Change. What do you think of it? Do you like it or hate it?
I asked the question on my Facebook page and received a variety of answers. Someone said they find change interesting and think they learn from it. Someone else said that if the change involves learning something new, they don’t like it.
September heralds change for many families. For children it can be the start of a new school, and for young people, it can mean leaving home. It can be a time of learning new routines and making new friends. Parents are navigating the change on two fronts. They are helping their children to handle the change at the same time as they’re handling it themselves.
What might it be helpful to remember about change?
- Learning a New Skill Takes Practice
A quote I read the other day said that when you’re learning something new, you have to be prepared to be very bad at it for a while. Here are just some of the changes that families might be experiencing in the next few weeks:
- A new journey to school
- New morning routines
- Finding their way around a new school/college
- Meeting new people/teachers/lecturers
- New timetables
- Living away from home
- Managing budgets
- Empty nests
If it is possible to accept that these are changes which have to be learned, then it is possible to accept that mistakes may well be made. There is no need to set a high expectation of adapting and getting it right first time.
Children may miss the bus or get off at the wrong stop. They may turn up at the wrong classroom or lecture theatre. They may run out of money to buy food because they’ve blown the budget on something else.
Equally parents may forget that the routine is different and find themselves running late. If they’re feeling anxious about their child, they may forget to be patient when that child makes a mistake. They may find it hard to adapt to their children leaving home.
Recognising that it takes time to transition to a new state can take the pressure away from parents and children to be perfect. If change is viewed with the competence model of learning it is possible to be kind to ourselves and recognize progress, not perfection.
In the model, learning starts with a state of unconscious incompetence. The learner does not know they are incompetent. However as they begin to learn they will realise the extent of their incompetence. This is an improvement. It is called conscious incompetence.
As the learner practises the new skill, they will begin to be able to exercise it. However, they will need to pay attention in order to complete it successfully. This stage is called conscious competence.
Eventually the skill will be mastered and it can be done almost as a background task without much conscious thought. This is unconscious competence.
The model is encouraging as even conscious incompetence shows a degree of learning. If we find ourselves in the situation of reflecting on our own, or our children’s mistakes, we can recognize that progress is being made. The mantra “progress, not perfection” can help us to be kind to ourselves and our children.
- Change, even Positive Change, can be Challenging
People can anticipate change with excitement, but as they enter transition they may start to feel less happy.
One reason for this is that change inevitably involves letting go of the way things used to be. For example, young people may enjoy the freedom of being able to choose how they live but they may miss someone looking after them and taking care of their needs.
Change may involve a loss of identity. For example, during maternity leave, women can lose a sense of themselves as working adults and miss the sense of purpose that employment gives them.
It may be that change begins to produce uncertainty. Following the initial excitement of a positive change, it gradually becomes apparent that new skills and possibly an adjustment to a sense of identity is needed.
At this point, both parents and children involved in the change may doubt their ability to be able to cope. This may lead to depression and disillusionment. Children may rebel against homework, students may decide to return home, new mothers may feel unhappy.
It helps to acknowledge that fear and uncertainty can be a part of change. It is not a sign of weakness or failure. There is no need to feel guilty about your negative feelings.
It is a sign that you – or your young person – are fully recognizing the extent of the task in hand and that life has changed.
The alternative to this feeling is to deny the impact of the change and this can slow down the process of adaptation. Denial can lead to unhealthy behaviours that seek to numb the difficulty of change and these add an extra layer of complexity to life.
Change and loss can be painful. They can produce difficult feelings of fear, uncertainty and grief. However ignoring the feelings and hoping they will go away rarely works. They often seem to become stronger and more persistent if denied.
- Change Cannot be Forced
Parents can desperately long for their children to be protected from suffering. It is painful to watch a child struggle.
It helps children to have supportive parents who prepare them for change and are there to support them through the process. However, parents cannot navigate the change for their children or force it through. They cannot help them with shortcuts. It is a process of growth that only the child can complete.
When parents try to control outcomes for their children they are depriving them of opportunities to learn and grow. Children develop confidence in themselves as they learn that they are capable of resolving difficulties and overcoming mistakes.
But how can parents metaphorically sit on their hands when they can see their child struggling? It is all very well knowing they need to let their children fail and learn, but how can parents manage their own distress at seeing it happen?
It is very hard but it is about a process of letting go. Each new step a child takes is a step into adulthood and away from us.
Each new step reminds us that we are not in control - that even though our child is a beloved part of us - they are separate. However much love and guidance we provide, ultimately they have their own thoughts.
Parenthood involves the pain of letting go. It is difficult. Yet there is no choice if we want our children to grow into independent adults.
The following poem by Khalil Gilbran has brought me comfort as I have watched my children grow:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Recently I wrote a blog post about worrying and if you missed it, you may like to see it here: https://thegoodenoughmum.com/how-to-stop-worrying-about-your-childs-future