Building Wings for Flight


Last week, I enjoyed quality time with my daughter in London. We had mother-daughter time while touring the city and spending Shabbos together – just the two of us. As she shared her experiences in seminary in the UK, I learned more about her life there and how she handles the day-to-day challenges that come up.

I view challenges as opportunities for growth. Not that I invite them into my life. But they do not need any invitations – they just arrive. Sometimes I do not even notice them, as I am busy finding solutions and turning these bumps in the road into gold mines of growth. I have learned that challenges and difficulties take me where I need to go.

However, when listening to a teenager recounting her trials and travails, it is often not appropriate or effective to dispense advice such as: “Oh, just look at the bright side of it… I am sure that twenty years down the road you will bless this experience when you see how much you ended up gaining from it.” That message will not resonate when someone is in pain or frustrated and certainly not when that someone is a teenager!

Just listening is the key here. (Who said you always have to say something?!) But as a Jewish mother who cares deeply for her daughter and wants to instill lasting values, I had the urge to teach my daughter some lessons for life. I had ample opportunity to convey some words of wisdom between train rides and meals together. I continually challenged myself to answer the million-dollar question: What is my role? Is my job just to listen? Should I interfere? Which tools do I want her to gain?

I hope I do not belong to the club of “helicopter parents.” I am also not looking to pave the road for my children (even though sometimes I wish a little genie would do it for me secretly). I believe that whatever challenges we face shape our lives. The way we emerge from a challenge makes us better human beings and strengthens our emotional muscles.

What I had to determine was if my daughter had the appropriate tools to face her situation and succeed. I faced a dilemma: Should I call the educators in her school and ask for help in providing her with the right tools? Should I give her guidance? Or perhaps it would be better for me to hold my peace and just let her grow and find her own way.

(Note: The issues in question were relatively minor. Had my daughter been facing any life-altering situations I would definitely have involved the management in the wonderful institution she is attending. However, as a responsible and concerned parent, I still wanted to make sure that I was fulfilling my role.)

I discussed this with a close friend, a very wise woman with much life experience. She listened carefully. And then she reminded me about the story of the man watching a butterfly as it struggled to emerge from its cocoon. The man could not stand the suffering of this creature, so he took a pair of scissors and cut open the cocoon. Out came out a beautiful butterfly. But the little creature was never able to fly. This is because when the butterfly struggles to emerge from the cocoon, its wings are actually strengthened, making them fit for flight. My friend finished by reminding me, “The struggle is what gives them the ability to fly!”

This was a very strong message to a mother of teens trying her best to prepare them for marriage and life. It’s interesting, because I knew this story before I heard it from my friend. In the past I understood that the butterfly’s struggle was to teach me about myself: my “suffering” is for my growth.
When it comes to my own children, however, I never thought that my job as a mother was to watch them suffer. My job is to help them, even just by giving them tools.

The “aha moment” for me was that I now understood that at some point, they need to build their own tools!
My role as a mother has certainly not ended – but it has changed. Just as when a baby grows into a toddler and then a young child, he still needs his mother but is not as physically dependent on her, now that my children are teenagers, they no longer need me for certain aspects of their lives.

I have, in effect, graduated from one step of motherhood to the next level: Now it’s time to let my kids build their own wings.
Yes, sometimes it is hard for us as parents to watch our children struggling. But if we want them to be able to open their wings, we need to know when to stand back and watch as they navigate on their own.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Take Action!

Over the next three days, watch yourself:
Over the next three days, watch yourself:
What is your parenting/spousal/friendship style?
Do you always “clean up” after other people’s messes? Do you try at all costs to avoid pain or disappointment? Do you sometime cross the line by interfering and “solving” the issues of those around you?
Then think: Whom do I serve? Who is benefiting from these behaviors? Do I handicap the people around me? Be honest with yourself: Do you do it for them or for yourself? What is the price tag? Is there a better way to handle these situations?
Please share your thoughts with us on our community page.


Looking forward to growing with you,

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