Not All Stains Come Out in the Wash
What Do We Need To Hear When We Are Anxious?
“It’ll all work out.”
This sentence was often uttered by one of my surrogate moms. On the one hand, it was and still is so reassuring to hear. But on the other hand, these words make me cranky. Do they have the same effect on you?
“It’ll all come out in the wash.”
That’s what my mother used to say, and I had the same mixed reaction.
There’s something a little bit too sunny in these forecasts. The statements imply there will be a positive outcome. But did anyone get through childhood (never mind adolescence or adulthood) without one single negative outcome? I doubt it. I certainly didn’t.
When I hear “it’ll all work out,” I have to stifle a grief-laden angry shout: “yeah, but what if it doesn’t?” In my life, things haven't always worked out perfectly, or come out nice and clean in the wash.
The phrases come across as a veiled “shush your worrying.” Even if I believed my mother’s motives were benevolent, it appeared her intent was to discourage me from feeling anxious, and encourage me to silence my angst. Is this a prescription for joy? Or is it an invitation to practice denial that there could be a less sunny outcome? The kicker about denial is if you refuse to entertain the possibility of a more challenging outcome, what happens to your joy meter when things don’t work out as expected?
Let’s face it: sometimes outcomes stink. However, negative results can have a silver lining. It’s just not as catchy to say: “It’ll all come out in the wash but if there’s a nasty stain that doesn’t disappear, don’t worry, it will work its way out, eventually.” Doesn’t roll off the tongue so sweetly, does it?
So as Mother’s Day nears, I feel great gratitude for the two mothers who gave me these phrases. At the same time, I vow to use those words sparingly. I don’t want others to feel brushed-off or silenced. While denial looks like a sweet place to visit, I’d rather dwell in reality.
When bad things do happen, joy may return sooner if we commiserate or grieve rather than lie to others or ourselves by saying “it’ll all work out” because what if it doesn’t?
How about an alternative phrase? More will be revealed. It doesn’t over-promise anything but generates curiosity, rather than concern, over what will take place in the future.
Yes, more will be revealed. Sometimes it will be sunny; sometimes there are blizzards, hurricanes or earthquakes that do a lot of damage. Wouldn’t you prefer to be prepared for all types of weather? (Can you tell I am a meteorologist’s daughter?)
Comments on this blog post are welcome — see the bottom of this page.
Prompts For Joy
Click here for a weather report that will shower you with hilarity (since we’re on the topic of forecasts).
Click here to enjoy some mother-daughter communication in the mobile phone age.
Happenstance art in Palo Alto, CA. I’ll be the featured speaker at the Fremont California Writers Club meeting on Saturday, May 26, 2018, at 2pm. If you live in the Bay Area, come hear me talk about “Happenstance as Muse!” Click here for more information.
My article, “Time Out,” about the need for a break when we are grieving, can now be found at my website (Welcome>Writing>Articles), or by clicking here.
"Time Out" originally appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of We Need Not Walk Alone, published by The Compassionate Friends.