Be The Change You Want To See In Your Family

“Things don’t change. You change your way of looking, that’s all.”
~ Carlos Casteneda

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
~ Mahatma Ghandi

You can’t control people.
But you can control the environment and you can control yourself.

A few nights ago, over dinner, our youngest son was telling us how his children would turn out and what he would have them do. We said, “Good luck with that!” He replied, “Don’t tell me how to control my children’s lives.” We all laughed but I thought how true it is! We can’t control our children’s lives.

A couple of years ago I was going crazy! Crazy because I wasn’t sure my son was going to graduate from high school. He had a severe case of “senioritis”. He kept telling me, “You’re so pessimistic. Of course I’ll graduate.” He’d been a great student to start with during his high school years. But Junior and Senior year were the worst. With the grades he had in his 2nd semester of Senior Year (including swimming!!), not graduating was a possibility. I was so angry. I was such a nag. I couldn’t sleep at night. Finally, I realized I couldn’t live like this anymore. I couldn’t change him. I couldn’t make him get the grades he needed. So, after doing everything I could, I let go. (And I wrote a book, HOW TO BE A ZEN MAMA, during the nights I was up.)

I finally told him (not meaning it of course!), “Well, that’s ok if you don’t graduate. You can still live at home and attend community college. We’d love to have you!” I let him go, knowing that he needed to decide his own outcome.

That’s about the time he decided to change.
He pulled everything together. He did graduate. And he loves college! He’s a junior now, going to Ft. Lewis College in the mountain town of Durango, Colorado. He’s majoring in French and Spanish and he continues to enjoy the music he loves. In fact, he just bought an accordion last summer.

Did he change so much that he had all straight A’s. No. Is he happy? Yes! I think he’s never been happier. I changed my reaction to him. I see him as a musician, a hard worker, and a student of life with great common sense.

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”
~ Harry S. Truman

Here’s what I found out while raising kids:

• You cannot change other people. Humanity has tried to do this through the ages. Girlfriends and wives have tried to change their men. Parents have tried to control their children. It doesn’t work! It never has. There is always some problem when you try to change and control another person.

• You can’t change your children
, but you can change the environment you’re bringing them up in. Don’t like the video games your children are playing? Get rid of them. Don’t want your young children touching your special possessions? Pack them away until they are older. Don’t like the junk food they eat? Don’t buy it.

• We can only change ourselves. When we don’t like something, we need to change our reaction to the people we love. They are on their own path. They are individuals. And when you see them as an individual, you can accept them and get along much better. You are also an individual and the adult and you can teach them a lot by transforming yourself!

Five Ways to Transform Yourself Without Changing Your Children:

1. Start by listening – You automatically say, “I respect you” when you listen.
2. Observe – Watch your child, without judgment. Maybe you’re wrong about why he/she needs to change.
3. Let go of expectations – Let go of your expectations and find out what the person in your life wants out of their life.
4. Accept – Accept what the person in your life wants to do with their life.
5. Help – As a parent you are a guide. Help your children get where they need to be to accomplish their dreams (not yours for them).

One last thing… Sometimes people think that if you change yourself you are letting go of responsibility or that you’re giving up. Not at all! You are letting go of your emotional attachment to the outcome and control of a person. Good luck! It’s hard work!!

“Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”
~ John Maxwell

* The post in a slightly different form for first a guest post at The Bold Life

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22 Responses to Be The Change You Want To See In Your Family

  1. Jen says:

    Hi Betsy,
    I remember this story….perhaps from another blog of yours, about your son and the journey that led you to let go.
    The five ways to transform yourself is very poignant right now in my life, as my second is 2 months from being 13 and now we have 2 teens that I have to let CHOOSE more as I learn to draw back. Difficult for a mom. But so important!!

    I am going to print this one out. Thank you Betsy!
    Love,
    Jen

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    Betsy Reply:

    Hi Jen,
    Yes, it’s a story I’ve told quite often. It taught me one of the best lessons of my life about letting go, worrying and not trying to control. These were things I knew intellectually but did not practice with my teenagers. Glad you enjoyed!

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  2. Vidya Sury says:

    Betsy, Am sure I’ve said this before …this post really touched my heart. I don’t know why, I found my eyes were full when I finished reading it, probably because I identify with it in terms of my current situation, even though I will act brave and I’ll pretend it is all okay…. My son’s just 13, but as a parent, I have my own secret nightmares and obviously most of them cannot be voiced, for they’ll sound quite ridiculous.

    I somehow feel better for reading this. Thank you.

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    Betsy Reply:

    I know what you mean about secret nightmares! That’s why I was up almost every night during my new oldest’s teen years. Some teens don’t go through rebellious years. But so many do! And there are so many things happened at high schools that should make us worried!! Anyway, I’m so glad it touched your heart. That means a lot to me and I will cherish that all day and beyond!!

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  3. Betsy, this post really touched me, and I can relate. My two teenage sons do not lived with me. They live in another state with their Dad. They went to live with him over 4 year ago, when I had a brain injury.

    The whole process has been a growth experience for me as an individual and a mother. To really love our children authentically, we have to allow them to be their own person and to let go. This was unusually difficult for me because it was at an earlier age, and because I used to have such a codependent relationship with them.
    It has truly been good for all of us.

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    Betsy Reply:

    Debbie, I was reading your blog while you were reading mine! What a story you have! I’m looking forward to reading more. I love the phrase you used in your comment “to really love our children authentically, we have to allow them to be their own person and to let go.” So true!!

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  4. Jimmy says:

    Hi Betsy,

    I love this post since my wife and I are really looking for information to becoming better parents. We have two toddlers growing up too fast for us to handle… HaHa. The discussion here certainly speaks loud and clear to us in anticipation of things to come when they enter they youth stage. Now is the cute and close attention stage.

    I am a teacher in high school myself. Have been doing that for 15 years and I can understand of the frustrations and challenges parents of teenagers feel. It is like something you have no control of. They are always trying to find themselves while leaving you behind. But I guess at the fundamental level, all teenagers are craving for identity and acknowledgement. They want to belong to something. If the parents do not inspire, they will go elsewhere and that’s where the danger lies.

    It is natural for us trying get them to conform to the our expectations. Which parent does not want that. But the greatest love and gift we can give our children is the endorsement to go find themselves and do what they think is best for them. I learnt from Jim Rohn’s audio the two words that are most crucial in handling kids as they grow: Capable and Available. We must be capable of help when they ask. We must also be available anytime for them to ask. If we can fulfill this, I think teens will naturally come to us.

    I snopping around your site for some pics of your family, but found none.

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    Betsy Reply:

    Thanks for visiting Jimmy! As teachers, we can see what children need but not always as a parent. I’m a preschooler teacher as my “day job”. You know teenagers very well! I’m still figuring them out!! I love the idea of capable and available! I will have to look up Jim Rohn. And you’re right! I need a picture of my family is my “about” page. I have tons of pics spread throughout the website. I’ll put it up this weekend!

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  5. Joy says:

    Oh, I absolutely love this!
    My children are two completely different energetic beings; I learned quickly and early on to honor their individual personalities which at times are so similar to mine, and at time are so different that I initially do not understand one of their choices. It is not for me to ‘understand’ always, just to love, and to provide a home that allows for creative exploration, abundant peace, laughter, and lots of love.
    Your five tips are excellent for honoring “uniqueness” in any relationship 🙂

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Joy, I’m always so happy when I see your name here! You must have a wonderful environment for your children to grow up in! I’m glad you enjoyed the five tips! And you’re right, that honor every relationship we could have. Thanks so much for commenting!!

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  6. I enjoyed this post. I think letting go of expectations is one of the best things we can do. It can work in all part of our life. The way I see it, our expectations can be the greatest source of friction and anger in our lives. It’s hard to let go of expectations, but as you demonstrated, doing so can create a better environment for all involved.

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    Betsy Reply:

    Thanks Eric! Glad to have you come by. I’ve learned so much about expectations! Our culture so believes that people will rise to their expectations but at what cost?

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  7. sheila says:

    Yes, I love this story as well. I especially love your One last thing… part. Love it.!

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    I also have to add that ONE LAST THING because people misinterpret that a Zen Mama is letting go so much that you don’t care. You still have your boundaries and rules… you just change your reaction to everything!

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  8. Betsy –

    Your posts seem to come at the time when I need their message the most! I LOVE this. Every word. I am so happy to have you a part of my life – even if we’ve never met!

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    Missy,
    I’m so glad the message came at the perfect time!! I feel the same way… great blogging friends! We’ll meet some day, I’m sure!!

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  9. Hi Betsy,

    What an amazing post! That fits so well with my situation. When your children are not only having bad grades, but abusing substances it’s exhausting for a parent to know what to do. I can relate to the sleepless nights, and good for you that you did something positive with that time. It’s been a journey for me to realize I needed to let go, and I work on it everyday. But you are absolutely right, parents would like to control their children, but the reality is that we cannot. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    I understand the extra burden of substance abuse because many teens do this to one extent or another. Some worse than others. Your site is so good for helping parents! I do feel like I found something positive to do but it did not me several years. Thank you Cathy, for your insightful comment!

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  10. JennyBean says:

    Betsy, I’m shattered. I was hoping to change Moose just a little!

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    Betsy Reply:

    Sorry, I missed this comment!
    And sorry about Moose! 🙂 (hahaha) When I first started teaching I totally believed that parents made their children’s personalities. It took having only one child to realize that they are definitely born with a certain personality. You can make it better or worse but good luck changing them! My oldest is now taking up my “nurture” argument. Can’t wait til he has kids (well, I can a little, he’s only 20).

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  11. Deb Chitwood says:

    It’s awesome that you gained such wisdom and a new way of relating to your sons from your experience, Betsy. I love the quotes. The one from Harry S. Truman always makes me smile: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” In many ways, that’s definitely a Montessori attitude too – to observe and follow your child’s needs and interests.

    [Reply]

    Betsy Reply:

    The Harry Truman quote is one of my favorites, too. I have always loved the Montessori attitude and have definitely incorporated it into my parenting.

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