How often do you cage birds?

Today is June 30 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you cage birds?” Today’s question is often difficult for parents, spouses, and friends to answer. Are you caging any birds? Are you even aware that you are caging birds? Are you keeping anyone in your life from becoming who they want to be? Are you preventing anyone in your life from navigating their chaos or practicing the art of living well? When it comes to your children are you allowing them to develop into self-reliant, free-thinking, and autonomous adults? When it comes to your spouse, partner, or lover are you holding them back? And when it comes to your friends does your jealousy get so intense you cage them to your relationship instead of supporting their efforts to fly away?

Now, maybe you were caged by your parents, friends, or lover. Maybe you found a way to break free from such a cage. If so, how often do you reflect upon whether you are caging someone? Are you living a life free from the past caging, or do you feel as though you are still living in a cage long after that person who kept you there died?

These questions are uneasy yet critical to ask for anyone navigating the chaos. Translating dreams into reality involves our families, friends, and partners. How we treat those who are with us along the journey matters. How we support the dreams of others we encounter along our path matters. How we encourage others, especially our children, to fly away matters.

Recall the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Making a difference means allowing those closest to you be free. Can one be useful, honorable, and compassionate by keeping those closest in cages? Can you successfully navigate the chaos and translate your dreams into reality by pursuing a life void of usefulness, honor, and compassion? Sure, anything is possible. But is that the strategy you want to use to navigate the chaos?

Author Stephen King wrote “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So, you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much drabber and emptier for their departure.”

Unfortunately, today’s helicopter parents often imprison their children by micromanaging every decision, dictate their schedules, and control their relationships. Childhood, starting at its earliest ages is now a race. But a race to where? And what is the prize? More importantly, who determines the prize?

A 2009 documentary entitled Race to Nowhere examines the lives of young people across the United States “who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their children.” To paraphrase a quote from Dr. Wendy Mogel, parents need to understand that it is their job to prepare children for the road, not to prepare the road for children. By preparing the road for the children do you understand that is a form of caging a child? A child needs to be free to fly on their own. When a parent prepares a road doing so contradicts a child’s ability to engage in self-determination.

Self-determination theory articulates performance, persistence, and creativity, arguably three critical skills everyone needs to succeed, are best fostered by an individual developing a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Another way of asking if you are caging any birds is for those in your life, how often do you spend helping them develop their sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness? Another way to think of self-determination comes from author Frank A. Clark who noted “The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.”

Think about Clark’s statement “the most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” Are you? As a parent of a teenager especially, how are you approaching their development? What have you done lately to help your children get along without you? It’s a scary thought no doubt, but failure to do so could result in the child being caged long after the parent has died since the child was never taught to fly away on its own.

Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh wrote Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life and observed:

“We really have to understand the person we want to love. If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love. If we only think of ourselves, if we know only our own needs and ignore the needs of the other person, we cannot love. We must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the person we love. This is the ground of real love. You cannot resist loving another person when you really understand him or her. Maybe a father does not have time or is not brave enough to ask his son such a question. Then the love between them will not be as full as it could be. We need courage to ask these questions, but if we don't ask, the more we love, the more we may destroy the people we are trying to love. True love needs understanding. With understanding, the one we love will certainly flower.”

How often do you imprison a bird not meant to be caged? And if you are a parent, how often are you prohibiting your child’s ability to develop a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness?