The other night, my husband and I were downstairs pulling dinner together while our daughter, Charlie, was upstairs running through her solos for dance. We could hear the music blaring from her phone and the occasional thump as she landed a leap or an aerial, but otherwise it was relatively quiet on the second floor. All is calm and peaceful on the Tonelli front, when what do we hear? “Ow! Ow! Mommy! Mommy, help, help!” As you can imagine, we went tearing up the stairs only to find our daughter in the fetal position sobbing. We weren’t sure if she had pulled a muscle, broken a bone, who knows. We were able to calm her down enough to get the story – cat attack. It seems our cat, Minxie, had been overly excited by Charlie’s dancing and had tried to grab one of her hands as it swung by. Minxie sunk a claw into Charlie’s juicy little finger and a tug of war ensued.
The Great Kitty Hand War led to a much deeper philosophical conversation than I had intended to have with my munchkin that night. I explained to her when the cat has a claw in you, pulling away only make it hurt worse and deepens the wound. We talked about how moving toward the cat, will release the claw allowing you to free yourself. This made me think of those Chinese Finger Traps – you remember the ones, right? There’s a picture below if you need a reminder, but the idea is the more you try to pull or force your way out, the more trapped you become. Life is like this in so many ways. Power struggles rarely end with a true victor – just bloody fingers in my daughter’s case. It isn’t about being the strongest (or the most stubborn) that gets you ahead, but how well you think through the problem. Often, if you can give a little, the other side may give you want you want.
This is something I try to explain to the teenagers in my practice. I most often see power struggles between this group and their parents as they want more independence/freedom while their parents want compliance/obedience. I discuss with my clients how, if they can give their parents a little (decent grades, respectful interactions, and following basic rules) then their parents may just give them more of what they want (later curfew, spending money, greater freedom). I too often see parents and teens stuck in Chinese Finger Cuffs, both pulling in opposite directions, neither getting what they want, trapped. You don’t have to be a teenager to follow this advice. The next time you are in a power struggle, take a moment and don’t pull back. Instead, take a step forward and see if the trap doesn’t loosen, just a little.