Don’t you ever wish you could just be a wall around your children that protects them from all the things that make life difficult? I know some of their pain gets passed down to us. I feel it when my children go through things beyond my control. In addition to feeling their pain we are often the one who needs to help them get through it too, which is emotionally challenging. It’s not that others are unwilling to help. Our kids just prefer us when it comes to comfort. Like if a Disney character scares them, they don’t run to the character for help. If a friend betrays them or a girlfriend dumps them, they don’t normally go to someone else. They come to us and sometimes it takes a while to help them.
What we really are looking for are ways to be an indestructible parent. To stand in front of our children and shield them from major adversity. Our taste in movies seems to reflect our desires to stop at nothing to protect our children. I think of characters like Liam Neeson in Taken, a protective father who struggles to be present in his daughter’s life. When his daughter becomes kidnapped by an extortion ring he stops at nothing to bring her safely home. We watch and relate to this father’s unstoppable resolve to protect his daughter. We think and hope we would do the same thing if and when the unfortunate happens.
Fictional characters are far from indestructible. Their indestructibility is at least more complicated than it appears. For example, the father in Taken has a lot of help along the way. His resolve and skillset matter a great deal but there are other things that have an impact.
Indestructibility isn’t just about split-decision making; it is more often about our willingness to become keenly aware of our surroundings. We are watchful of all things but waiting for the right time to make a judgment or a move. There’s no panic when one thing happens outside of the plan but it’s always noticed. Many parents often overreact to situations causing damage to the trust they are trying to build with their child. Instead, employ awareness of the situation.
Protecting someone isn’t about taking away their decision making, it’s about empowering it. The authoritarian steps in and makes decisions for their kids on their behalf. However, what does the kid do when they’re on their own? We can’t be present for all the challenges they face in life and I’m positive we wouldn’t want to be. Ultimately, empowering your children is about respect. You respect the fact that they have a mind and are able to make reasonable decisions based on the information they have available. If the only information you give them is that they will get punished for going against your word, that’s not a rational decision but an emotional one. Think of it this way. Imagine how you might communicate differently if you were completely immobilized. If all that you had were your words. You likely wouldn’t lecture as much as you would inform and invite your child to explore the world thoughtfully. In a world where you can’t protect your children, communication is your best defense.
Learn to lean on your collaborators. With your increased awareness pay attention to the people who help you raise your children. I’m not referring only to adults. The peers your child relates to also contribute a ton to the way your child grows up, for better or worse. The authoritarian parent is the one who tries to isolate their children from the community, thinking they can shield their children from outside influences. History has not been kind to people obsessed with that level of control. There’s always an uprising of free will. The explosion of risk-taking behavior college students engage in is a helpful illustration of this concept. Many of these young people were raised in homes with lectures, strict rules, spanking, etc. These parents thought it was their job alone to raise good people. They held on so tight that their kids didn’t know where to turn when they were on their own.
In the end, as is reflected in the movies, it is not the controlling soloist who wins the day. Those more often fall because they try to take too much on their own. Consumed by their own agenda they undermine their efforts because failing to recognize the needs of the ones they claim to love. This is not to diminish the sacrifices parents make to protect their children. I only mean that it is not just the sacrifices we make that protect them. There are other things happening behind the scenes so to speak that create a healthy environment for our children. If parents wish to be that impenetrable wall for their kids they need to recognize they cannot be the wall by themselves. In fact, raising a child is helping them learn to build their own layers of protection. That’s the way of the indestructible parent.