Defeat is not an Option

It started with some fabric. The idea being, that instead of buying a ready-made tablecloth, I would instead purchase some gorgeous fabric at a nice price, and then have the pleasure of sewing it up myself. I would never claim to be skilled at sewing, but I once sewed a pair of pyjama shorts, so how hard could four long, straight lines be? My enjoyment in being creative far outstrips my ability, so I am not easily put off from the challenge of mastering something new (how I imagine the end result, is motivation enough to attempt it). However, my latest project in home-made creations has had me quite undone. It quickly went from a leisurely afternoon of sewing, to a battle of wills. Woman vs Machine…the machine wins.

I had borrowed, for the project, my Mother’s 40 year old sewing machine (as my infrequent usage does not warrant owning one). Time had lapsed since my last sewing adventure, so a careful perusal of the manual was the first thing I did. Having read the manual, I proceeded to thread the needle; making sure the thread tension was good. I then managed to correctly bring up the bobbin thread…trickiest part accomplished! The first hem I sewed went pretty well; even and straight, with no mistakes. I was feeling pretty chuffed with my initial success, thinking, “I should do more of this, it is fun!”

No sooner had this happy thought crossed my mind when I hit a snag. The thread jammed, with the needle firmly stuck in the fabric, and nothing I did seemed to work it clear. After 10 minutes of machine wrestling, I triumphed. Slightly rattled, but undeterred, I went back to re-threading and starting over. My triumph was short lived; the machine jamming again, this time much quicker. Having successfully solved the problem once, I was confident I could resolve the problem again and move on. The machine however, had other plans for the afternoon. It was intent on causing as much trouble as it could. It stubbornly refused to comply with my careful and patient handling. In the end I gave up; leaving the house for a brisk walk to work out my frustration.

As I marched up the street, the thought occurred to me that my infuriating episode with the sewing machine held many parallels with parenting. The first of them being the erroneous expectation that if one reads the manual, one is guaranteed success. The manual is like the basics; someone has tried it and said this is what works. Just like you need: practice, fine tuning, creativity, intuition and flair to hone your skills in using a machine, so too in parenting; even more so. Children are so individual, complex and interesting; certainly not machines. Yes, there are fundamental principles that apply to parenting, but the way they are expressed may look different for each child and each parent.

Patience is needed if we hope to finish what we began; defeat is not an option. While the finished product may not be perfect, what is important is that you didn’t give up… besides, a few rough edges give it a unique beauty. There is value in perseverance, to accept mistakes and to learn from them. How disappointing to begin a project, only to leave it incomplete and on the shelf all because of an obstacle. How much more discouraging, to loose patience in training a child in the way they should go.

A wise man once said to my husband and I, “A parents role is to set boundaries and a child’s role is to resist them.” As the sewing machine seemed determined to cause trouble, so too can some children. They may not fight you on everything, (I am informed there is such a thing as a compliant child) however there will be occasion when they will disagree with you; when they will be disobedient. In accepting this truth there is peace; knowing that these struggles are a normal and natural part of parenting helps manage your expectations. What is equally true is there will be great days, when you can honestly say that you had fun together!

Finally, there is wisdom in calling out for a friends help and advice. Don’t parent alone; two is always better than one. After my brisk walk, I decided to call my sister (the expert seamstress). As I spilled out all my troubles to her, she identified with my issues and bought some perspective to the situation. She said, “It’s not you, it’s the machine. I’ve had the same trouble with it. It’s 40 years old and probably needs a service. Don’t let an old machine put you off sewing.” That was all I needed to hear. A day later I went back to the sewing. It was tedious; taking me longer than I initially planned, but that was okay. The end result is a fabulous new tablecloth. It isn’t perfect; it certainly won’t win prizes, but I am proud of it and I am proud of myself.

So whatever snag you’ve encounter recently in the project of parenting, I encourage you not to give up. With patience, creativity and a little bit of help you can find a way through it.

Photo by: duncan c