April 2007
I’ll Have Some Extra Sunshine and a Little Peace of Mind, Please

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

…our concern for [our kids’] well-being is programmed into the deep recesses of our mammalian brain.
Slow for peace of mind

Daylight Savings Time provides us with an extra hour of sunshine to hold back the night. That, plus the fact that my neighborhood’s in full bloom, found me walking recently at 6 pm and encountering this idyllic scene: The sun’s golden rays paint the front yard where a boy pushes his friend on a tree swing. Not ten feet away, two moms sit on the front step, talking and watching their kids play.

Those women enjoyed the peace of mind that comes when your children are safe and happy and in plain sight. Rounding the corner, I passed a dad even more at peace as he cuddled the sleeping infant strapped to his chest.

Safe SwingWe are parents. Built into our job description are phrases like “You’re safe with me.” “I won’t let anything hurt you.” “Don’t worry. I’m here.” When it comes to our kids we are ever vigilant. It’s not a choice. We have to be. Not because the world is truly an evil and dangerous place and without our oversight our kids would be swallowed up and lost. It isn’t and they wouldn’t be. We have no choice but to protect them because we’re parents and our concern for their wellbeing is programmed into the deep recesses of our mammalian brain. So we celebrate when they’re happy. We commiserate when they’re down. We fight for justice on their behalf. We do whatever we can to keep everything bad and sad away from them.

Maybe we protect them too much.

Most of our own parents did a good job even though they weren’t nearly as involved in our lives as we are in the lives of our kids. Despite their benign neglect, many of us turned out okay… happy, accomplished, and successful in every sense of the word.

Think back to your teen years and you’ll probably recall a few times when you made a bad choice. Perhaps you knowingly did something foolish, risky or dangerous. Even if your parents never found out, you probably experienced a consequence of some kind (if only personal regret). My guess is that you learned something valuable from your “foolish” choices. I know I did! Maybe you didn’t learn it right away, but you learned it, and you matured.

In my parenting workshops I ask moms and dads: “What did you want most from your parents when you were a teen?” The answers vary, but “Independence” is always in the top three (along with “Understanding” and “Recognition of who I was, as an individual”). If those match some of what you wanted from your parents then you can understand that your kids probably want the same from you.

Benign neglect isn’t the end-all and be-all of parenting wisdom. But it’s got a role in supporting independence. Slow Down!And without independence and the ability to do things on your own (with the real possibility of failure) your child can’t develop true self-esteem and self-confidence.

Here are some questions I invite you to think about with an open mind.

  • What’s the difference between the natural protectiveness all parents feel and over-protectiveness?
  • How would you rate yourself on the protective/over-protective scale?
  • What is the value for adolescents to experience some frustration, some disappointment, some (age-appropriate) risk-taking?
  • In what ways do you provide your kids with opportunities to be independent so they can learn more about who they are?
  • In what ways do you let them try out their own judgment and decision-making skills?
  • How willing are you to trade some parental peace of mind for their learning to be independent and responsible people, out in the world, on their own?

As our kids move toward young adulthood, maybe our own peace of mind ought not to come from our ability to keep them safe, but from their own developing ability to make healthy choices. In order to get there, they need opportunities to fly.

In friendship,
Annie

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