We all want the best for our children. We want them to be knowledgeable, capable, and self-confident human beings, able to one day make important contributions to both their own lives and the lives of others.
Sometimes, though, we get caught in the frenetic pace of life and find ourselves stuck in the “doing-ness” of life. So we enroll our children in after-school clubs, private lessons, and special activities in the hope of giving them an advantage in life, expecting that they practice and do the things that we may not have had the privilege of doing as kids. And when they don’t do their part, we often find ourselves doing it for them. It’s enough to give us a metaphysical hernia.
I came across a story titled “The Butterfly” (author unknown) that reflects on this point:
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further.
So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.
It never was able to fly.
What the man, in his kindness and haste, didn’t understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If we were allowed to go through life without any obstacles, we would be crippled. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. We would never fly!
As I stated in the first paragraph, don’t we want our children to become independent, responsible, confident, and self-actualized human beings? Oftentimes, the best thing we could do for our children is to allow them to experience age-appropriate consequences for their actions. For, when we take on responsibilities that are truly theirs, it’s like snipping open a butterfly’s cocoon, with equally crippling results.
What does “age-appropriate” mean?
Based on my own experiences as a child and what I’ve observed in my two daughters, this means that:
- If a 1st or 2nd grader doesn’t put his/her toys away within a reasonable time after playing with them, then the toys “disappear” – they’re donated to a needy child. (Here, parents don’t tolerate the child’s mess or their pleas to keep the lost toys).
- If a 3rd grader doesn’t turn in their homework, then they get a bad grade. (Here, parents don’t bring the forgotten homework to school).
- If a 4th grader forgets their school lunch, then they go hungry – or they become resourceful enough to borrow lunch from their friends. (Here, parents don’t bring the missing lunch to school).
Of course, this not about being mean or dictatorial. Instead, it’s about setting clear boundaries (age-appropriate rules) that the child agrees to (negotiation is allowed), and then enforcing those boundaries when they’re crossed. When children are allowed to experience age-appropriate consequences for their actions, they also start becoming more responsible in an age-appropriate way.
Like the butterfly’s cocoon, children need clear, strong boundaries, within a context of love and sincere caring. When these elements are in place, the child is well on his/her way towards success in life!
Eddie Marmol is a LifeCoach.com affiliated coach and co-founder of MasterCoaches, Integral Architects, and Corporación Coaches En Español – all executive coaching and leadership development organizations. Eddie is a graduate of Coach University, The Newfield Network, and The Coach Training Alliance. He lives in Melbourne, Florida, with his wife and two daughters.