“A butterfly has to break out of its cocoon and a bird has to claw its way out of the shell. They don’t get to the next stage of their lives passively. Change is hard, but remember—anyone can change at any time.” —James Lehman, MSW
“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all. Go sideways? Impossible. Go forward? Only thing to do.” — Bilbo Baggins
I saw The Hobbit II recently, and as a mom, I could really relate. Every parent is asked to go on an impossible journey. We confront angry dwarves, stinky trolls and fire-breathing dragons. And sometimes (most of the time) we feel ill-equipped to carry out our task!
And as the mom of a tween, I particularly love the above quote from James Lehman, because you can really see — and feel — the struggle your kids are going through as they grow up; it’s not a smooth transition for anyone, really. As adults, we know how to handle ourselves in public (well, most of the time, in my case), control our tempers around others (ditto), and be responsible.
And the truth is, even though we may have told our kids what we expect of them, they don’t always get it right away. Add in all the hormones and trials and tribulations of the teen years, and you’ve got what can feel like a task worthy of The Hobbit in front of you: to guide a not-always-reasonable, moody, child through adolescence and into adulthood — while teaching them the ins and outs of good behavior. (Imagine how helpful Bilbo’s precious ring would be when our kids are screaming or arguing with us, though. Blip! Mom disappeared again! Oh well… )
The second part of James Lehman’s message is what gives me hope, though — the part that says anyone can change at any time. Just because your child is driving you crazy today because he won’t get off his iPod (Nope, I’m not talking about myself. Not at all. Ahem.) doesn’t mean that’s how he’ll always behave, or how you’ll always react. The beauty of parenting — and one of our greatest tools — is that when we change how we respond to our kids, they have to change, too. It’s one of the laws of nature, really. Think about it — if you stop watering a plant, what happens? It “dies by neglect.” So, if you stop feeding the same old power struggle with your kid and do something different (stay calm and give a consequence to him instead of nag and scream, for example), your child has to respond in a different way, too.
The truth is, you can’t control how your child behaves — only how you respond to him or her, as Debbie Pincus says. It’s freeing to let go of the idea that you need to control your kids’ behavior, or that you are somehow the reason they are the way they are.
Taking a breath and thinking before responding to them (and trying to keep your perspective and stay calm in the process, even when your child is breathing fire in your direction) is one of the things I’m going to try to do more of this year. If only Gandalf would come with me…
What are you hoping for in 2014?
Wishing you and your family peace and positive change in the new year.
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.