When Helping Hinders

Do you know the parable about a woman whose intentional help inadvertently hurts a baby butterfly?  The tale is told that a mom discovered a butterfly struggling to escape its cocoon through a tiny opening at the top.  Concerned when the little wonder seemed to give up and certain that the butterfly wouldn’t make it out without help, she enlarged the hole.  On its next try, the butterfly released itself with ease. But the young woman then saw that its wings were shriveled and useless. Though she meant well, she had interfered with nature’s miracle.  You see, the butterfly has to squeeze through a small hole to ascertain that blood from its body be pushed into the wings. By making its release easier, the lady basically took away its freedom and flight.  
This adapted story is one of my favorite of Michael Josephson's Commentary, in part because giving them wings has been probably been the most difficult concept to master in my parenting journey.  I connect with both sides of the butterfly metaphor – that of the wannabe super-mom and that of the creature itself whose life depends on its need to struggle. Since my instinct is to hover like a helicopter, ready to swoop down and keep them safe, I’ve not been very good at allowing my children the autonomy to do things for themselves without my overbearing hand in the mix. I’d spent most of my son Jacob’s formative years trying to protect him, though from what I’m not always sure. After reading the Butterfly story, I purposefully backed away a bit to let him spread his wings and take off on his own. What a transformation it’s been.
He’s gone from crawling along at an uncertain pace to flying circles around me. In years past, he picked up my fears and insecurities for him and wasn’t confident emotionally. He rarely felt good about himself.  Now that I’ve learned to let my butterfly struggle, he’s soaring effortlessly through day-to-day teenager challenges like being okay with his first B, playing a trumpet solo on the marching field, competing in state-level academic contests, and pursuing new friendships. He (and that mailbox!) even survived his first minor fender bender.  With strength and resilience beneath his wings, Jacob is gliding successfully through life.  Want another anecdote?  Read Aunt Annie's clever blog entry entitled Stop Saving Me, You're Holding Me Back.  So much evidence and yet, sometimes it still seems kind of strange that letting someone struggle could ultimately be the most valuable gift you could give

1 comment:

  1. What a great story! Thanks for pointing me to this one.


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