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Learning When to Let Go and Enjoy the Ride

Last week, we took our three kids on a family trip. Shortly after we arrived at the airport, we learned our flight would be delayed due to stormy weather in another part of the country.

Two hours later, we had weathered a storm of our own.

In that crowded airport terminal, Sam, our active preschooler, looked for places to run, and Ben, our game-loving fourth-grader who had inadvertently packed his Game Boy in the checked luggage, complained there was nothing to do.

Meanwhile, Emily, our teenage daughter announced she was ''less than thrilled'' (my words) about spending an afternoon ''totally trapped'' (her words) in an airport with us.

It wasn't pretty.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our vacation. We made the most of the journey. Somewhere between Sam spinning around in circles to make himself dizzy, Ben frantically searching for video games on our cellphones, and Emily rolling her eyes and blaming me for everything from cold pizza to the flight delay, we stopped snapping and started laughing.

I can't pinpoint exactly when -- or how -- it happened, but we managed to shift from being stressed-out to OK. My husband and I let the kids know we understood how they were feeling. We said we were all tired and cranky, but we needed to do our best -- at least most of the time.

We promised this day wouldn't last forever, even though there were times when it felt like it would. And we explained that bickering and complaining wouldn't get us any closer to our destination.

We set limits on the behaviors that weren't OK (like Sam's repeated efforts to run behind the ticket counter); and overlooked the ones that fell under the frustrating-but-age-appropriate category (like Emily's eye rolling). We agreed to focus our efforts on making the best of the situation.

That's when things started to get better.

After letting go of the things we couldn't control -- like the weather and the fact that 4-year-olds simply aren't designed to sit still for long periods of time -- we found it easier to let the little things slide. We even found some humor in the situation. Our journey improved. And the only thing that changed was our attitude.

The lessons weren't lost on me.

As parents, we all have our share of challenging days, even if we never spend hours in an airport with three kids and no plane in sight. Our afternoon served as a reminder that the parenting journey isn't all about trying to control our kids or their behavior but understanding and guiding them, setting positive examples, and ignoring the little things once in a while to keep the family on track.

It's about learning when to step in, when to let go, and when to just laugh and wait it out.

Eventually, we got where we were going. The long afternoon in the airport is over, but I'm hopeful the lessons we learned will stay with us throughout our travels.

Enjoy your parenting journey, and have a happy, healthy, and harmonious 2007.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of NewsForParents.org, an online newsletter for parents. She can be reached at debbie@NewsForParents.org.

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