This post is absolutely not about politics – I think we’ve all had enough of Brexit for one lifetime – but reading Facebook and Twitter did get me thinking about change and people’s reactions to it!
In my former life I hated change. For a while I was on a fast track scheme at work and hated the necessity of changing postings every 6 months, as that was just about the time I started feeling comfortable in what I was doing! In my late teenage years I always preferred staying in the same pubs / clubs each week (night!) and knowing who was going to turn up, because it was pretty much always the same people!
In previous relationships I probably stayed in them longer than was healthy, purely because it was easier to stay than to risk what might happen if I left. After all, a life of occasional moderate happiness may well have been better than the potential of a life without ever finding anyone else ever again and resigning myself to 60+ years of living alone with a cat. And given I’m allergic to cats, that wasn’t a pleasant thought.
Coupled with my general desire to feel comfortable in situations was the fact that I am a tiny bit lazy at times and that I generally hated conflict, so it was easier to just go along with things.
I’m still very adept at letting things wash over me, but somewhere in the past 5 years I have become a lot more relaxed about change too, and almost bizarrely quick at finding positives in almost any situation. From attending more management courses over the years that I can remember, the Change Curve is one concept that has always held some resonance for me. For those of you that have also sat in dingy, poorly lit, baking hot rooms being talked at by strangers about how to be better leaders, you will be well aware that it all starts with:
Denial – Something changes and at first most people will naturally try to deny / ignore the fact it is happening. For some reason I don’t tend to do this – potentially because so many ridiculous things happen in the world on a daily basis, and with social media having taken over, that there isn’t really any way to ignore things these days.
Realisation / Shock – Again, not much shocks me these days because bizarre things happen constantly!
Anger / Resistance / Blame – This is the key one that people get stuck in. We saw today after the Leave vote that a lot of people on the Remain side of the debate took to blaming everyone who voted Leave, accusing them of being thick, uninformed, pensioner racists intent of ruining Britain, nay the World, for generations, effectively committing our offspring to a life spent sweeping chimneys, living in squalor and trapping rats for food. Fortunately (depending on how you look at it!) I’ve never been one to have many emotions, and anger isn’t really one that hits me. At most I’ll have a whinge about something to a work colleague for 5 minutes, but that’ll be that.
Acceptance – Unless it’s a decision / change that you can influence, the quicker you can get to this stage, the quicker you can start doing something useful about it! With a hell of a lot of practice over my years at work, I have taught myself subconsciously to get to this stage without spending much time on the first few stages!
Uncertainty / Fear – Once you’ve accepted that something is happening you can then start worrying about how it will impact on you and your friends / family / colleagues. Once you’re here you can then do useful things, like:
Understand the change / Generate ideas of how it could be OK – yeah, the change sounds shit, the people who came up with it are probably idiots, it’s all a bit scary, but just maybe you can find a positive or two in there, and just maybe you can help make the change work as well as it possibly can. You can’t change what’s happened, so there’s little point whining on about it.
The dream at the end is then to reach the ‘commitment and enthusiasm‘ stage where everyone holds hands, has a nice cup of tea and discusses how wonderful the change was after all and how silly they all were for thinking it would be shit. If you reach this stage then fair play to you, because 95% of the time the most you can hope to do is make the best of a shit situation!
When you become a parent for the first time, the change hits you like a brick wall! However much you prepare for it, however many baby books you read, however many NCT classes you attend and however many friends and family you ask for advice, you can never be prepared for going from a person completely in charge of their own life / plans / schedule / timetable to someone in charge of someone else’s life where their schedule suddenly becomes your schedule!
I remember thinking after bringing Joshua home for the first time that the chances of ever managing to leave the house again were negligible. How could we possibly leave the house when he was intent on shitting himself through his outfits every few minutes and wailing for hours on end?! How could we go to a restaurant ever again? Cinema? Shopping? The toilet?! Surely if we stopped staring at him for more than 20 seconds he would stop breathing and we would end up in jail? Surely the health visitor would think we had no idea what we were doing when she rocked up?
I think the Denial stage comes a month or two before birth, when you are still optimistic but your friends keep saying things like ‘enjoy you sleep now because you’ll never sleep again when you have a baby’, or ‘enjoy your holiday because you’ll only ever go to Centre Parcs after he’s born’, or ‘enjoy your piss because after he’s born you will never piss alone again’.
‘Why are these idiots trying to put me off’?’ you think to yourself, safe in the knowledge that your child would be different.
The Realisation / Shock stage comes when a small wrinkly pink thing (with massive purple hands) is handed to you in hospital and everyone else wanders off to deal with another birth somewhere!!
So, um, what do I do with him exactly? What if he shits himself? What if I drop him? What if he cries? What if he stops breathing? I can’t feel my arm – where do I put him? Are his hands meant to be this big?! Can I still sleep or do I have to watch him? What if I need the toilet? What if he won’t feed? What is that mark on the back of his neck? How do I adjust the pissing car seat straps so he doesn’t fall out!!!??? Is he too cold? Is he too hot?
Anger comes and goes – Why won’t you sleep? Why won’t you feed? How can I survive on 2 hours sleep each night?! We can never go on holiday ever again – why didn’t someone tell us it would be like this??!! You’re not angry at him because it’s so obviously not HIS fault, but you’re angry at someone – mostly yourself for being angry!!!
When you have got to the stage of accepting that your previous life is no longer your life and that your life is now 95% HIS life things start getting easier! Yes, things are harder to do spontaneously – even popping to the local shop would generally involve two nappy changes, wiping shit from the bedroom wall, 30 minutes of rocking him to sleep, sterilizing a bottle and dummy, re-sterilizing the dummy, re-sterilizing the dummy again, changing outfit twice, erecting the pram, changing your own outfit after being vomited on and locating a muslin without vomit / excrement / food / drool encrusted on it before even leaving the house. But you have chosen this life and 99% of the time it’s an awesome life to choose! But secretly you still fear that you will never have a romantic evening out ever again and that your future foreign holiday plans will purely involve South Wales.
But then you realise that you CAN still do things if you put your mind to it. Yes, it takes a hell of a lot more planning to arrange a trip to the cinema or a night out at a restaurant, but it can be done! If you plan his nap schedule well you might even squeeze in a trip to a shop or two. You might be able to meet up with friends still, as long as you don’t expect 2 hours of in-depth, uninterrupted conversation. Then suddenly 6 days, and then 6 weeks, and then 6 months have passed and he’s still alive, is still healthy and still hasn’t been confiscated by the health visitor. By putting one foot in front of the other and taking each day as it comes, you’ve survived it! Some days you’ve even quite enjoyed it!!
Then, out of nowhere, he turns two and is walking, running, saying things that make sense, making choices and instead of painstakingly spending every minute trying not to drop him, you are the parent of a little cheeky, charming, intelligent, healthy miniature grown-up and every challenging moment that you’ve been through has been SO INCREDIBLY WORTH IT!!!
So, wherever you are on the Change Curve, know that you will get through it and know that it’ll be worth it – but also try to enjoy every step of the way, because they won’t be babies for long!!