Growing up in the 1980s, I was enthralled with the world of Star Wars, a place where an invisible energy called the Force could be harnessed for both good and evil, where epic battles were waged in outer space and on faraway planets.
Decades later, the movies have grown up, and so have I. As I count down to the release of The Force Awakens, I’ve realized the original trilogy isn’t just entertaining; it’s also filled with parenting insights. Here are some examples:
The Dark Side can be hard to resist. I want my kids to grow up in a household where we settle conflicts as peacefully as possible, and where I don’t have to yell over everyone to stop yelling at each other for Pete’s sake! I have the best intentions, I really do. But some days, when Her Highness picks yet another fight with her younger sister, or Little Princess throws her fourth tantrum of the morning, I can’t help but kick my lofty goal of “patient parenting” to the curb as I unleash my frustration. Angry words, more yelling, more tears. And in these moments, I know I’ve moved further away from the person I want to be—the person my kids need me to be. I think of Luke Skywalker, who is determined to use the Force for good but still has a moment of weakness when the Emperor goads him repeatedly to turn to the Dark Side.
We may not agree with our parents' way of thinking, but there is always something to learn from the choices they made. Admittedly, Luke and his father Darth Vader are a pretty extreme example of this. Though they possess the same talents and DNA, they make strikingly different decisions about the courses of their lives. In the end, they have a moment where they finally understand and truly see each other. Before I became a mom, armed with the latest Dr. Sears book and with an entire Internet of parenting tips at my disposal, I figured there was nothing new or relevant my parents and their “old school” style could teach me. I was wrong. While many of my parenting choices do contrast quite a bit with those of my mom and dad, particularly in the way we approach discipline, I have grown to appreciate my parents—and the decisions they made—so much more as my children are getting older.
Size really does not matter. Just ask Yoda, the small and powerful Jedi Master who uses his mind to lift Luke’s X-Wing fighter ship out of a swamp in The Empire Strikes Back. My second daughter was born nine weeks early and weighed in at a whopping two pounds, five ounces. She’s never been above the 1st percentile on the growth chart. She's also tough, feisty and determined. When I look at my kids, and other children who are doing amazing things, I know that diminutive is not a synonym for weak or helpless.
A strategically offered snack can be a game-changer. Remember how in Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia befriends an Ewok in the forest? The furry, curious creature thinks the princess is an enemy and is ready to attack her, but she is able to distract him with a tasty candy bar that’s conveniently stashed next to her blaster. Five minutes later, they’re best friends. When my child is in a fit of rage, about to scream loudly enough to blow out my eardrums, I can often magically turn things around by producing a bag of fruit snacks.
Life can be stinky and messy, and there’s often nothing to do but slog through it. In A New Hope, the good guys are forced to escape from storm troopers by sliding down a chute into a filthy pit of garbage. They eventually find a way out, but watching that whole scene makes me feel like I need a shower. During the not so glorious moments of caring for small children, there are diaper blowouts, potty training setbacks, and vicious stomach bugs that can take down an entire household in a matter of days. But just when you feel the walls closing in on you, and are sure you'll be trapped under the muck forever by some horrifying tentacled creature, you manage to muddle through the mess and come out on the other side. It may not be glamorous, but you had the grit to get through it, and maybe that means the next time will be easier.
As we continue our own parenting journeys this holiday season and beyond, may the Force be with us all!
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I'm Gina, mom to two girls, writer, and seasoned coffee drinker.