Friday, November 20, 2009

Overparenting or The Challenge of Struggle

I am going to stray from my normal topic - nontraditional studentism - and address something I see as a disturbing national trend. That trend is the one of "overparenting" or "helicopter parents".

I have three children and I want nothing but the best for them. I have raised them to be godly, responsible, contributing members of society. I know that parenting is the world's most difficult job because these little people don't come with an owner's manual!

I was talking to a new friend the other day. She is four months pregnant with her first child. We talked about parenting - not as an extension of one's self, but as a responsibility toward another human being. A parent is responsible to raise their children to be kind, to learn to take responsibility for themselves, to know how to handle their emotions, to be compassionate and gracious, to be able to stand up for themselves and not be victims, and to be independent, strong and confident. I realize that's a tall order to fill.

How does one do all that? How does one know when one's child is ready for independence? How does one know how much independence to grant? How does one know when to step in and take charge? After all, parents are not supposed to be rescuers and enablers. Parents are supposed to be nurturers and examples.

I told my Mom recently that the best thing she and my Dad ever did for me what to make me figure things out on my own. When I had to move back home after flunking out of my first year in college, my parents were still raising three younger children. They did not have the time to rescue me. It was hard trying to figure out things on my own, but I did it. I don't think I'm psychology scarred because of that.

So many parents are so afraid their children will have to feel pain, either physical or emotional, and their fragile egos will be crushed beyond repair. I love to use examples from nature. My two favorites regarding children are the butterfly and the baby bird. When the butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it has to struggle. If we were to intervene and help the creature, we'd kill it. The butterfly has to experience that struggle so its wings will be strong and it will be able to fly. The same thing with a baby bird hatching from the egg. It has to struggle to get out of the egg. That struggle makes the chick strong.

Does this mean we abandon our responsibility in parenting? Heavens, no! But we need to allow our children to struggle through the hard times, knowing that we are there if they need us. Can you learn to walk for your 1-year old? No. She has to do it herself. How many times does she fall in the process? You are there to catch her and to comfort her.

The best gift we can give to our children is to to let them experience the challenge of struggle. If we do not allow them to experience struggle, they will never be able to fly. Stay tuned . . .

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