Radical Acceptance

Families Are Chaotic

The perfect family does not exist: you need to stop trying to make yours perfect.

Instead, we need to accept our families – and the individuals who make it up – just the way it is even when we know it could be better.

Families are perpetrators of some of the messiest and most unpleasant experiences we will ever endure. And, they are the birthplace of our greatest joy and love. People are emotional beings, and emotions are powerful and unpredictable. Things are not always roses and sunshine, nor should they be. Violent outbursts happen. We raise our voices. We lash out sometimes and so do our children. We get upset, angry and afraid. We fall down the rabbit hole of self-pity and self-righteousness. This is just the way family life is, and to have it any other way would be to cap our joy, love, and fulfillment, too.

My Girls

The fights that used to break out when my four daughters became teenagers, in particular, were intense, to say the least. Usually, they were ignited by the twins “borrowing” – without asking – their older sister’s clothes. Despite repeated attempts to keep the twins from taking her outfits, nothing seemed to work. At times, the escalating frustration and vitriol that would fly from their mouths as they slammed doors and hurled insults and blame back and forth would make the walls shake and my hair curl.

Nothing I did made any difference, except one thing: fully accepting the chaotic rage without judgment.

A Parenting Superpower

We need to approach family life with what the Buddhists have referred to for a long time as Radical Acceptance. If you were to ask me about my parenting superpowers, this would be top of the list, second only to trust.

Radical Acceptance has been adopted and popularised by Marsha Linehan, developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), who borrowed mindfulness from Buddhism and folded it into psychotherapy because it is so useful during times of conflict and distress.

It means to completely stop fighting or trying to change the situation or any of the people involved it. It is to completely and totally accept something from the depths of our soul, with our hearts and our minds. Because when we stop fighting reality, we suffer less.

Not easy to do in the heat of the moment, but I remember feeling deep pride in myself when I could stand in the moment – sometimes between my girls – and resist their temptations to draw me in to their opposing sides and, instead, breathe into myself and the situation in front of me.  This old buddhist saying was extremely helpful to me at times like this:

Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.

Acting with Radical Acceptance is an extremely powerful place to live, but it’s easier to talk about than do. This article discusses common blocks to making it a reality in your life. Radical Acceptance is worth practicing, however, because it transforms EVERY aspect of your life, not just difficult parenting moments.

In my experience, if we can LEAN IN to everything that happens in our families, including the good, the bad and the ugly, we will learn from the pain and avoid the suffering.

Get in touch if you’d like help aplying Radical Acceptance to your family situation.