Six months ago, my wife and I become the foster parents of two beautiful children—siblings ages three and five. Our initial confidence was smashed into humility and exhaustion.
We are both graduate students. Life is busy. But we’ve wanted to grow our family for almost three years. We have felt ready for parenthood and given our situation, foster care felt like the right move.
Trying to juggle multiple projects at school was challenging enough. But the weight of my school work paled in comparison to seeing my wife’s tired and answerless face when I walked through the front door into a colossal mess.
The hardest part was that these kids had never experienced any form of structure in their entire lives. No rules, schedule or routine. Just chaos. Which is all they’ve ever known and what they’ve grown to love.
Their response to our desired structure was complete rejection. Endless tantrums. A gaping relational void screaming in all of our souls—you’re not my parents. This is not my home. This is not how I live my life.
My wife and I were both shocked by the challenge our lives had become. I reached an all-time low. I felt like I couldn’t handle the mounting pressure in my life. Homework assignment after homework assignment. Trying to moonlight my dream of becoming a writer. Not knowing if I would pass my classes. Having no answers and feeling like a failure in life.
Feeling no joy at school and no love when I came home. One night I couldn’t sleep. While lying awake next to my sleeping wife the thoughts echoed through the chambers of my conscious:
I hope she’s doing alright.
I haven’t been able to support her the way she needs.
I can’t give up on her.
We are in this together.
She deserves my best.
I need to show up more powerfully for her and these kids.
Everything In Your Life Can Change Immediately
Although I didn’t sleep much that night—I determined all of our lives would be different. Our home would be a happy and loving place. I would support my wife like she deserves. School wouldn’t be hell.
I worked hard at school that next day. On my way home I bought flowers for my wife and our little girl. Rather than being overwhelmed, I engaged with the kids. We went to the backyard and played on the swing-set so my wife could have a breather.
I gave my wife an hour long massage that night and told her how much I appreciated her, and how much I wanted her life to be amazing.
It didn’t take long—only a few days or a week—and the complete energy of our home was different. We felt like a family.
That’s the powerful part. You not only have the power to change your world, but other people’s worlds as well. You have the power to change the entire world. The future is not set in stone, it’s in your hands.
So much power.
The Truth about David and Goliath
In his book, David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell explains that often, the underdog actually has the advantage. Like children with dyslexia learning skills that equip them to become world-class entrepreneurs, David had an unanticipated advantage the entire time. Goliath was a foot-soldier and was not equipped to fight a slinger. He had no chance against David.
Taking on these kids has not been a disadvantage to my goals. On the contrary, it’s been a huge advantage. It’s caused me to focus. I used to spend loads of time distracted from my goals. Now, I don’t have time. I need to wake up early and hustle so I can get home and be present with my family.
Having three people depend on me makes me look differently at how I spend each day. Can I really afford going running for three hours tonight? Can I really justify watching YouTube videos for an hour here and there?
The answer to these questions is: Yes. I can “afford” it. However, my new situation has raised my own sights for what I can achieve and how I can live my life. I no longer have a desire to waste my time and energy. I want to provide the best life I can for my wife and kids. I want to be an amazing example and to make them proud.
Hustling and being focused is the least I can do for the beautiful people who trust and depend on me.
Getting Out of Survival Mode
When you have enormous responsibility and pressure heaved upon you, it’s easy to fall into survival mode—feeling mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually incapable of doing what you need to do.
The truth is, you can’t do everything. Sacrifices will need to be made. Your life can’t remain the same when something big changes. You must change and purposefully adapt.
Anything is possible but not everything thing is possible.
Taking on the right responsibilities allows you to clearly discern your highest values and priorities in life. The transition can feel like survival mode. However, you can quickly get out of that mode by removing lower priorities which no longer make sense in your new context.
By honing your life in, and spending your days on things you truly value, you move rapidly toward your highest ideals. You become the person you always wanted to become. You stop delaying your dreams for that illusive tomorrow which never comes. You thrive, even during times of enormous stress.
Benjamin Hardy is the foster parent of 3 children. He’s pursuing his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology. He’s the author of Slipstream Time Hacking and Taking Charge of Your Academic Path. You can connect with him on Twitter or visit his website.
Image courtesy of Leeroy.