My daughter recently studied butterfly metamorphosis at school. When she came home with her completed project and explained each phase of their life cycle, I realized just how much parents have in common with butterflies. Much like butterflies pass through four phases of life before complete metamorphosis, we will experience four phases of parenting before our children become adults.
The Four Phases of Parenting
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As with the butterfly egg, an infant is very fragile. During this phase of life, we nurture, protect and give our babies everything they need to flourish. But giving my daughter everything she needed took a lot out of me. I quickly learned that being a new mom was the most amazing yet most terrifying thing I had ever experienced. I was overwhelmed, exhausted and really pissed that nobody mentioned how hard breastfeeding would be. Thank God, these feelings only lasted a few months (except for the feeling exhausted part, of course). The most important lesson I learned during this phase of parenting was how to listen to my inner voice and trust my instincts. I also learned that while milestones are important, not meeting every one of them is nothing to freak out about. True to her inherited stubborn streak, my daughter did (and still does) everything when she was good and ready.
When the egg hatches, it enters the feeding and growth phase of a caterpillar. The caterpillar will outgrow and shed its skin several times, just as children go through several stages of physical, social and emotional growth during these years. I’m currently in this challenging yet rewarding phase of parenting. As my daughter begins to understand her place in the world, she is becoming more confident, responsible and independent. But with that comes the testing of boundaries and patience. She has experienced quite a few physical and emotional bumps and bruises as she learns about self-control, self-discipline, self-esteem, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. And so have I. Throughout this “self“ stage, I have found consistency to be extremely important. That means keeping my word—whether it’s sticking to bedtime, a promise for a trip to the zoo, or a punishment for misbehavior. It also means remembering that all of my words and actions lay the foundation for her moral compass. Children learn what they live. The gifts and challenges of everyday life are teachable moments for her to witness my virtues and values in action. And through those lessons, I find myself becoming more of the person that I want her to be.
Once the caterpillar stops eating, it becomes a chrysalis. During this phase, most of the big changes take place on the inside and cells begin to grow rapidly. The teenage phase is full of change. Their voices change, their bodies change and their attitudes—ugh!—their attitudes! I recall an aha moment I had in my 20’s watching an episode of Oprah. One of her guests said that there comes a time when you go from being a manager in your child’s life to a consultant. At this point in her life, I should be letting go and trusting that I have given her all the tools she needs to make her own decisions . As I try to prepare for the angst that will be here before I know it, I remember what it was like being a teenager. Hormonal changes, social pressure, stress at school, stress at home. I wished my mother would have talked to me more. More about my aspirations, sex, finances, everything. But more importantly, I wish she would have listened. Provided me with a safe place to express myself and my feelings without fear of her reaction and retaliation for speaking my truth. So I won’t gloss over tough topics like sex and drugs because they make me uncomfortable. I won’t try to be her best friend, so that she will love me like she did when she was my little caterpillar. I won’t try to pretend to relate to everything that she will go through. And no matter how bad I want to, I won’t try to “fix” her problems and stop her from making mistakes. I will be there to support her, to dry her tears, and to listen as she strives to find her voice. I will give her permission to be her authentic self. I will make sure she knows and feels my unconditional love.
In this final phase, the chrysalis opens into a beautiful butterfly. It will learn how to fly, find a mate and start its own family. Although I will always be a parent, my child is now an adult. Realizing that I have no say in who she dates, where she lives, or what career path she takes may be a hard pill to swallow. But I must be tolerant, accepting, and silent as she finds her way. If I have done my job, my daughter will be ready to fly. She will be independent, educated, responsible, reliable, and ready to take on the world. She will know that she will have to work hard for what she wants. That everything she needs to be happy and successful lies within. That when she mistreats, judges or disrespects anyone, she does the same to herself. That the more love, compassion and kindness she shows to others, the more she will receive. That she is worthy. That she is enough. She will love herself unconditionally. She will be a leader. She will choose a mate because he complements her, not because he completes her. She will ask for help when she needs it. And I’ll be there to give her advice when she asks (and sometimes when she doesn’t). I’ll continue to be her biggest cheerleader. And she will fly.
What phase of parenting have you found to be most challenging?