Pick Your Battles; Win the War
Which battles are worth fighting? The ones that will help you win the ultimate war – leading your children towards a relationship with Christ and a love of others.
“Mom, it’s only hair. What’s wrong with me dyeing it purple?”
“Dad, it’s only one ear, plus, all the other dudes are doing it.”
At one time or another, as parents, we will face these discussions with our children. These conversations, no matter how calm or how intense, have the potential to quickly escalate into a showdown between parents and children. What will our response be?
Years ago when my children were only toddlers, a wise friend with teenagers gave me some advice, “Diane, as parents, we have to pick our battles with our kids.” She asked me, “Do you want to win the battle or do you want to win the war?” For my friend, the color of her teenage daughter’s hair was not a battle she needed to win.
As my kids grew older, I was reminded numerous times of my friend’s sage advice. First it began with the clothes they wanted to wear or not wear. If you have a son, you will understand their need to show their “manliness” by going to school without a jacket or coat in freezing temperatures. Perhaps, if you have a daughter, you have debated with her about whether she was too young to wear makeup or shave her legs. No matter what the topic is with teenagers, most likely, you will have a difference of opinion.
As parents, we have to be wise enough to know when we should win the battle or when to let our kids win the battle. Our children, especially as they enter the adolescent and teen years, need to know that they have a say in their own lives. We want to be careful not to exasperate our children to the point that it harms our relationship with them. We are warned of this in the Bible. “Fathers [mothers, too], do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Shooting down everything they come to us about can become so disheartening to them that they stop coming to us at all. If we give them freedom to make choices in their lives in the smaller (temporary/less harmful) things in life, then maybe, they will understand and accept our decisions when we say no to the bigger (permanent/eternal/more harmful) things in life.
During my boys’ middle and high school years, my husband and I found ourselves from time to time having to decide if a particular stand-off was worth the battle. Our sons both went through the long hair phase. Long hair was never an issue with me; however, it was a HUGE issue with my husband. You see, my husband’s history was all wrapped up in the military. He sported the standard army flat top hairstyle. So, when our boys’ hair grew passed their ears, their father voiced his opinion that they needed haircuts. When the hair reached the top of their shoulders, his voice got louder.
I, being the “cool” (yeah, right, like any of us parents are actually cool to our kids) parent, reminded my husband that we should pick our battles and hair was not a battle we need to win. It’s pretty funny now thinking back on this skirmish with our kids, but my Army husband did not think so back then. During this the long hair phase, I reminded my hubby that we were all young once. In fact, even he had long hair back in his good ol’ days.
Most mothers know their kids pretty well. I knew that sooner or later my boys would grow tired of having to manage the longer hair. I was right. Eventually, they came to us on their own volition and asked if we would take them to get their hair cut. Being the good wife, I sweetly turned to my husband and said, “See, I told you so.” He just grinned because, after all, he was getting what he had wanted the entire time – the boys’ hair cut.
“Hair today and gone tomorrow” could have been the motto for our boys’ period of long hair. My point by sharing this tidbit from my family’s past is that we chose not to battle over the hair. Why not? Hair is one of those temporary and trivial matters in life that, for us, was just not worth the fight.
“Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning” stated Erwin Rommel. Why as parents do we face off with our kids about the “little” things in life? Is it pride? Have some of us been guilty of saying or even thinking something similar to this, “I am not going to have others think that my kid is one of those hooligans running wild around the streets!”?
Maybe we draw the line in the sand with our kids and tell them they better not cross it because we must maintain control at all costs. Is this really about our kids or is it about us? Do you have to win the battle with Janie because you are the adult and she is the kid? What do we have to gain by winning a battle over an earring or for that matter even hair color, makeup, or wearing a jacket or not? When we choose to win temporary and trivial battles in life, we may miss opportunities to win the war over the more important and eternal things in life.