Thursday, June 3, 2010


I was never a Bowie fan.  This...

was just too weird for me as a kid.  But his song, Changes, brings up a point that I struggled with in Landslide, and Haunted by Waters - how do we cope with change?  For the point of this blog, how do kids?

Bowie thinks this:

"And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through"

For anyone trying to guide a child through something, be it mashed up broccoli, tying shoes, hitting a baseball, riding a bike (link), dating, sex, drugs, graduation, college choice, wedding planning, job choice, raising kids, planning for a bar mitzvah, planning your child's wedding...this line rings with migraine-link intensity.

Another song from my childhood, Changes by Yes, contrasts with Bowie's self-deprecating take on change.  Darker-seeming (the song seems born of a riven relationship), it somehow stresses the self-control we have over our own destinies.  A simple statement at the start:

"I`m moving through some changes
I`ll never be the same"

climaxes in the bridge of the song, rising up, full of the emotion of the song's peak:

"For some reason you're questioning why
I always believe it gets better
One difference between you and I
Your heart is inside your head"

expressing the control we have over accepting the inevitability of change by agreeing to change, rather than allowing blind emotion to rule us.

The song also embraces the idea that we do it better the more we do it.  Practice makes perfect in relationships and change, just like in any other arena of life.  These thoughts jive with the intro to the song, where the time signature vacillates between 7/8 and (?) 10/8, affirming the existence of unpredictable variations within the very fabric of our lives.

What does this mean for kids?  Some kids cope with change and transition very nicely.  No warning, time to go?  No problem.  Other kids, especially young kids, need the "stop signal ahead" light that cues them of the stop signal ahead.  Most people figure this one out pretty quickly.

I warn most parents, as they're about to have a second child, that though they might have some questions about their growing baby at each of the many appointments in the first year...inevitably, they'll pull the "yeah, yeah, the baby's fine - can we talk for a second about his big brother/sister?" out of the bag.  Can't blame the parents - their angelic firstborn has begun to channel Dennis the Menace.  Can't blame the firstborn - his universe has been chopped into 2, as his parents pay attention to something else in addition to (and often before) him.

Another scenario, and a special topic for me, being a child of divorced parents, is dealing with kids in a divorce situation.  Most parents ache over the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde rotation through which their kids spin.  Some kids go bananas before they visit "the other" parent, some careen out of control once they return.  The kids often tilt between feeling guilty about leaving one parent to feeling guilty that they had fun with that parent.  Plus, each household often has its own set of rules; one allows cookies in bed but focuses on homework before fun, the other has no junk food whatsoever but there's a party all day long.   Throw in both parents trying to get back at each other for wrongs during the marriage, with each child now serving as a bioweapon against the other parent?  It's surprising when individual or family therapy isn't involved at all.

I don't think I have any miracle advice for any of these situations...only these ideas.

  1. Know that change can be hard to accept;
  2. Some kids who depend on structure have an especially hard time with change.
  3. When kids act out, try to remember that "why" is as important as dealing with the situation, despite the fact that Bill Cosby was right when he said that  "parents are not interested in justice, they're interested in peace.
  4.  Blend consistency with enforcing the rules with understanding and warmth, and know that sometimes 5 parts rules zero parts understanding (or vice versa) is the right answer.
  5. You know your kids best.

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