18 April 2015

Battle Picking

As a young(er)  mother, I often heard the chorus, "You have to pick your battles."  I still hear it all the time.  I say it pretty regularly as well.  I read it on many a facebook status and as the moral of the story in quite a few essays - both in the parenting world and elsewhere. And, I've been noticing something... and thought, why not add to the conversation.  ;)

I have done some etymology hunting, and it's not really clear, but the phrase means what you'd think it means.  To do an effective job, you cannot be stretched too thin.  You have to choose which places to put up a fight, because if you choose them all, you will exhaust your resources and lose the war.  In actual warcraft, these resources are men, weapons, money, food.  In parenting, the resources are primarily emotional. 

If we fight every battle at the same time all day, we will exhaust ourselves emotionally.  We will strain our relationships with our children, and we won't have enough left in us to smile, or love our spouses, or fight the next day's battles. 

I actually think, rather than cliched cop-out, battle picking is excellent strategy.  Just not how most folks mean it when they say it. 

I have heard "Pick your Battles" chanted in only one circumstance.  It doesn't actually get used to encourage parents to wisely choose their areas of focus.  It gets used to encourage us, like another familiar chorus, to "Let It Go." 

No one has ever looked at me *not* choosing a battle and instructed me to pick my battles.  No one has ever explained her hard work on one particular issue as battle-picking.  Rather it is usually: "I hate that outfit, but you know, gotta pick your battles."  "I really want her to say yes ma'am all the time, but, I'm picking my battles."  "Oh, that is a good goal, but you gotta pick your battles."  In each of its thousands of uses, it seems it means precisely to let something go. 

In my capacity as school teacher and administrator, I get to see a great cross section of families and what is working for them and not working for them.  I am so privileged to be surrounded by wise parents who take their job very seriously.  And don't take themselves too seriously.  What a beautiful combination.  After watching these superstar folks successfully navigate the murky waters of parenting in the twenty first century, I have noticed some patterns. 

Letting things go isn't a great parenting strategy, but battle picking sure is. 

The wisest folks I see have a general strategy of battle picking, and when they pick a battle, they fight it well.  How do I mean?  Well, if you have a child struggling in an area, and you purpose to deal with that area, you deal with it whole-heartedly, and in so doing, you often do let other things go.  But,  you have actually picked a battle and devoted your resources, and strategized about success. 

I have one student who, at the beginning of the year, could not remember his head, much less his coat, backpack, lunch box, water bottle, etc.   Or to ever turn in his homework.  Ever.  His parents decided they were picking that battle, and they started instituting specific consequences for each item forgotten.  During this time, I watched as they did let some things go, but they actually fought the absent-mindedness battle.  At every turn.  They were often parked in the parking lot after school, going through bags and not leaving until the student had located each and every item.  They marshaled other resources and asked for help from his teachers - asked me *not* to remind him of things, so that he would begin to learn to remind himself.  And they have been successful.  And now they've repositioned the troops and moved to a new front. 

Battle picking is just another term for intentionality and follow through.  As parents, we often - or at least I often - feel like we're playing whack-a-mole.  Bad manners - whack!  Doesn't understand fractions - whack!  Snipping at siblings - Whack!  Talking back, making and leaving all the messes, struggling in friendships, needing emotional comfort... round and round it goes; where it stops, nobody knows.  And the fact is their needs aren't going to end in this life time, and will only cease to be our responsibilities when they establish themselves in the world as adults.  And even then we'll be on call, right?   And because of this insanity, we cannot even keep up with our priorities and keep our head clear.  We begin to feel overwhelmed.  

Battle picking really is a solution here.  Sit down, talk with someone who knows your children well - their other parent or a grandparent/godparent/teacher/counselor - and make a list of priorities.  What are Sally's three biggest needs right now?  Write them down if it helps you. 

Don't let it all go, but don't fight them all.  Be good stewards of your emotional resources.

Pick your battles. See - it's a great concept. 

Some battles we've not picked....
Watch TV in whatever you want. 

Saturday all day pajamas. 

Haven't turned 3?  Nekkid all you want.

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