By Kristen Hatton, Crosswalk.com
Helicopter and lawnmower parenting are pervasive in today’s culture, just ask any teacher. But while it’s easy to criticize these parents who swoop in to rescue their kids or do whatever necessary to keep challenges at bay for their children, it’s not always so easy to see our own tendencies to do the same.
We parents tend to miss (or dismiss) our own over-parenting that thrusts us too into these camps.
Every parent I know loves their children and wants to help them succeed. The problem is we have come to elevate their success and happiness above all, and our life and happiness is dependent on theirs. Our children have become our idols and to this end we will do whatever necessary to ensure things go well for them. But in our attempts to control our “helping” is actually hindering our kids.
We self-justify why it is necessary for us to call the teacher or talk to the coach. We rationalize that our children are short of time so we pick up their slack to make life easier for them. We believe in shielding them from adversity we will keep their self-esteem intact, when in actuality we lead them to greater insecurity.
I’ve been guilty of all of this. Initially though I didn’t see how instead of preparing my children to fly on their own I was clipping their wings.
Since our idols tend to blind us from reality and truth, perhaps the best way to evaluate whether our actions are harming our kids is to examine their behavior. Therefore, consider four results of an enabling parent.
1. Your Child Shirks Responsibility
David is supposed to take the trash out on Thursday night, but he routinely forgets. Instead of holding him accountable it seems easier just to do it for him. In the same way you regularly pick up his clothes off the floor and start his laundry although he is supposed to bring it down and do it himself. We think we are being nice, or maybe think of it as giving grace.
And certainly, there are times giving grace is appropriate. But when we do not require or enforce our children to be responsible, we are programming them to expect other people to cater to them.
So, whether it’s doing chores, running the forgotten paper up to school or micromanaging their schoolwork at a level inappropriate to their age, we stunt their maturing process. In other words, we keep them dependent. And instead of preparing them for the next stage, we set them up for irresponsibility and failure.
2. Your Child Falls Apart Under Adversity
Lizzie’s feelings were hurt by a few kids at school who went off by themselves at recess. When she came home upset, you called the teacher insisting that Lizzie not be left out. Of course, none of us want our children excluded, and to me there is not much worse than having a sad child.
However, when we jump in to solve every problem for our children, they become incapable of navigating through problems themselves and also begin expecting everything to always work out in their favor. Additionally, when we are so busy fixing, we miss opportunities to point them to Jesus, who understands their every emotion and enters in with them.
Until glory, struggle and trials will always exist. Notice James 1:2 says “…when you meet trials of various kinds…” not if. Therefore, instead of mowing over potential adversity before it affects our children, we need to help them learn to endure when adversity hits. As it is many children, even college age and young adults, become immobilized when even the slightest difficulty strikes.
They literally feel hopeless and cannot physically function. So, though I know navigating hurt and suffering can be even harder on us as parents, we actually need them to experience disappointment and rejection while still in our homes and we are present to walk in it alongside them.
3. Your Child Is Self-Centered
Aly doesn’t want to go to the restaurant the rest of the family picked, so the family changes their plans to accommodate her. Rearranging everything to suite Aly has become the normal pattern for this family. And while Scripture does call us to give up ourselves for the good of another (1 Corinthians 10:24), Aly is never the one dying to her desires. The world revolves around her.
When parents are always trying to make their kids happy, ordering life with the kids at the center, it isn’t too surprising they become self-centered. We have trained them to expect to get their way, only compounded by the message of today’s selfie culture. What they need instead is the counter message of the trinity in which each member revolves around the other.
And there is no better training ground for image of God living than in the family. Therefore, they need not always get their way, so they learn to sacrifice for others. This may mean saying “no” to their plans with friends in order to prioritize family time. Or, “no” to a new outfit even if it’s within your means so they do not grow accustomed to instant gratification.
4. Your Child Has Disregard for Authority
After showing up late to practice and then not following the coach’s instructions, the coach told Jonny he would be benched Friday night. But instead of humbly seeking forgiveness and bending to the coach’s authority Jonny bad-mouthed the coach to the rest of the team. How dare the coach try to bench him!
Jonny knew all it would take was a call from his dad and he would be back out on the field. For Jonny, the rules didn’t apply. It had become habitual for his parents to wield their control to either get him out of trouble or garner him extra time, attention or special treatment.
When we don’t allow our kids to suffer the natural consequences of their mistakes, when we overstep other authorities in their lives, when we make exceptions to the rules, even lie, to keep our kids happy, they will not easily submit to authority or the rules. Including our own. They will live entitled as if they are above the law, as if they are a “god.”
We see this mindset in children who relentlessly question our authority or who do not respond in obedience. Quite possibly the reason for it is we’ve given in to their requests so many times that they now expect to get their way. Is it any wonder they would then beat us down until they do?
If you recognize your child in any of the descriptors and now worry you’ve been an enabling parent, do not fear. You are not without hope and neither is your child. God can redeem even our parenting mistakes. So, while I know the temptation in our sin is to either try to cover it up or to beat ourselves up over it, you can go to Jesus in it.
He understands and meets us in our need. In my parenting failures I’ve come to see more of my need for Jesus; to see his strength made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). What I’ve also found through confessing to a child how I’ve failed him or her is it had led to a deeper relationship and more open communication.
Our kids need to see us admit our mistakes. Acknowledge to them how you have enabled them and why this is harmful to them. Help them to see too how their attitude and response has not been God-honoring. Ask them to pray along with you for God’s help to undo unhealthy patterns.
You may likely be met with resistance but by God’s grace may you press on with a long-range perspective in mind for your child. For it is easier to give our children what they want in the moment but each time we do their hearts grow more demanding and set solely on self.
Kristen Hatton is the author of The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students, Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World and Get Your Story Straight. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling at Liberty University, and has recently begun a Redemptive Parenting online ministry. Kristen resides in Edmond, Oklahoma with her pastor husband. Together they have three children: a college daughter and two high school sons.
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