Independence

screen-shot-2010-09-03-at-100216-amSo I’m walking out of my son’s elementary school this morning and I hear the beginnings of the national anthem. I can’t help but reflect on this concept of independence.

In general, I’m a huge supporter. I love American history and revel in readings of the stories, personalities and events that shaped our nation. I believe with all my heart that there was divine direction in the creation of this land of the free, and I’m grateful for this land that I call home. I’m grateful that our forefathers had the determination and courage to stand up against those who would oppress them and their freedoms. I proudly support what they stood for and the legacy they left us.

Where I have problems with independence is in the teen department. My problem isn’t with the concept of independence, it’s with the attitude teens propagate in general – that to declare their independence they must first declare war. *sigh* I read an article as a youth which left lasting impressions on me, in fact, it’s where this very phrasing of declaring independence came from. The author shared a story of a man trying to help a bee escape his office in an effort to save its life. However, the more the man did to help direct the bee to the safety of the open window, the more feisty the bee became, not only refusing the help but fighting against it. The result was a dead bee on the floor the morning after. The point of the story was how like the bee we often are, resisting and fighting back unnecessarily against those that would help us; in the end destroying ourselves. I knew then I didn’t want to be like that bee.

For years I’ve shared this counsel and story with youth I’ve worked with. Now, my daughter is entering the troubled waters of independence. I wish I could say it was going the way I wanted all the time, but alas the entire point of this life experience is to figure things out on our own. This morning she stormed out of the house murmuring a familiar reprise of the overly restrictive parent and a desire to escape. The culprit? A stupid item of clothing. In her mind, mom is making way too much out of it, the shorts aren’t too short and she should be allowed to make her own choices. In mom’s mind the shorts break school dress code and were only purchased by permission with her own money on the agreed compromise that this argument would never come up – that they would only ever be worn at home for play purposes. I wish I could help her see that her anger is really targeted at herself, that mom’s an easy scapegoat in the world of peer pressure. But wishing won’t make it so.

I find myself echoing the familiar words of choosing to stand for something. I worry that our youth today don’t really understand this, that they mistakenly believe that being part of the crowd is just the way things are and doesn’t really impact them or their future. When something as simple as how you dress can cause so much distress, I worry for the big items the future holds. Every person needs a strong sense of self and self worth to survive this crazy world. You don’t get that by succumbing to the pressures of following the crowd. You get it by being able and willing to stand up for all the things you believe in and that make you who you are, right down to your ‘shorts.’ You can’t be ashamed to be who you are, even if it defies the loose standards of all those around you. The sad part of the shorts story is that it’s not really what my daughter wants or believes in but she can’t see that. She’s so blinded by the season of life and influence of friends and peers she can’t see how this belief is undefined, far from unique and not even her own. Yet she’s ready to enlist in a battle for it, to join the chorus of youth in defiance of rules and restrictive authority. I question now my giving in to any compromise at their purchase months ago. Maybe I should have said no way no matter what. But then how could she learn of consequences? How could she learn of making her own decisions and avoided the fateful trap of resentment which leads to a desire of rectifying to the ultimate extreme the day she’s completely free to make all her own choices? There’s a recipe for disaster, making decisions on purely emotional premises, worse premises imagined and exaggerated – this is the future of the feisty bee. I don’t want my daughter to be the bee, and I don’t want her to want to be the bee.

Now I know my daughter is young, I know these years are formidable and critical, I know she’s a good kid and I know that her wanting to wear short shorts is a drop in the bucket of real and serious issues. The problem is I also know that the adversary also knows she is young, that these years are formidable and critical and that she’s a good kid. He’s neither young nor good, and this frightens the snarf out of me. If she starts adopting the views, attitudes and beliefs of those around her now the chances of surviving these tumultuous years without scarring are nil. The saying goes that if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. I believe this simply analogy of the shorts is why, after all it all starts somewhere and it doesn’t start with fireworks; no it starts with the tiniest bit of wear and tear to weaken the fabric. Today it’s shorts, tomorrow it’s something bigger. Sadly, it’s all wrapped in the lies that there are no consequences, no accountability. The short shorts so typify all this, and so ends my analogy of the shorts.

But that’s all that ends. My efforts to help my daughter wade through the waters of independence will never end. Her learning life’s lessons of accountability are just beginning. Agency is given to all, but independence is earned. Earn it wisely my young friends, earn it wisely.

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4 comments on “Independence

  1. This could have just as easily occurred in our house. Indeed, it likely will, to the letter, before long. Your words about navigating the valley of peer pressure to the other side, where hopefully maturity and an independent sense of self and self worth will prevail, deserve to be printed and posted on refrigerators in every home with a tween or a teen.

    Thank you for sharing this today, Holly. Few passages are as critical to our children’s future as this one. Thankfully we have guides like you to help us along the way.

    Thanks Carmi, you just made my day! :)

  2. Hugs! Here’s hoping all her battles for independence will be about making choices so clearly defined as a pair of “too short” shorts. On our end we’re navigating some deeper waters such as learning to drive, and the scary balancing act of after school jobs (yes, plural), an active social life and whose responsibility it is to register for the PSATs and the effect on homework quality.

    Ug, have I mentioned how not looking forward to this part I am? :)

  3. My oldest girl is only ten, but she is already testing us. Luckily, she doesn’t own any short shorts yet. I’m looking forward to the ten years. My youngest daughter is only five, but she already acts like a teenager. She’s going to be Trouble with a capital T when she really is teen.

    My hope, naive as it is, is with such a forward push to act older sooner will result in them being more mature/ready when they hit the age they’re already acting! LOL

  4. How like a teenager to want to make all the choices, but not have the consequences that go with them. :) Heck, I think most adults don’t always like that arrangement either. Still, I think this isn’t quite so much about the length of the shorts as keeping your word. You held up your end of the bargain by letter her get them. She needs to keep her end by only wearing them where she agreed she would. You’re not the bad guy here. You’re simply enforcing the deal SHE agreed to. If you give in about it now, you’ll be a liar, and I don’t think you’re about to do that. Nor should she expect you to.

    This instance is not perhaps as serious as baptismal covenants she’s made, but the idea that we honor our commitments is something she can understand. There’s nothing wrong with expecting her to live by her word. (If you can just withstand the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth while she realizes this.)

    Aww thanks Melanie! You’re right, right, right. :)

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