Monday, April 30, 2012

Protection, by Mary O'Connell, Director

Protect (verb): to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.; cover or shield from injury or danger.
Our Spring newsletter theme is “protection.”  As parents, it seems we spend a great deal of time and energy protecting our children….from all of the things listed above and more.  My 75-year-old father-in-law recently said to me that he thinks parents are getting better at raising their children with each generation.  I asked him what he meant by this, and he said that today’s parents are more involved in their children’s lives, better at protecting them from danger, and more educated about parenting. I suppose this is true….we are a hovering, helicoptering, obsessive bunch, aren’t we? Does this make us better parents than the ones who came before us? I wonder.
The other day at Outpost, I noticed a preschool aged child sucking pureed fruits and veggies out of a pouch (have you seen these?), presumably so he wouldn’t have to be bothered with chewing his healthy, organic food. In the next aisle, I noticed a two-year old watching a movie on her I-pad, to keep her happily distracted from the mundane experience of helping her father obtain food for the family. And, as I approached the checkout, I heard a mother chastise her child for wandering around a corner while they waited in line, saying, “I have to always be able to see you, or a stranger will come and snatch you!”
As anxiety disorders and socio-emotional disorders all become more common in children than ever before, I have to ask myself whether we really are doing a better job than our predecessors. Are we protecting our offspring so much from every germ, disappointment, moment of boredom, and chance encounter with a stranger that we are making our children anxious, unable to deal with frustration, distrustful of people they don’t know, and incapable of creatively solving their own problems?
One of the things we hold dear at LifeWays is the power of learning through frustration.  We will often observe and encourage a child who cries and screams as she tries to put on her boots or her snow pants, while she loudly protests our cruelty for not just doing it for her. We will calmly smile and tell the boy who demands that we lift him up into the apple tree in the front yard that we are sure he will climb it himself when he is ready. And when those snow pants are put on without help and the tree is climbed independently, we share in the child’s joy of accomplishment.  The mastery is so sweet, it is well worth the wait and frustration.
It is hard as a parent to always correctly identify the genuine threats to our children’s health and well-being and still allow them to experience the bumps, scrapes and disappointments that will help them become robust and resourceful people. Believe me, I’ve been walking that balance beam for twenty years with my own children, and I continue to find it challenging, especially when my teenagers remind me that everybody else’s parents are so much more cool, lenient, helpful, generous and reasonable than my husband and me! It is a topic that is truly food for thought, and I so enjoyed reading through our staff members’ thoughts about this idea of protection.  I hope you do, too.
Wishing you insight and creativity as you travel on this parenting journey with your children!

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