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inds of Change

By Ron Huxley

"Mom! Don't come in the shower when I am in here."

" Dad, I'm too old for hats and balloons on my birthday."

" Mom, I can walk to school. You don't need to drive me anymore."

These are just some of the things children say to us as they grow older. What they are really telling us, beneath the spoken words, is that the family is facing new changes -- changes that will require all members to accommodate if the families are to stay healthy.

Change happens every day
Changes come in all types. There are the common, typical changes that every family must go through. They are common because time and its passing is common to us all. You wouldn't let your two-year-old play outside unsupervised but at six you might. You wouldn't let your six-year-old walk to the mall but you might let your sixteen-year-old. These changes related to kids’ growing up are developmentally healthy and for the most part, are handled well by families.

More important (but still common) changes occur when a family member takes on a new role. These changes include promotions or a job change; a man or woman’s becoming a spouse; a spouse’s becoming a parent; or a parent’s becoming a grandparent.

Difficult changes
Time waits for no one and ignores no one. We are all swept along with the changes it brings. When the change is normal, the winds of change are like a gentle breeze.

But change can also bring dark, unpleasant storms of change. These storms can rip a family apart. Spouses can become single parents. Grandparents can parent again (if they take on the chore of raising their grandchildren). Children may find themselves parentless or become parents while still children themselves (as in the case of teen pregnancies).

Whether your family is flowing with the standard currents of change or suffering the ravages of a tempest, here are some general principles for family survival.

Expect change
As we have already mentioned, change is normal. Why are you so surprised that your child doesn't want you coming into the shower when he is in there? Although parents know this time will come, they live in denial. They want to believe that he will always be a little boy. They talk of the good times when little Johnny needed help taking a bath or would run naked around the house when he was only 2 (to the embarrassment of Johnny). What growing child wants his parents to box him in with words and stories of the past when the future is calling?

Fortunately for parents, teens are rebellious. Rebellion can be a signal to parents that change is blowing and the child, not the parents, is moving with it. The trouble is that teens speak their mind, instead of speaking up, about their wants and needs. This gives them a reputation of defiance and opposition.

What if it is really the parents who are rebellious as they defy time and oppose change? Perhaps the child is the submissive one, giving himself or herself over to the movements of time while the parent is stuck in the mud of denial.

Take one step at a time
It would be nice if our families were like the families seen on television. Television families experience a problem and its solution in under an hour. In real life, it takes a little longer. But change can take place in small steps that lead to solutions quickly, without the television drama.

The first step is to watch for the signals of change. They will occur in the emotional interactions between family members. Okay, they may be more like sparks than signals, but they are clear indicators that members must do something new.

The next step is to communicate. Parents tire of trite suggestions like "communicate with your child." But they are our safe islands when stormy winds of change blow. Falling back on the tried and true (and trite) suggestion of communicating is what gets us safely through the tough times.

Communicating means to listen to your child when he tells you he can walk to school on his own. It means to speak up and tell your child that you hear his need for independence. The more a child appears "rebellious," the more a parent needs to listen. This will allow a real dialogue to occur between parent and child, where family members speak up and listen to each other interchangeably.

Get help
Families don't need to go through changes, normal or stormy, without some help. Help can come from within the family or from without. Mom can ask Dad for advice, and Dad can look to Mom for support. Family meetings can resolve issues much quicker than endless power struggles. Consult with extended family members, who have seen storms come and go.

If family members are unable, unwilling or unavailable for help, go to outside resources. Every community has agencies that help families. Find out who those agencies are and ask for help.

"Waiting out the storm" may leave families devastated. Change is stressful, and support is its buffer. Relatives, friends and professionals shelter families from the storms of change. It is much easier to deal with a cranky child when there is someone to talk to or take over. Family therapy is much cheaper than paying divorce lawyers. Asking the local church or synagogue for help is less invasive than calling the police to deal with domestic violence or out-of-control children.

Reinforce the foundations
In order for a home to withstand the winds of change, it will require a firm foundation. The foundation in the family is the parents. A weak foundation will crumble under the stress of change. A solid foundation will be keep a home intact, although shaken and showing
some wear and tear -- but it will stand. Parents must take a stand together. More importantly, they must take time together.

Remember what it was like before children? Parents enjoyed one another. They spent time together. They knew and desired to know more about one another. Then the blessed event occurs -- baby! Life suddenly changes the family -- both its quantity and its quality -- for better and worse. Add more children, a few bills, and a chaotic routine of work and family life and you have a foundation of marriage that is bound to suffer. Entropy (nature's word for change over time) takes place. In marriage it has been called boredom, lack of interest or personality differences.

The solution is to pay some attention to the relationship -- a little repairing of the foundation, a little pairing up as a couple. If time and change can wear a relationship down, time and change (with a conscious blueprint) can build it up again.

Make room
That brings parents to the next principle: making room for a child in the family. Making room refers to a having a new or next child, as well as making room for the child to grow and stretch his or her wings. Families with new babies will need to establish new roles. Parents will have to learn the art, the battle, the teamwork of sharing the leadership roles and daily responsibilities.

Families with older children will need to work cooperatively to avoid the old "divide and conquer" routine older children love so much. Parents still need to exercise their leadership role but now must weather the frightening process of making room for the teenager to operate in and out of the family. A shifting of identity will take place as the child gets older, for both the parents and the child. The parent will not be needed by the older child (or so it will seem). The child will seek out his or her own way in life out from under the protection of the home.

Refocus your life
As children become adults, parents must refocus their life on themselves, careers, marriage, aging parents and their own aging. We call this the empty nest. Momma and poppa birds just have each other now. They can retreat from one another, squawking their loss across the painful, empty spaces in the nest and in their hearts. Marriage partners may look at each other as birds of another feather after so many years tending the nest and the children. They may have lost the old dreams in the busyness -- and the business -- of life. Hidden resentments and hurts will come up if they have not been dealt with before simply because now there is space for them to come up.

Or a new focus can take place where new roles and emphases are created or rediscovered. They can fly off on new adventures together outside the nest. Flying means coasting on the winds of change, and it will involve the risk of a storm or two along the way. These storms may include the caring for and death of their own parents, the grandparents. It may mean a loss of work and physical health themselves. It may mean playing the new role as the grandparent bird as new changelings hatch and grow.

A new way to see your kids
Parents must look at children as equals. Children are now adults with families of their own. The old roles as caretaker are modified into supporters and consultants on family life for the next generation. This is the time to read the patterns on the horizon, to study the weather of change and pass the information on to the next generation so they can cope with the winds of change in their families.

So when your child tells you they don't need your help or they are embarrassed to be seen with you in front of their friends, smile and let the winds of change blow through your hair. If the storms of change pummel you with hail and lightening, seek cover in your family sanctuary, snuggle into the nest and know that it is just life reminding you that change is needed. Or if the nest is empty, look on the horizon to where you will fly to next, not at the worn, familiar spaces of the nest. Tomorrow the sun will shine and the winds of change will blow on by.

© Ron Huxley.

Ron Huxley is the author of the book Love & Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting. Visit his website at or contact him at [email protected] to get expert advice on anger management, mental health and parenting issues.

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