Monday, September 13, 2010

Fear and Trembling….and Parenting Through It….

So lately my former student/blog commentator/texter extraordinaire Don Miller has been responding like crazy to one of my posts. But really, he’s not responding: he’s addressing a whole new topic, and one that deserves some attention: bullying, and our attempts to eliminate it. But in his posts and private emails to me, he’s getting at a much larger set of issues: the role that parents have in protecting their children from outside menaces. This takes many forms, but personal harassment is certainly one of them. Don’s questions—about whether we take things too far in trying to protect our children from harm—get at a central problem that we as parents face: what does it mean to protect our children? Can it be taken too far?

I have read a number of articles that suggest that we definitely do take our protection too far, and that it has a number of dire consequences for our kids. Back in 2004 I read—and passed on—an article by Hana Estroff Marano that was published in Psychology Today, “A Nation of Wimps.” Marano’s claim is that our over-protective parenting was producing a nation of spineless children. I have given this article to many of my students, who understand where she’s coming from: many of them are the victims of excessive parenting (at the hands of kind and very-well-intentioned mothers and fathers). So there is a problem, or a potential one. At the same time, every parent wants to protect children. What to do?

As strange as it may seems, I believe that what we parents and teachers need most is to protect and love our children more—not less. Come again? Yes; we need to understand that part of protecting our children is trying to equip them thoroughly with what they need to go through life, not just trying to keep them from getting hurt but helping them work through the hurt, trusting that there is something good at the other end of that pain. We will not keep them from the many faces of pain; the real question is how we can help them deal with suffering. What I want most for my children is to help them face their fears courageously and intelligently; and if I spend too much trying to keep them from fear or hurt, I limit their ability to grow in courage and intelligence. At the same time, I want them to know they’re not alone is confronting reality; I want them to know that I am there for them in the ways that I can help. If I try to avoid all pain, I limit my ability to teach them some of the life lessons they need most. When my almost-five year old daughter Veronica decided to go off the diving board recently, I told her I would be watching her and would be ready to meet her when she got off. But she had to face her own fear as she jumped off (and the terror on her face right before she hit the water was priceless); she did and I was proud—and I made her do it again and again so that she could get comfortable with that fear….It’s just the beginning of my own journey, trying to figure out how to face my own fears better and help them more (suggestions welcome!).

Ultimately, as a person of faith, I trust that reality is a good thing—and I don’t want to spare my kids their impact with it.


  1. OK, I am going to Quote a JIF peanut butter commercial...but stay with me!
    Not only do "Choosy moms Choose JIF" but they also know that "Sometimes the hardest part of being a mom is letting go."

    And so yes- I fully agree that we as parents are meant to equip our children to face the world and take it head on...the hard part is knowing when to let them go!

    It seems that coupled with courage must be prudence...helping them to discern when are the times to jump, and when are the times to pause.

    And coupled with intelligence must be temperance- helping them learn to moderate even the wonderful things in life.

    And as you mentioned- they need to know they aren't alone! When they jump- even if we can't always be there to catch them- we can be there to help pick them back up.

    So that's a to just start putting it into effect!