One of my favorite areas at ROA is our elevated plant bed filled with lush and colorful butterfly plants, many of which are giant milkweeds that serve as a cradle to numerous Monarch butterflies eggs and food to many of its growing caterpillars each spring. We see them everywhere; voraciously eating, rapidly growing at an exponential rate, preparing themselves for the ultimate transformation within a few weeks. The process begins when they climb, hang, and start spinning to get rid of their old skin. Within a few days, emerge into a vivid jade green chrysallis with delicate gold markings. The chrysallis stage seems to be a time when nothing is happening, but in reality, is really a time of rapid change. Within, the former caterpillar is undergoing a remarkable transformation to become a beautiful butterfly.
For anyone who has watched a butterfly emerge from chrysalis often describes the process as painful. The waiting and watching without intervening tests even the most patient of people.
The young butterfly first appears swollen and engorged with fluid in the abdomen. But during its struggle, this fluid is pumped into the wings to expand, strengthening them for their future flight.
The struggle is at times so intense that it may seem near impossible, but it is critical at this point that no one comes to the rescue. It needs to do it by itself. The struggle is what builds strength in the wings. Without the struggle, the emerging new butterfly will lack the strength to fly and embark on its new journey in the world. Without this self-sustaining strength, if a well-meaning human interferes and tries to ‘help’ the butterfly during its struggle, it likely will doom the butterfly to weak wings, unable to fly. Unable to fulfill its purpose.
Just like in the story about a man who had found a chrysalis of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole. Then it stopped, as if it couldn't go further. So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon. The butterfly emerged easily but it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch it, expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge and expand enough to support the body, Neither happened! In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around. It was never able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understan,: the restricting chrysalis and the struggle required by the butterfly to get through the opening was a way of forcing the fluid from the body into the wings so that it would be ready for flight.
Just as it’s often quicker and easier in the moment to do things for our children, rescue them, and solve their problems just so they don't struggle or have to suffer; in the long run, we rob them of the opportunity of solving their own problems, dealing with feelings of frustration and disappointment, and picking themselves up and keeping at it; making them dependent on us because they lack crucial coping skills like self-reliance, grit, and resilience.
Every struggle becomes a building block for self-confidence, good work ethic, and grit. They will learn how to handle the normal ups and downs of life which is necessary for a fulfilling life.
It turns out, just like with the butterfly, ‘struggle’ is key to their development. While certainly not fun for them to go through nor for us to witness, is requisite for their growth. The struggle strengthens, builds resilience, helps them become independent, gain confidence and ultimately fly. It's tempting to skip through this struggle, but it’s not possible without causing damage.
Parenting is hard. It can be scary when all we want is for our children to be happy and succeed so we jump in – just before they fail. But the truth of being an ROA parent is simple: we want them to learn to make hard choices when it comes to their lives and trust them with important decisions and problems even as they struggle.
So today, remember to push back rushing in to save your child from hard experiences. Allow them do the very hard things that come their way, saying, “You’ve got this. I trust you.”
When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.