When I ask people, “So how’s it going for your family?” during this Covid-19 crisis, the most common answer is, “we have good days and bad days.” What if a fairy godmother or godfather came to your home secretly one night and made everything better? How might this happen? Stay tuned.
Very few of us are truly thriving through this crisis—survival is the best that most of us can hope for. That focus on survival is especially felt by parents of school-age children. Schedules and routines are severely disrupted. Important social connections in classrooms and playgrounds are replaced by Zoom playdates – better than nothing, but certainly a poor substitute for in-person encounters. And latent cracks in social relationships among family members have been widened into gaping caverns in some households. Many parents I’ve heard from are throwing in the towel. The never-ending story of kids spending hours anesthetized by Disney+, YouTube, or Netflix are better than brother and sister fighting, or swinging from the chandeliers, or swinging from the chandeliers while fighting! What alternative is there for parents –and non-parents too – who are barely holding on under the stress, anxiety, grief, and sadness?
I’d like to share with you one technique that I use with my clients who are seeking exactly that alterative. It starts with the “magic wand” question, and it goes like this: Imagine you go to sleep one night, and your fairy godmother or fairy godfather who has seen your plight decides to help you. She or he flies into your bedroom, waves their magic wand, and [SNAP FINGERS] just-like-that, your life and the life of your household is instantly better. Now, the fine print says that fairy godparents can’t do anything about the virus itself. Their magic is limited to your immediate household. So, you wake up the next day, and POOF! Everything is better, but you don’t know it yet. You’ve just woken up. But you notice that something’s different. What’s the very first thing you notice? Think about it. Your household is suddenly better in whatever ways “better” is better for you in your personal situation. What do you notice first? [pause] What do you notice second? You’ve got those? Fantastic. You may want to write them down.
Now, think about and write down what’s important to you about those specific aspects being better. What’s happening in that amazing future that isn’t happening now? Then flip it around: What’s happening now that isn’t happening after the magic wand. And finally, think about what you want to keep from now as you transition into that new, great place. [pause] You’ve got all those ideas? Great!
Now, thinking about those two major improvements in how your family functions during this Covid-19 crisis, what would have to happen immediately before you’re at that final, amazing place? Then back up another step: What would have to happen immediately before that? Back it up again—what’s the next preceding step, and so on all the way back to… today.
As an example of what this process looks like, I’ve done this with my own family. I’ve asked my wife, what’s the first thing you would notice after the magic want treatment? Her response? Our 6-year-old’s ears start working and she listens in the morning when it’s time to get ready. Pee, eat, dress, brush, and then play until lessons start, rather than play, nag, nag, nag, and late. What’s before that? Well, the times when she gets ready really quickly is when she’s mischievously getting ready to “fool” mommy or daddy. So, finding positive mischief is the next, preceding step. And what’s before that? Creating a game or contest to get ready on-time before school… and by that I mean, school-from-home. And when can we start?
Today. This afternoon. Tomorrow morning at the latest. When you do your own magic wand exercise, you end up with your next step on the way to doing more than surviving. You’re on the way to thriving with your family, irrespective of the harsh realities of this crisis. And the amazing thing about doing this “magic wand” work is that… You know, this crisis will pass. We’ll emerge into a new state of being in our societies that we cannot yet fully anticipate. And the amazing thing about doing this work – either by yourself, with a loved one, or with a professional like me – the amazing thing is that your resilience and ability to thrive will be strong, and ready for whatever comes next. So sit down, wave your magic wand, take a trip into the future, and then back it up. And then, take your first active step to reengaging with your best self.