Transitions & Change: Honoring What We're Leaving Behind to Make Room for What's to Come
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” - Alan Watts
As the school year comes to a close, and we inch closer to summer with fewer social restrictions, we are faced with yet another time of transition in our lives. Transitions can bring up many emotional experiences, such as joy, sadness, excitement, and overwhelm, as we leave what’s familiar towards something new. While the changes we are facing may be welcomed and celebrated, they can also feel uncomfortable and challenging.
Often in our culture, we don’t spend much time consciously processing our transitions because the act of saying goodbye can be uncomfortable. We stick with "see you later's" even if we may not see someone later, or we focus only on what's ahead rather than acknowledging what's ending. When we ignore the sadness and grief of what is ending, it can begin to build up and make any future transitions much more challenging, and future things to celebrate a lot less fulfilling. Think back to last March, when the lockdown first started and we had to adapt to a new way of life. Calling that time challenging would be an understatement! We were all collectively faced to transition, and it brought up varying degrees of difficulty in leaving behind what was familiar to what was now different
Our brains crave predictability and consistency, and at the same time evolution and growth. We are wired for struggle, which often comes when we face the unknown.
How we transition can tell us a lot about ourselves. Think to any endings or goodbyes you’ve made in your life, whether they are recent or a long time ago. Do you take time to truly process the sadness of the endings you experience, or is it more in your nature to downplay the goodbye? When you or your child is sad or nervous to start a new school or job, move to a new home, or say goodbye to friends or family, is it easy for you to acknowledge the sadness and nerves, or do you focus on the positive: what to look forward to and be excited for?
Our brains crave predictability and consistency, and at the same time evolution and growth. We are wired for struggle, which often comes when we face the unknown. In times of transition, the brain is set up to struggle. Therefore, by approaching these transitions in a conscious, regulated way we can help the brain become more adaptable and resilient. You may notice that your child have challenges around simple daily transitions. Think getting ready for school, going to school or activities, sitting down for meals, and bedtime. Begin to notice how your kiddo handles these transition points - do they ignore you, throw tantrums, or argue, more than feels normal? If so, they may have trouble with adapting to change and transitions.
We cannot fully open to what is new, exciting, and joyful if we do not first open to what we are leaving behind.
For parents, you will be encountering numerous transitions with your kids throughout their lives - think graduations, new schools, developmental milestones, going off to college, etc. For any individual, transitions come and go constantly: leaving an old job and beginning a new one, an ending relationship, or a new relationship. Perhaps your family system has recently been through a bigger transition, such as a loss: a move, a marital separation or divorce, or an actual loss of a family member. How we approach these transitions - even the ones as small as leaving school for summer - can set us up for how we handle the big life transitions that will inevitably come.
My challenge to you this month is to find some space to slow down and acknowledge what is changing in your life. What is ending so that something new can begin? See if you can recognize and name any feelings of sadness or disappointment. We can even retroactively process endings that we may have skipped over quickly in the past by bringing them into our awareness now and acknowledging how challenging they may have been or how sad it is that things aren’t how they used to be.
It is possible in times of transition to feel both happy and sad at the same time. If we want to fully open to what is new, exciting, and joyful, we also have to open to what we are leaving behind. And we don't need to wallow in the sadness in order to process it fully, simply acknowledging it is a great place to start...
Jamie Quail, MA, LPCC is a Child & Family Therapist and Owner of Wise Nest Counseling, LLC offering play therapy and parent coaching sessions in Boulder, CO.