Struggling like we’re stuck in Chinese Handcuffs

Chinese Handcuffs as an object lesson in parenting struggles

Originally published on The Consciously Parenting Blog November 11, 2009


Have you ever seen Chinese Handcuffs? They’re made of some sort of woven material and your fingers go into either end. When you pull them apart with your fingers inside, as if you want to move your fingers out of it, it tightens. The only way to get your fingers out is to stop struggling, and move in the opposite direction, away from the exit, and you can easily pull your fingers out. It is counter-intuitive to push your fingers further into the tube, but it is the only way out.

I had a parenting moment recently that reminded me of Chinese Handcuffs. Since I last blogged, I’ve moved both of my boys to the Waldorf school and have been adjusting to getting everyone ready each morning. There is much to do- lunches to pack, children to get dressed, choosing weather appropriate clothing for the day, finding shoes, getting breakfast- and we have a time constraint. Anytime you add in a time constraint, there is potential for stress and conflict.

Usually, I am fairly calm these days. I am able to handle the ups and downs of a child who doesn’t want to get dressed that moment without falling into the place of overwhelm myself. But Monday was different. I was tired. My husband had been traveling last week and over the weekend, so my list of things to do was long. I had stayed up much later than I really should have trying to tie up some loose ends, so I was tired on Monday morning just like my kids. I was working on getting breakfast and lunch packed, hoping to accomplish this task before my youngest, who is five, woke up. It’s nice to┬ábe able to spend quality time with him when he first wakes up to help him transition into his day.

Of course, he woke up earlier than I had hoped and I wasn’t done getting things ready. I was playful at first when he refused to get dressed, but found myself quickly falling off my calm and began demanding that he get dressed. I tried to reason with him and explain that his playtime at school would be shorter… or longer depending upon how quickly his clothes were put on. Nothing seemed to be working and time was ticking.

I was struggling.

I kept pulling and yanking against him like those darned Chinese Handcuffs, for nearly half an hour. And my fingers were clearly still stuck inside. The child wasn’t dressed, lunches weren’t packed, and we were at a stalemate.

Finally, I had a moment of clarity. I let go of the outcome in that second- let go of all that needed to be done. I stopped struggling. We were probably going to be late anyway. I shifted from what I needed to something that was important and fun for him, connecting with him rather than my own agenda. Getting dressed isn’t really that much fun for him, especially when mom is feeling overwhelmed, tired, and cranky. But spending some quality time telling stories in the car is and I began talking to him about the time that we would have in the car to tell stories. He became captivated by our story ideas, something that he was very interested in, and he got dressed.

He needed connection with me more than anything else.

Once I got that, things fell into place. The most important part of all of this is that I relaxed and connected. I stopped pulling against the Handcuffs and moved in toward the center to connect with him, away from my own agenda. And guess what? We were dressed and in the car with our lunches in about three minutes. How much struggle could I have saved myself had I just relaxed and met him where he was in the first place? If I had only set aside my own agenda for a moment and connected with him, what would our morning have looked like?

The key to situations like that isn’t to keep struggling against our children with our own agenda. Connect with your kids. Move in to meet them and you may be amazed at how much everything opens up.

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