I used to despise this maxim because it was thrown around so much when I was in my early years of teaching English. (Isn’t telling teachers to be flexible just a way to deflect responsibility from students, parents, and administrators onto the teachers who are already overworked and under-appreciated (not to mentioned under-paid for all that they are expected to do)? is what I often mused.) It was my third year after college to be exact when this phrase popped up in the wisdom vocabulary—but it was my first year as a middle school teacher (I guess that explains a lot—middle schoolers are a different animal (as it is said) than high schoolers). I had already taught at the high school level before that, and no one was touting flexibility as a useful tool in the teaching toolbox. If you think about it, it makes sense. By the time students are in high school, a lot of them need something more akin to a back brace but for the intellect—and so flexibility (as it becomes necessary) takes much more creative forms. As it turns out, staying flexible (whether straight up or more creatively so) is the one thing that allows anyone and everyone (and not just teachers) to stay above water when the waters are deep. And choppy. As it also turns, out, staying flexible is the one thing that allows parents in particular to make it through day after day with all of our personhood parts intact (which is coming from one who used to be a teacher who is now a parent who is going through a very similar process in the growth cycle of self-awareness, effectiveness, and confidence as what was experienced as a teacher in the classroom). Were it not for our flexibility, we would already be brittled off into a million pieces (yes, it appears that I just made up that word: to brittle). This responsibility stuff—and looking after the well-being of children, specifically—is the tough core of life.
We do not have to remain rigid in order to make our points and to stay in charge. We can have confidence in our role as a parent to our children—confidence that helps us to say what we mean and mean what we say without being mean per se about it. We don’t have to blow a gasket every time one of our children acts like a child. Nothing surprises us anymore. We’ve seen it all before. We have the ability to stay flexible in any situation if only we will allow ourselves to do so. After all, the malleability of ourselves is what makes us strong, for we know when to let things go and when to take a stand on something. We do not have to get sucked back into the short-sighted parenting tactics of our own parents where rigidity is something to be proud of. It is not the hardness of our method that is worthy of approval but our adeptness at sensing when and how to adjust our approach to match the needs (as well as the felt needs) of our children.