Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Individuality vs Conformity in a Family

Every individual in that household (even the children) is clinging passionately to his individual soul, is in terror of losing it in the general family flavor. - Willa Cather
Ever since I read this quote a few weeks ago I haven't been able to get it out of my head. I keep thinking about how each of us are being pulled by the desire to "be me" and conflicted by the call of everyone around us to "be them". As a kid you're always being pulled into conformity, learning the norms and expectations of society, following (or at least being told to follow) the commands of your parents. As a teenager you start to figure out yourself a little more, but begin being pulled into social conformity of peers. Maybe as a young adult is the time to take all of that social information of expectations and figure out how it fits with you. I'm not sure if that timing is required, but that's how it's been for me. Okay, can't say that I'm a young adult anymore, but you get the idea.

A couple weeks ago I found myself in the murky underworld of internet parenting advice. I was worried about Gwen and how to get her to be more obedient, and easy going. I read this page where I felt like the first comment had some great ideas, basically treating your kid with respect and as an individual. A few days later I read this article Some Babies are Just Easier than Others. Amen to that! Followed up with this: How to Understand Your Child's Temperament. In reading that I realized that there was something off about my own intentions with Gwen. I was trying to get Gwen to conform to me, to which she adamantly refuses to do. This is what leads to google searches about power struggles and how to win them.

Then, in a moment of clarity, a mental window opened. I was looking at all of this from the wrong angle. I needed to withdraw from this supposed battle of wills and send my high horse out to pasture. When I take a step back and make room for Gwen to be Gwen, then suddenly things work out. I'm more calm, and she's more compliant because my demands of her aren't so demanding. I'm not trying to change her and bend her to my older, but no less stubborn, will. Suddenly, if there's room for her to be her, there's room for me to be me. Love and hugs all around. It means approaching each other with love and compassion instead of fear and control. Turns out I need to approach myself in the same way, to be able to do that for her.

And then I realize something incredible and crucial on the other side of all of that: I really really like Gwen! I love her stubborn gumption. Coupled with her sweet sensitivity and insatiable observation she is amazing and wonderful. From this side I realize that not only would I defy anyone that would try to change her, but I would chase them out of town with a flaming cussing sword. Strange that I was the one who needed chasing off a few moments ago in that other mindset. Luckily she's plucky enough to be the one to do the chasing when needed, for which I am grateful. How awful would it be to reach the end of my life and realize I steamrolled over the needs and wants of my children, successfully and horribly bending their wills to mine. *shudder* Thank God for the stubborness of my children!!!
The goal of living [is] to grow optimally according to the conditions of human existence and thus to become fully what one potentially is. - Eric Fromm
I am always intrigued by the examples of men and women who, in their conduct, manifest that they have made peace with themselves, have accepted themselves for what they are, have ceased trying to be someone they are not, and whose object and purpose in life is to be the best of what they are or what they may become... There comes a time in each life when one must accept himself for what he is, must accept the role that time and circumstance have imposed upon him, and must begin to work and to grow in the place where he has been planted. There comes a time when one must realize that imitation is suicide and that the failure to develop innate talents and abilities is, in truth, a rejection both of the god who made him and of the earthly parents who gave him birth and nourished him. - Francis M. Gibbons

I've come to realize that this struggle with Gwen is really a struggle with myself. I've been scared off from acceptance in the past, thinking that it's a guise for laziness and rationalization. Mistakenly thinking that if I'm accepting of myself (or others) that there's not going to be any more growth. Oh man. So not true.  It's helped to switch the semantics in my head from the need for change to the need for growth. Growth is more likely to happen (only going to happen?) when we accept the realities of our situations and who we are. 
Sometimes we feel discouraged because we are not “more” of something—more spiritual, respected, intelligent, healthy, rich, friendly, or capable. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve. God created us to grow and progress. ... I learned in my life that we don’t need to be “more” of anything to start to become the person God intended us to become. God will take you as you are at this very moment and begin to work with you. - Dieter F. Uchtdorf 
The truth is that we all need acceptance, love, and understanding. Me, Gwen, You. We all need space to be our own individual selves. From that fertile ground we can grow. That's what our family life needs to be built around to be successful. Otherwise we're left with endless google searches for bad parenting advice, not realizing that we'll never find the right answers because we're asking the wrong questions.

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