Home > Daily Special

Children of the Bubble Wrap

By Hildie Westenhaver

As we drove home from piano lessons, my teenage daughter could barely keep a civil tongue. Every word out of her mouth was dismissive of her nine-year-old sister. By the time they were walking in the house, my older daughter had slapped her little sister and there was screaming coming from the porch.

After punishments and consequences had been dished out I went on a drive with my teenager. She explained how upset she was when her piano teacher had informed her that her little sister would be moving up into her very same piano book within the next week or two.

My Mom Justice Radar went up and I immediately resolved to call the piano teacher to see if my younger daughter could possibly move up to a different set of books; ones that her older sister wasn’t already using, so as to keep my older daughter from feeling humiliated.

But wait a second. Why would I do that? The truth is that my older daughter only practices the bare minimum that her piano teacher requires: four days a week. My younger daughter, a diligent and hard worker, practices most every day. The natural result is that my younger daughter is getting better, faster.

“You know, Sweetie,” I said gently to my older girl, “your little sister practices more than you do. If you don’t want her to catch up then you’ll need to practice more too. Otherwise, you need to realize that she’ll be better than you pretty soon.”

Oh, how it hurt my mother heart to say that!

Like most parents I want to keep my children safe from pain and anguish. I want sunshine and rainbows for them. But on the other hand I know that sunshine and rainbows are the very things that will keep them from becoming strong and self-reliant.

But I’m not a big meanie who wants to go all Cruella Deville on my kids either. So how much sunshine and rainbows can I provide without building them a cocoon of emotional bubble wrap?

My own mother was—how shall I put it?—remarkably hands-off. I learned quite early on that I was responsible for myself and nobody else would be bailing me out. Although I cursed my mother as I crossed an eight-lane highway on the way to elementary school after I missed the bus, I turned into an adult who never tried to blame others for my problems. The very things I hated my mother for ended up giving me the traits that I most value in myself.

I think of that as I raise my own children. I have already drawn the line at bringing them forgotten lunches or homework. Go hungry and get a zero; that’s the way you learn to not let it happen again. When the other kids in our carpool were being less than kind, instead of quitting the carpool I figured that learning to deal with jerks is a pretty valuable life skill for my children to have.

Consider the example of our Father in Heaven: we all know much too well that He is not going to swoop in and save us from all the bad stuff in life. He will comfort us and give us tools to withstand our trials, but He knows that the strongest people are made by tough times. How does this transfer to how we parent our own children?

When and how do we shield our kids from tough things without turning them into tender plants who sizzle when the sun gets too bright? Where do we draw the line between protection (good) and sheltering (bad)? How do we prepare our children for the slings and arrows the world will certainly dish out and still provide a home that is a place of refuge?

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

4 thoughts on “Children of the Bubble Wrap”

  1. I think this is an area where we have to know each child individually and then be close to the spirit, because the answer will be different each time. I was struck by your statement about not wanting to turn kids into "tender plants who sizzle when the sun gets too bright". I think most if not all plants start out as tender little things that you do want to protect and nurture carefully, because they *will* sizzle under the hot sun if exposed too much and too often before they are ready. This is not a deficit in those young plants, but a natural state that must be respected. There is a careful balance–over watering will create plants with shallow roots that cannot withstand tough times, but not sheltering the plants enough during crucial times brings disastrous results as well. Which is why my garden in Utah always died in July when I forgot to water it, and the summer heat burned things up. The same goes for children. I home school my children, which is one of those things that will often get you accused of "sheltering" them. I have seen parents reluctant to let their children venture out and experience hard things, but I have also heard many stories of children who suffered miserably from experiences like bullying or struggling in school for years on end and would say in a heartbeat that it did them no good. Sure, maybe they became tough in the long run, but it wasn't worth the heartache and pain that cost them years of happiness during crucial times of life.

    My parents were great examples of balance. I remember running after the school bus screaming for the driver to stop, because I knew my mom would not drive me to school but would make me call someone in our ward who would be going to work to give me a ride. Yet I also remember my dad calling the school and insisting that my brother was NOT going to be in Mr. So-and-So's class for the second year in a row, because Mr. So-and-So was an awful teacher and no child of his was going to endure that more than once.

  2. I factor in my end game. In the end I want my kid to become a capable adult who can stand up for herself and make her own choices, and one who realizes that sometimes things just stink. I encourage her to solve her own problems, praise her when she's being proactive, but I will step in if I feel it is necessary, like when I discovered she wasn't able to finish eating her school lunch because the school only allots 20 minutes.

  3. Balance. Yes.

    Words, many years ago, that stayed with me from a grandmother whohad learned the balance between consequences and charity-at-home and whose children all grew up to be competent, capable adults:

    "When my children would whine that their tasks were too hard and my husband would cheerfully offer to assist them I thought 'these kids will never learn how to be responsible or feel capable or do hard things'. And, it turns out, what they learned from their father's assistance was how to do those things that were hard and also, how to cheerfully and charitably and wisely offer to help others."

  4. I want you to know that I applaud your parents. I did not have such good examples growing up, other than on orphanage I lived in. I love this blog and am finally writing down what I wish I could have shared with my own children.

    While it's true we need to be strong, sometimes getting that strength can kill a spirit. Thank you so much for sharing truth of how to be a good parent.

    Hugs to you and yours.


Leave a Comment