness of the situation, why this family was the worst ever and why basically everything from global warming to the US presidential election had suddenly become his personal problem.
I nodded, agreed and didn’t argue with anything that he said. After he was done, I even asked him, if there was anything else. He frowned, weren’t things bad enough already? I then asked him a new question: “now that we know all the bad things in your life, can you tell me about the good things?”
He was growing frustrated, so I moved quickly into an exercise that was shared with me once. I asked him to look around the room and list all the things that were red. He rattled off a few items begrudgingly. I then asked him to close his eyes and try to list all the items in the room that were yellow.
He couldn’t of course. He hadn’t been looking for yellow. He had been looking for red. He managed to name one item. There was a yellow Pokémon card somewhere, apparently. I invited him to open his eyes and take a second look. As it turned out, there were many yellow items in the room. “Anyway, whatever- what’s the point?”, he grumbled.
The point is, boy- that you only ever find what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for what’s wrong, you’ll always find a big list. If you’re looking for what’s right, however, you’ll also find just as much.
Life is less about what ‘is’, and more about what we choose to see. Two people could live through the exact same situation, but have a radically different experience. We’ve probably all heard this before at some stage, but it’s amazing how often we still accept every situation as a set of facts, when in reality, it is always just a set of perceptions.
He’s a smart boy, so the amount of ‘yellow’ in the room was actually a powerful revelation.
He was still moody, and that was ok. But his frame of reference was challenged and I was able to get close enough for a goodnight kiss without getting swatted away. That was good enough for me.
As I said their nightly prayer from the hallway a little later (I stand there like a chanting monk so all the boys can hear me at the same time… you gotta take shortcuts where you can in this gig), I included a big list of all the that things we are grateful for in our lives.
And I finished with: please help us to always find the yellow in every day. Amen.