Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

July 30, 2010

Pliers – Holding Tight, From a Distance

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 9:39 pm
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  In just over a week, our youngest child is embarking for a year of study in Israel.  We have plenty of experience with packing up children, and we’re practiced at the teary but proud goodbyes at the JFK International terminal.  Each time in the past, however, we returned home from the airport to other children who (we believed) needed us.  So, it is no surprise that this week, I called my Dad and asked him to tell me about pliers, a tool that helps you hold onto things.  

Pliers, my Dad told me when I first starting thinking about tools, are the simplest of tools.  “Just think of your thumb and forefinger”, he said.  As I am filling my youngest child’s suitcases, using thumb, forefinger, and all eight other digits, I began to wonder just how “simple” it is to grab onto to things and hold them tight.

 Thumb and forefinger can join together so easily to affectionately “pinch” a toddler’s adorable cheek.  They can even manage to hold a school age child’s chin still long enough to wipe a smudge from a dirty face.  But “grabbing” any part of a teenager or young adult, takes a lot more leverage.

 Pliers, it turns out, magnify the power of our fingers by joining two levers at a fulcrum (that’s the screw that connects the two pieces of the pliers).  The handle is generally longer than the “jaws” of the pliers, providing a mechanical advantage, increasing and focusing our gripping potential.   It’s initially a tempting thought . . . magnifying my grip on my rapidly growing children.  It’s also, I know, terribly wrong for their well being, and for mine.  Parenting and teaching teens and young adults is so complicated.   How do we protect when they need and want to be independent?  How do we offer guidance about important decisions when we want them to learn to make their own wise choices? 

Maybe pliers can offer some guidance for healthy functioning for parents of older children.  The mechanical advantage of pliers allows for safely and accurately holding and manipulating objects that are too small or too dangerous for direct handling.  Pliers put distance between our grabbing, pinching, manipulating fingers and the objects of our “concern”.  In moving from direct touch and control, we actually have greater impact. 

Teenagers and young adults need role models, advisors, parents, and teachers no less than their younger counterparts.  But they need grown-ups who are grown up enough to realize that up-close, strangulating grips are less meaningful than gentle guidance from a bit of a distance.  This requires a lot of restraint and willpower, and at least as much patience as toilet training!  Just as small children had to find their own way to learn control of their bodies, and no amount of lecture or pressure could hasten the process, teens and young adults learning to take control of their lives can’t be rushed by any amount of lecture or pressure.

 Thinking about pliers and our son’s upcoming flight, the greatest comfort came from something my Dad said about the pads at the end of the jaws of pliers.  The ridges on the pads, he cautioned, give you more traction and better grip, but if you’re holding something soft and pliable enough, they will leave their mark.  A pair of pliers unique imprint indicates which craftsman’s tool created a particular product.  Perhaps the real secret to raising and educating teens and young adults is not how tight we hold them now.  Maybe at least as critical is how our holding, grasping, shaping, touching, over all their soft and pliable years, has left its mark.

 Having already sent children off for a year of study in Israel, I know I will fill the next few days with filling suitcases.  I will remember the vicarious joy I felt when our other children enjoyed the gift of this year away that we felt privileged to give them.  But mostly, I will focus on all the ways my husband and I, along with amazing educators he has been privileged to meet, and his grandparents and family, have all left our imprint on the young man we are about to escort to the airport.  He will fly away, indelibly marked with a sense of where he comes from and what is important to his parents and his family.  We will certainly miss the up-close grasp we have enjoyed, but know it is healthy for him and us to let go.  We will, after all, be connected always, even at a distance.  And the long reach of our love can span miles of oceans, and last him and us until, with thumb and forefinger, we grasp the face of the man our son is destined to become.


1 Comment »

  1. Dear Rona,

    Thank you. I, too, am packing up for my son’s trip. Although I still have younger kids at home, I am finding this experience to be slightly more difficult than it was the first time around (and that was quite hard, believe me). I know that he is prepared for this new adventure in his life, and I found comfort in your article and the idea that we can still hold on, even from a distance.


    Comment by Malki — August 5, 2010 @ 8:53 pm |Reply

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