Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Feeling the pain

“For though I caused you sorrow… I do not regret it” -2 Cor. 7:8

I am a “people-helper” by profession. One of my greatest struggles in parenting has been knowing when to and when not to fix things. I am a fixer. Not that I can fix everything, but I get fixated on fixing. I step into a problem, immediately analyze, size up the options and then move to correct the situation. That works well when fixing a car or managing a business, but not so well when raising kids. Remember, the goal in parenting isn't to catch fish, but to teach our children how to catch fish. When we start to fix the problem, we’re taking on the responsibility and the pain of the situation. Our teenagers need to feel the pain. Sure, it’s hard to watch our kids hurt, but good can come out of tragedy.

“Opie the birdman” is one of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes. Opie is having a grand old time with his new slingshot. He’s shooting trees and rocks. His father had warned him to be careful with it but when he inadvertently kills a bird, he is genuinely heart broken. He tries to get the bird to fly, but to no avail. Opie finally breaks down and tells his father what he has done but the real problem is that there are three newborns in the nest. Opie decides that he is going to raise them and he meticulously cares for them. In a funny scene, Barney tries to assure Opie and Andy that he’s an expert on raising birds. He evens tries to convince them he knows how to interpret a bird’s whistles. Opie works hard raising the birds he names “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” but he eventually comes to the realization however that he will also have to let them go free. In the last scene, Andy nudges Opie into letting the birds out of the cage. As they fly away, Opie replies, “My, doesn't the cage look empty?” Andy replies, “Yes, but don’t the trees seem full?”

Call me a softie, but I cry every time I see that episode. I cry because I’m laughing so hard as Barney whistles the different ways that birds talk to each other: “There’s a cat…run away…OK.” But I’m also crying because of the love Andy has for his son. After Opie tells Andy he killed the mother bird, Andy opens the window of Opie’s room and has him sit and listen to the baby birds calling for their mother. Andy says, “Sorry isn't going to bring the bird back. You can just sit and listen to those birds calling for their mom who’s not coming back.” That probably sounds harsh to some parents. Some parents would have cuddled their son, drying his tears saying, “Oh, that’s okay, that ‘ole robin shouldn't have been in our trees anyway.” That son learns that whenever he makes a mistake, he has zero responsibility to fix it. He learns that any mistake is okay, therefore, he can do whatever he wants.

In the next scene, Opie embraces responsibility for the baby birds and takes pride in caring for them. In that way, he releases the guilt from the mistake by putting his hands on taking responsibility for the problem. All kids (and adults) need that opportunity.

So, take care of your teenager and show grace when appropriate, but let them feel some sting. Loving sorrow can be a healthy thing. Let them take the car to get fixed. Let them pay off the parking ticket. Let them do their own laundry. Simply put, let them grow up and take responsibility for their lives.

It may make you feel a bit uncomfortable and empty, but it will make your kids more confident and full.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

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