Sep 30, 2013 0 Share

The Beauty of the Struggle

Illustration of butterfly emerging from cocoon, hanging off tree branch.

I attended Back to School Night at Cameron’s sister’s school last week. The math specialist gave her overview of the fifth grade curriculum, and concluded by reading a story. I just had to share this story as it resonated with me on so many levels.

The story is about a little boy who found a caterpillar and kept it in a jar as his beloved pet. When the caterpillar began to build its cocoon, the boy feared something was wrong. The boy’s mother reassured him that the caterpillar was merely building a cocoon, and would eventually emerge as a beautiful butterfly.

One day, the boy saw the butterfly begin to emerge from the cocoon. But the caterpillar was struggling so much to emerge from a tiny opening in the cocoon that the boy feared the butterfly would never be able to escape. The boy took some scissors and cut the cocoon so that the butterfly could easily emerge. But the butterfly that emerged looked nothing like the butterfly the boy expected to see. The boy’s butterfly had a swollen body and small wings. The boy waited patiently for the wings to develop, but the butterfly never flew. The butterfly’s body remained swollen, and its wings were too small to allow the butterfly to fly.

You see, a butterfly must struggle to emerge from its cocoon. When the butterfly pushes itself through the tiny opening in its cocoon, this “struggle” moves the fluid from its body into its wings. Without the struggle, a butterfly will never fly.

I don’t know about you, but I feel I’ve struggled enough as a parent to make one heck of a butterfly. But obviously the moral of the story isn’t about struggling as a parent. It’s about letting others struggle and resisting the urge to jump to the rescue. The art of allowing a child to struggle is a difficult one to master, especially when the struggles are so pervasive, as they are when dealing with developmental disabilities. I think the lesson of allowing a person to struggle in order to grow, or “fly” as the story goes, is an important one to keep in mind. 

One of the most difficult things about being Cameron’s mom is watching him struggle. Whether it be making simple conversation, or completing a form to document community service hours, I don’t always resist the urge to jump in and help. I answer questions for him or quickly fill out the form, all in the interest of saving time, of course. I have to constantly remind myself of what Cameron is capable of doing on his own, and that short cuts do not necessarily make things better. It’s much easier to go behind Cameron and re-clean his bathroom than experience his frustration of being told he didn’t do the job properly the first time. But I have to remind myself that a boss would not do Cameron’s tasks for him just because Cameron is struggling to get things done right the first time. Moms need to be a little tougher on our kids because the world will be a lot tougher on them if we aren’t.