Every morning when I drive my 10 year old son to school we ask each other silly, hypothetical questions during the drive. Sometimes it’s a “Would You Rather?” question – like would you rather be invisible or have the ability to fly? Today it was a “What’s Your Favorite?” question and the topic at hand was animals. We both decided dogs are by far the coolest animal (who doesn’t love this loyal, fun, energetic bundle of joy aka man’s best friend?). Then we challenged ourselves to make a second choice that wasn’t a domesticated animal.
For some reason I answered “butterfly” immediately which I thought was weird and my son thought it was a pretty random choice too. I was a bit perplexed by my instant decision that this was my second favorite animal (when in the back of my mind I was secretly tossing up between chimpanzees and dolphins) but then it came to me. I remembered why I had once upon a time loved this creature so much (enough to get a tattoo of one – all that pain and still I forgot!).
How could I have forgotten the story of the cocoon and the butterfly?
It goes like this:
Here is the tale of a butterfly that was never able to live its life as a normal butterfly.
One day, a man found the cocoon of a butterfly. He loved butterflies and was intrigued by the process of it transforming from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.
He saw the cocoon had a tiny opening and decided to sit and observe the butterfly as it came out of its cocoon. He watched it struggle very hard to break the shell for several hours.
The butterfly was desperately trying to force its body through that tiny hole and it didn’t appear to be making much progress.
After a while it seemed the butterfly had given up. It seemed as if it had gotten as far as it could and had no energy to go any further.
Then man decided then to help the butterfly so he found a pair of scissors and gently snipped off some of the opening so that it was wide enough for the butterfly to emerge without any further struggle.
The butterfly came out easily but it did not look so beautiful. Instead it had a swollen body with small, withered wings.
The man was happy that the butterfly was finally free of its cocoon and continued to watch it, eager to see it fly with its beautiful wings.
He waited, thinking that at any moment the butterfly’s wings would expand and the body would shrink but neither of these things happened.
To the contrary, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with the same swollen body and shriveled wings. It was never able to fly.
Though the man had good intentions and acted with kindness he did not understand that the butterfly actually required the struggle it was experiencing to emerge with strong, beautiful wings.
The struggle to get through the tiny opening was nature’s way of preparing the butterfly for flight.
This continuous effort was what forced the fluid stored into the body into the butterfly’s wings, allowing the body to become lighter and smaller, and the wings to grow large and strong.
Only when it achieved freedom from its cocoon on its own merits would the butterfly be ready for flight.
And that was the moral of the story: sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in life. Struggles are what make us stronger and give us the strength to fly.
So how does this story apply to you?
This story made me wonder how many of us truly allow our children to experience their own struggles. How many of us act as if we are our kid’s knight in shining armor, stepping in to save them at first cry?
Do we honestly let them feel the full weight and pain of their hardships, or do we immediately step in to remove as much of the burden as we can? We think we are helping them out by saving them but are we really?
There are obviously times when you really do need to step in and help but, more often than not, the best thing you can do to help your children grow is step back.
Allow your kids to learn and make their own mistakes, without feeling as if they need an adult to solve every problem they are faced with.
If they are nervous about speaking up then by all means GIVE THEM ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THE SIDELINES. Teach them the skills and inspire them to put them to good use. You can even practice these skills together until they feel more comfortable doing it on their own.
Whatever the case, allow your children the opportunity to become more independent so they can discover their own skills of negotiation, resilience, compassion and fortitude, instead of just seeing how great yours are.
Curiously enough, my son was pretty intrigued by the story of the butterfly (note: he isn’t always so impressed with my stories). Jake is a pretty cool kid, with a neuro-muscular condition called Charcot Marie Tooth disease (which requires him to use a power wheelchair to get around) so life automatically presents him with a unique set of struggles very day.
To hear that struggles only make you stronger is – well I’m guessing that’s reassuring for anyone to hear, especially when you are inevitably faced with more than your fair share of them.
But whether we are able-bodied or not, we all have our own set of roadblocks, hurdles and challenges to face, day after day. It helps to know that we are not alone in this respect.
Nonetheless something great does come out of this struggle and its success. We need struggles to learn and grow. Without it, there is no real progress or opportunity to develop the strength you need for tomorrow.
Now I know we all want our children’s lives to be as happy, pleasant and pain-free as possible (who would turn down a blissfully perfect life…I know I wouldn’t!) but that is an unrealistic expectation. Life will present every single kid with challenges, whether you like it or not. And guess what; you won’t always be there to save them.
Doesn’t it make more sense to teach our kids to save themselves? Isn’t it kinder as a parent to help our children discover all the gifts they have inside their hearts and minds?
Whether we like it or not, our children are much like that butterfly in their cocoon. Without struggle they won’t have the opportunity to discover their own gifts, they will lie trapped and buried inside unless they are forced to do it on their own..
If you want your child to develop strength and resilience, sometimes the right thing to do is step back.
Stay in the corner if you need to and support them from afar but have faith that all will be well in the end because struggles = strength and you need to survive these challenges on your own to earn your beautiful gift called wings.