It was about a year ago when Maya, the social worker, announced her visit. Apart from sorting out my ex-husband’s visitation rights, she had to make sure that both I and my children were physically and mentally in a healthy situation. Being that I was a single mother with many small children, I guess they weren’t sure I was able to handle it by myself.

On the day of her visit, I scrubbed and cleaned the house. I made sure that the floors were devoid of any clutter. All of the laundry was folded neatly and put away. The bathrooms were as spotless as they could be in a home inhabited by eight children under the age of 13, and the kitchen was tidier than it had been in a while. I had even hired a handyman to fix some things around the house.

No sweat, I thought. Maya’s going to see that we’re normal people, and that my kids live in a clean, tidy house—and she’ll leave us alone.

I was sure that she was writing about a different familyMaya’s brief half-hour visit (for which I had worked so hard all morning) went by without any particular upset. I was certain that everything was fine. She asked a few questions, peered into cupboards and bedrooms in her best social-worker manner, and then left. I was sure we passed the test.

When I read Maya’s report afterwards, I saw that she had stated that as far as she was concerned, my children could still live with me. I considered that to be particularly generous of her, especially as my former husband had not made any bid for custody, and that this was not the issue in the first place. But when I read her impressions of my home, I was sure that she was writing about a different family.

“The house was messy and untidy,” she wrote. “The children’s clothing were neglected and stained.”

What went wrong? I wondered in horror. After all, I had worked so hard that day to tidy and clean the house. In my mind, I went through everything I had done to make the place look good. And it did—under the circumstances. But despite my best efforts, the walls were in great need of painting. There were piles of clutter that, short of Passover cleaning, I couldn’t get rid of. So I had just pushed them into a corner.

And when I stopped to think about it, my children’s clothes were a bit shabby. Being that my former husband still refuses to pay a penny of child support, I am the family’s only breadwinner. This means that my earnings are spent on basics like the mortgage, electricity and food, rather than extra clothing, new furniture or even decent kitchen utensils. My time also tends to go towards earning a living and looking after my children, rather than keeping the house as neat as I would like.

To Maya, who—I happen to know—has a husband and the average two children plus half a dog, the house was a dump that day, and my kids were scruffy. To me, the house looked great, and the kids were not too bad.

And it suddenly occurred to me that it is all a question of narrative, of how we tell the story. There are so many times when my friends tell me that I should write a novel about my life experiences. In fact, I have a running joke with one of my friends: Whenever I call her, I tell her that it’s time for the next episode in the grand soap opera. But joking aside, if we stop to think about it, life really is one grand soap opera. And the way that we tell the story and write the script can actually affect the way we live it.

I become Shoshana Benjamin, proud mother of eight beautiful childrenFor example, on a bad day, life can seem impossible. Being alone with so many children can sound like a desperate situation, and there are times when I wonder if it will ever get better. But on a good day, the script changes, and I become Shoshana Benjamin, proud mother of eight beautiful children, who is currently on a wonderful voyage of self-discovery. And I find that when I live this latter narrative, life somehow changes. It becomes not only livable, but even, dare I say it, happy.

This philosophy does not apply only to single mothers, but also to everyone else out there. Every individual human being has their tests in life—whether it is widowhood, singlehood, childlessness, money problems or simply frustration with life’s challenges. It can be a difficult test to find the positive in our lives, but if we really look for it, we always can. Although it is G‑d who gives us the tests that we all have to go through, we can always be the journalists who record these experiences and shape our own perspectives.

When we look at world events, for example, our perceptions are shaped by what we read in the newspapers, and—consciously or not—we adopt the media bias of the publications that we read or the broadcasts that we hear. Without knowing it, this governs exactly how we relate to the events described, and whether we view them as positive or negative.

A timely example of how perspective affects us can be seen from the events surrounding the exodus from Egypt, when the nation of Israel finally departed after years of slavery and degradation. At the beginning of this part of the story, the Jews were a downtrodden race and were still very tied to their experiences in exile. Between Passover, when they left Egypt, and Shavuot, when they received the Torah, their self-image gradually changed. During this interim period of Sefirat HaOmer, they evolved from a ragged race of frightened former slaves who were too afraid to cross the Red Sea, into a proud, unified people. They managed to override their suffering and became a nation that was worthy of receiving the greatest treasure of all—the Torah.

Similarly, we should find the strength to change our view of the challenges that we have to face in life. We need to rewrite the script as best we can, changing ourselves from the victim in the story to the hero.

Turning ourselves into brave warriors, rather than figures of pity, will give us the strength to keep on going through the wilderness of our personal hardships until each of us reaches our own, individual Mount Sinai. And no matter how difficult this may be, we should never give up and lose sight of that mountain—because it really is there.