Habits Are Hard to Break

Habits are hard to break.  Especially the destructive ones.  If only they weren’t so satisfying.  Like thumb-sucking for example.  “It feels so good!  It’s so HARD to stop” explains a certain nine year old.  Yes, nine.

I distinctly remember how proud I was that Peach found her thumb, a way to self-soothe, at the advanced age of two weeks old.  I may have even danced a jig at the thought of dispensing with the customary ball and chain, AKA binky.  Thumbs are always there for you.  They can’t get lost or dropped on the floor of a public restroom or forgotten at home.  Smart baby girl.  Love a thumb-sucker.

That is, until she sucks her way into orthodontic danger zone.  Kindly orthodontist informed us that this habit, if continued long enough, could result in irreversible structural deviations.  In no uncertain terms he explained to Peach the dire need for her cooperation in the matter.

Peach has heard a similar spiel from concerned family members and has not been impressed.  But this time, as we exit the orthodontist office, she solemnly admits, “He was pretty convincing.”

We strike while the iron is hot.  Out come the star charts and verbal agreements and socks to cover sleeping hands.  Hard times ahead for Peach.  She’s tried jumping this hurdle before and managed only to fall over it.  Bravely, with renewed resolve, she agrees to try again.  Her forlorn eyes tell a sad story.  Her best friend, her ‘thumbly,’ must never enter her mouth again.  Laying her head on her pillow, she raises her mitts and wonders aloud, ‘What if….’

“Don’t go there.” I advise.  “Take it one step at a time.”  I remind little Braveheart of the many skills she possesses and the challenges she’s overcome.  “There is a muscle inside of you, the inner strength muscle, that has the power you need.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.  The stronger it gets, the easier it is to resist a habit.”

I offer my full support.  But the fact remains, there is only one girl who can close this deal.  After arming her with all the strategies I can think of, I kiss Peach goodnight and exit the room with fingers crossed.

At the crack of dawn, elated nine-year old runs out of her room waving sock-covered hands proudly above her head.  “I did it!  Look, I left the socks on ALL night!”  With new-found confidence, she launches into a triumphant monologue that resembles an acceptance speech.

Peach prematurely tells her admiring audience how she conquered the demon thumb-sucking habit.  I listen with a ridiculous smile plastered on my face and enthusiastically join in daughter’s celebration.  She is flexing that inner strength muscle with conviction.  I’d swear she’s grown overnight.  She stands tall and proud and ready to take on the world.

“You know,” she observes, “Not sucking my thumb wasn’t that hard.  Once I put my mind to it, I was all set.”

Bingo, Baby!  Mind over matter.  (Now if Peach could set her mind to cleaning her room and flex the ‘I can do it’ attitude in the organization department, we’d really have cause to celebrate.)

It’s a bittersweet end to an era.  My baby is growing up.  She is crossing bridges under her own steam.  She’ll need me less now – now that she’s a habit-breaking champion.

I believe the theory that says a parent’s job is to put herself out of a job.  I’m all about teaching self-sufficiency and raising self-esteem.  Yet still, my heart tears a bit each time I surrender a piece of the best job I’ve ever had.  So I turn my advice on myself and flex my own inner strength muscle in order to summon the courage it takes to let my little bird fly a little farther away.

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