Parable of the Yarn

What Do You Do With 100 Pounds of Yarn!!

A few years ago I inherited about 100 lbs of yarn—eleven black garbage bags and seven boxes. I adore yarn, but this was simply an absurd amount of yarn for a novice crocheter.

As the yarn was being packed into every available space of my minivan I envisioned the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many—100 pounds of love!

However, at home, as I began to survey the contents of the bags and boxes I could see that this would be a complicated undertaking. Some of the yarn was a mass of tangles and knots.

Thus came the challenge—the yarn held such beautiful potential in joy, blessings, and pleasure, but that wonderfulness was hidden in the complication of getting through the knots and tangles.

Right at the beginning, I had to answer this question – Was it worth doing the obvious work required to reach the wonderfulness? I decided yes. As I sat unwinding, untangling, and un-knotting I was reminded that this yarn mess wasn’t very different from family relationships.

On a Facebook group, a discussion ensued about how a wife should handle a husband who she considered unreasonable in a situation with their child. As you can imagine there were a lot of comments. Many of them had to do with just taking the bull by the horns and forging ahead, doing what was “right” for the child, no matter what the husband’s position.

It brought to mind my yarn experience. This couple had a tangled mess. Each one thought that their position was “correct” and “reasonable”. They were emotionally pulling, tugging and yanking on their individual “threads” of belief. It’s was causing a big mess for them.

If we want to untangle messy issues in our family it’s good to remember that it all begins with relationship, not the current question at hand. The problem for this couple wasn’t whether they should do this or that for their child. It ultimately came down to the health of their relationship. Right then, they were in a place of intractability. They were at war, so to speak.

Four Ways To Untangle Your Differences

What can be done when we find ourselves in this intractable place, when we are stuck in a 100 pound tangled mess? Here is what I noticed as I untangled the yarn:

1. Know in advance of beginning that it’s worth the effort to untangle. This was true with my 100 pounds of yarn and it’s true of family relationships. It took a lot of hours, over a few days, to get the job done. There were moments of extreme frustration when I wished I hadn’t begun the project, when I wanted to quit. However, I kept reminding myself that it would be worth it. I kept visualizing the reward of hanging in – the many beautiful scarves, hats, blankets, and booties that would warm the hearts and souls of so many.

2. Use a gentle touch. No jerking, pulling, grasping, or tugging on the threads. That just tightens the knots! The softer the touch, the more easily the yarn comes untangled. We can translate this into the difficulty of untangling human issues by realizing that you have to have a genuine interest in the other person’s position. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to want to hear and understand. There is a gentleness of heart involved in being able to listen for understanding when you disagree with another person. Sometimes we call it charity or love. Anything that is handled with a calm voice, a desire to understand and love can be resolved.

3. Seek for mutual respect. There are two ends in every skein of yarn. One pulls out from the inside of the skein. The other wraps around from the outside. Sometimes they get tangled up with each other. You can pull and tug and battle all you want but until you find the ends you will struggle. Finding the two ends allows you to unravel the mess more easily. It’s akin to having a belief that the other person’s position is as valid as yours. From that position of mutual respect, you can begin to untangle the mess. You can look at each end, so to speak, and begin the work of bringing order out of chaos. Again, you don’t have to agree but you have to know that their position is as valid to them as yours is to you.

One of the reasons we have a difficult time taking a genuine interest in another’s opinion and in believing that their position is valid is because we really aren’t willing to see differently. We want our current view.

However, when you’re willing to hear and understand another’s position, then you’re able to come to a new view. You still may not agree, but you will see their position differently and it can lead you to a new and totally different solution than what you thought possible.

4. Allow time. It took many hours, over a number of days, to bring order to that yarn mess. If I had expected to get it done in a few hours I would have experienced a lot more stress and faced the idea of quitting more often. Each bit of tangled emotion or difference in opinion takes time to unravel. There are not many things that must have a decision right now, in this hour or this day. Take the time to let each person think, pray, ponder and then talk.

Knowing the relationship is worth the work, expressing love and a willingness to see another’s point of view, believing in the validity of the other person’s opinion, and by allowing time, you can untangle almost any mess, just as I was able to do with the yarn.

When the work of untangling the yarn was finished, I knew from experience, that the work of creating items of beauty would be much easier and frankly, a joy. As we untangle each misunderstanding or difference of opinion in our family then it will be easier to create a family built on trust, respect, hard work and love. Ultimately, we will have more joy in our families.

Like the yarn, wrapped in neat balls ready to use, our families will look better, feel better and be easier to live and work in. We can create something beautiful and lasting.

What have you experienced in your life that is akin to untangling 100 pounds of yarn? I would love to know.

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

P.S. You can learn more about building solid family relationships in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less.  You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than points of contention, FREE by visiting  It can be life changing for your family. I promise!

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9 Responses to “Parable of the Yarn”

  1. This is a wonderful parable. I learned much. I have a few questions..
    I agree about each position is valid. Yet, what one person’s actions or words are so aggressive they hurt..calling names, belittling, and degrading. Also what if one person does not have respect or willingness to understand? Yes when both do, so much can be accomplished.
    What if one person wants to stay stuck in old ways, not learn better ways, not improve. How does the spouse manage well in this..

    1. I hear you, Lauri! That can happen in many ways in a family. Here is the difficult truth about what you have asked; you only have control over one person in this life and that is you. You can only change yourself, not another person. Viktor Frankl said, “When we’re no longer able to change a situation—we’re challenged to change ourselves.” I have proven to myself over many years and in many varied and painful situations that this is true. Let me give you an example from my own life which I related in my new book, Becoming a Present Parent. One day I was complaining how my husband managed money. We had had many fights over the issue. After years of argument and contention this was what I believed – “My husband doesn’t care how I feel. If he did, he would spend money differently. He does what he wants to do. My life is painful and go without because of my husband.”

      When I realized that I couldn’t change him even if I felt our whole family would benefit if he did I decided that I had to change. My beliefs in how to manage money didn’t change. However, with much prayer and emotional work, I did make many changes in my own relationship to money. That led me to a place where my story about my husband and money in our family changed. It went from “He doesn’t care” to ““I have a great relationship with money. I always have what I need. Don’s making progress on his relationship with money. I’m supporting him, sharing what I’ve learned, and enjoying my healthy relationship with both Don and money.”

      You might be thinking, That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! You still have to live with the results of his choices. How can you be happy? Nothing has changed. You’re hiding your head in the sand and being a Pollyanna. If I weren’t living my life, I would agree with you. But I have firsthand experience that has proven that when we change how we see something, even if the other person or the situation doesn’t change, everything changes. I hope that makes sense and if it doesn’t I hope you will trust me and give it a try.

      Let’s take the example of someone who speaks in a degrading or belittling way. My number one method of change is prayer. So in this situation, I would go in prayer and ask for clarity, confidence, charity, long suffering-whatever I felt was needed to change my own heart. Then I would ask to be led to people, books, and other resources which could help me deal in the best way with what is.

      As you have your heart softened, feel more love towards that person who is behaving badly, as you see their own struggles more clearly and begin to be able to respond in a loving way, I can guarantee that the situation will be less painful, you will manage better and you will be able to remain happy.

      I have had my own heart changed drastically in a number of very challenging situations and I know that when we change, everything changes, even if the other person or situation doesn’t change. I will make sure that next weeks post addresses this in more detail. : )

    2. I concur with what Mary Ann said, and additionally I recommend learning about and implementing boundaries (read Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud & John Townsend). Speaking from experience, when we start valuing and respecting ourselves as people who don’t deserve to be treated that way (name calling, belittling, and degrading = verbal abuse), then with knowledge of how to set healthy boundaries and through much practice, we can learn to speak up against verbal abuse and walk away from it and make a better life for ourselves and our children (and break cycles that could be passed on to them). It’s difficult, trust me, but it’s so worth it. Thus changing how we think (respect yourself) and react (tell him you will no longer allow yourself to be treated that way & then walk away; reconnect when he’s able to speak to you civilly and with respect) can change the dynamic of the relationship. I’d recommend getting support in the form of close friendships and a good counselor as well.

      1. Thanks for the comments Wendy. Boundaries are very important, as is counseling in some situations. We need to be willing to see ourselves as valuable. Years ago I realized that I was a cycle breaker in my immediate family as well as in my extended family. It is vital that we pass emotional health on to our children. : )

        But it is rarely effective to ‘lay down the law” as some might advocate. It is far more effective when husbands or children ‘buy in’ and feel that they have a stake in the outcome. Hence, I refer back to item 2 in the blog – gentleness. Nicholeen Peck, a great teacher, reminds her classes that there is power in “calm.” Years ago I took a Love and logic class. The one thing that I walked away with that really helped me with my teens was knowing that if I stayed calm and just kept repeating myself I could outlast them and hold the line (boundary). It worked every time. So it is true that we need to set our own boundaries and we need to let others in our family know what they are but with all that we need to be kind and gentle and maintain calm. : )

        I concur with solid friendships and great mentors. They can make all the difference.

  2. Always good thoughts to ponder Mary. Nicely written and good ideas to help when everyday life happens.

  3. I really enjoyed this especially as I was reading Proverbs 31 :18-19 where it talks about a distaff. I didn’t know what it was but it’s a tool to stop your yarn getting tangled as you use a spindle.
    My yarn tanglement came in the form of my husband and his relationship with my children (his step children) I felt like it took forever to unravel and make straight, lots of tangles and communication to workout. But God delivered and took what was an insurmountable mess and is making it ordered.

    1. In hindsight I probably pulled a few threads and complicated my mess. It wasn’t until I gave my mess to God and prayed about their interactions and relationship that it started to unravel gently.

    2. Rhonda that is very cool about the distaff. Loved the verse. I think we all pull a few threads as we learn and grow but it is getting it untangled in the end that counts. And trust me, in a family that process is never completely finished. things come up and we have to go back to work. : )

  4. I’m sure I read this the first time around, but I needed the re-reading. For me, you are able to sum up hundreds of pages of books, dozens of hours of podcasts, and all sorts of money in counseling, into simple, straightforward, age-old wisdom with the memorable, every-day metaphor of yarn!

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