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?