Friday, October 22, 2004
Choose Your Battles
As a parent, you realize this child-rearing business is war. However, your opponent is not your children; your opponent is every evil influence that tries to come between you and your children. The winning strategy in this war is to choose which battles you want to fight. Some battles are much more easily won than others are. Some battles are not worth your time and energy at all.
We went to church one warm, Sunday morning. There in the entry hall was another family greeting everyone who came in, but never acknowledging the appearance of their young son. Little Man stood proudly beside Mom and Dad in his Hawaiian shirt, soccer shorts, and cowboy boots. It was a moving moment for me to watch each family walk in, dressed in their "Sunday best," greet Mom and Dad, glance down at Little Man, and then smile at the parents with only a silent nod as they moved on into the sanctuary. When one person did finally question Dad as to the unusual attire, Dad just chuckled and said, "You have to choose your battles." The battle over shorts with cowboy boots was just not worth fighting, especially since this was merely a 4-year-old boy.
My son (at age 14) wanted to bleach his hair. A friend from church was known for bleaching his own hair often and offered to do my son's at no charge. I am partial to naturally beautiful hair (like my son's) but agreed to let him do this once. (Famous Last Words -- The bleached hair phase actually lasted about 3 years, then progressed into the how-long-can-I-grow-an-Afro phase, and is now followed by the hey-look-a-goatee phase.) Hair grows out. Bleach it, dye it, shave it, grow it out -- hair is flexible. Piercings and tattoos are a different story. I do not permit anything that permanently disfigures. After all, wedding pictures can be humiliating enough after a few years; they do not need any help from artificial adornments.
Shortly after my son's first bleach job (just the tips: light blond on his nearly black, oh-so-wavy hair), we were shopping in a large department store. The clerk who rang up my purchases felt compelled to comment on my son's appearance. She did not like it. She did not think I should have allowed him to do it. Her son had wanted to bleach his hair, and she said NO. "So what did he do? He went right out and got a tattoo and two piercings!" I smiled and replied, "Hair grows out. I can live with it."
Back when my dear son was a darling little boy discovering a mind of his own, I had daily (make that hourly) battles with him over everything you can imagine. One particular day, we were going head-to-head over some long-since-forgotten subject. I was frantically praying for guidance in this current set-to, when I clearly heard The Voice I was calling out to. "This is a critical battle -- hold your ground for just 30 seconds more," was the directive. "Yeah, like that will make a difference," was my instinctive reply, but I hung in there. It only took about 17 more seconds, and my strong-willed son caved. Mom won a very important victory that day. It was a turning point for us in the "Who's In Charge Here" department. All the battles since that day have been negligible.
I watched other parents interacting with their children before I had my own and later as mine were growing up -- keeping abreast of what phases were coming next and how to (or not to) handle them. I watched parents draw a hard line on simple things, only to lose the battle to a much more serious attack. One teenaged boy from our church wanted very much to put gel in his hair, but his ultra-conservative father protested. The boy used every substance he could find in the house on his hair, from vegetable shortening to toothpaste. If only the father had given in on allowing what he considered a "cosmetic," he may have saved himself from the pain to come. The father and son battled throughout the high school years, until the son finally left for college -- not the college the son had chosen, where all of his supportive friends were going, but the college where Mom and Dad had attended and fell in love with each other. The son soon returned home as a college drop-out, dressed in total rebellion, and behaving in ways that put the hair gel battle in its proper perspective. If only Dad had wisely chosen his battles...
I read somewhere once that children need a little rebellion to help them discover their own identities. The secret is to allow them to have small rebellions so that they do not need large rebellions. Hair grows out -- hair is a small rebellion. I allowed the bleached hair to avoid the need for any larger rebellion.
Many parents make the mistake of thinking that they have to win every battle, every time, on every subject in order to maintain their authority. I think they are wrong. All they will succeed in maintaining is a dictatorship. Surprise your children once in a while by letting them have their way in something that amounts to a small battle -- it will save you from a much larger battle later on.
Posted by Carolyn M @ 9:26 AM |