protect and serve

by humanmama on August 16, 2011

How can I protect her without making her weak?

Is it good that we protect our kids from so much?

There are so many good things in parenting right now. Organic food. “Time outs” instead of spankings, or “whippings” of old. More talking, more discussion about the issues. When my parents were children, they didn’t really “discuss” things with their parents. Before that, children were to be seen and not heard.

This week I’ve been contemplating the kind of parent I’m shaping up to be, in the light of what I’ve experienced in my life. I worked with kids since I was a kid–babysitting infants at the age of 12, working at several day-cares, and eventually working toward a career with special needs kids as well as mentally ill and behavioral kids. I’ve seen all kinds of families, too, and I’m often left wondering if I’m too hard on my kids because of what I’ve seen out there. But, on the other hand, it’s because of what I’ve seen out there that makes me want my children to be strong and have character.

Sometimes the problematic kids who don’t really fit a disorder are diagnosed as “behavioral” or “oppositional defiant disorder.” Sometimes, clearly, the child is mentally ill. But there were times when when a child I worked with held just these diagnoses, and at times, they seemed just truly in need of some solid parental rules. I remember clearly one time my partner and I worked with a  family and went to a school meeting. The 15-year-old had yelled at the teacher in front of the class and was suspended. When we arrived, and the principal and school counselor stated the facts, we all turned expectantly to the child and the parent. The mother looked straight at the teacher and said “My kid will respect his teacher as soon as his teacher shows him some respect. You better apologize to my baby.”

Jaws dropped to the floor.

I know if I was in a school meeting there would be three apologies: one to the teacher, one to the school personnel, and one to me. And certainly, they would all be coming from my child.

Isn’t there a time we stop standing up for our children and teach them a little respect?

My friends Sara and Allie recently emailed me about children who are teachers and wondering how children will ever learn to survive on their own in the real world if their parents always stick up for them? Do their homework for them? Allow them to drop classes, work from home, or switch teachers just because they don’t like their original teacher?

I several articles recently saying that we need not confuse our kids needs with our own. In The Atlantic this month, in an article entitled How to Land Your Kid in Therapy Lori Gottleib writes:

Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock, Bohn says. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, Bohn explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection.

If parents let their kids experience a little loss, a little hardship, and a little failure, will we all be a little better off? How can we love our kids without teaching them to give up or count on us at every little difficulty?

If you find out, please, let me know.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica August 17, 2011 at 1:56 am

Here’s what I landed on after ten years of teaching: Solve the Problem. Unless someone was seriously hurt, I would always ask them to identify and then solve the problem. Not in a snotty way, but just: “What happened?” If it’s not clear, then, “So what’s the problem?” Then: “What did you do next?” And finally: “How are you going to solve the problem?” I never say, “How can WE solve the problem?” If I am part of the solution, then what THEY do to solve the problem is to ask ME for help. It’s been harder for me to do this with my little ones, (as I’ve posted about!)but I’m trying to count to ten before reacting to anything other than blood and then go ahead and ask them similar questions. It’s amazing how a 3-year-old can really rise to the challenge of solving his own problems. I think these are great things to wonder about. The helicopter parent tendency is strong in most of us, I think, and I for one have to constantly fight it!


Amanda August 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I think this is an interesting thing to think about. I don’t think there’s any such thing as loving your kids too much or showing them too much affection, but I do think that there’s something for them to gain in asking them to deal with their own disappointments and failures and not swooping in to “save” them. I don’t know. It’s kind of like… built into us as moms to want to keep them from every single harm, even if it’s minor, though. It’s so hard to just say, “My girl just fell but I’m going to give her the chance to work through it herself.”


Allie August 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Nicely put, AJ! Sounds like you are doing just fine as a mamma– some parents don’t even see this as a problem. Thanks for posting!


Julia September 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm

No, that’s about right, although the older my daehutgr gets, the older *I* feel. She’ll be in junior high next year, and I don’t even feel old enough to have a kid starting middle school.It’s crazy logic that I gave up trying to understand years ago. LOL


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