I recently visited one of my friends. She is a single mother to two young hyperactive boys. Careening over, I saw them running behind each other and sprinting over a doormat without an anti-slip, which stung my intuition that something unwanted would happen. And so it did. The younger one ran over and slipped off banging the back side of his head right at the corner of the door. My friend reacted by coolly saying from the kitchen while steaming coffee: “Be careful the next time”.
I was wondering how I would have reacted in a situation like that. I would have removed all doormats or would have fixed them with anti-slips and would have bought the best of corner guards to avoid such incidents. But then I stopped and thought: should I prepare the child for the ground or the ground for the child? By preparing and providing a risk-free setting am I not inhibiting my child’s instinct to understand her surroundings and courage to deal with the roads and pitfalls ahead?
Today’s parenting style is more of a “Yellow caution tape” form. According to a new cover story by Hanna Rosin for The Atlantic, “The overprotective instincts of modern parents are destroying children’s independence, trapping them in a hyper-controlled bubble that they might never escape.” This behavior is not doing parents much good either; one study indicates that helicopter mothers are more likely to be unhappy.
Let’s question ourselves: Are we letting children make mistakes and take chances or are we trying to shield them, overprotect them and circumscribing their lives with that yellow caution tape?
I came across a wonderful poem called Let me go – An ode to overprotective parents by BillyJoeBobKellyGeorge. I would be doing injustice to the message of this poem if I present only a few lines. So, the full poem I found online is here.
Tied down by blaring yellow caution tape
Boxed, secluded in desolate ignorance
You said, “Life’s a labyrinth of lies and corruption”
But who is to say what life is?
Yes, the sins, the sorrows
The uncertain tomorrows
May sound daunting,
But imagine that box of chocolates
Imagine that box of possibilities
Of Life’s little treasures
Of Life’s hard-knock lessons
If only, if only
That box was opened up for me to see
Let me Go
To scale the world on my own two feet
Let me Go
To flail my arms and legs into the chasm of reality
Living without risk is like living without reason
Your chains that seize me, in life’s governing, are an act of treason
Tied down by blaring yellow caution tape
But I’m ready to cross those yellow lines
Ready to register the traffic lights as green
Whether it is high-paced or steady
I am more than ready
Leaving this nest to create my own space
Life’s a box of chocolates; I want a taste
Facing trials and tribulations head on
Even if it means heading off,
Without you by my side
Parenting is difficult and we’ve all been through those days when we blankly stare at our kids and wonder how are we supposed to make a decent human being out of them. How do we fill their blank minds with just the right amount of everything, when there’s not even a definite recipe for good parenting? And we often compensate for our lack of faith in ourselves by doing more than what’s necessary. Although difficult, it is important to let children fall, bruise their knees, feel jealousy, taste defeat and face rejections. This is the only way they can truly learn life-skills.
Why are we having more and more professionally competent but emotionally unintelligent people? Why do we want life to be a well-defined plan for them instead of a journey of joy and setbacks? Why do we feel threatened by the thought of being left behind amidst the competition? What’s the constructive way to let go that overprotective instinct as parents? I could not find the source but somebody has rightly said, “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”
I agree that there is a thin line between protective and overprotective parenting. As parents we need that emotional strength to detach ourselves from worrying and distancing ourselves to see how our children cope up with mild distress.
I am sure many of you must have heard of the story of the butterfly who was coming out of the cocoon, when a man took pity on it and made a little insertion to ease its coming out. But this act did more harm than good and the butterfly died before it could bloom in its full glory.
Similarly, children of overprotective parents usually grow into adults with low self-esteem and low confidence. They grow up not trusting their own instincts to brave a challenge.
My favorite overprotective parent will always remain Marlin of Finding Nemo. His overprotective nature provokes Nemo to take the risk of its life. Marlin is adorably irritating in the first half of the movie but life takes a full round for him too and he learns his lessons along with experiencing adventures. All well if it ends well. Marlin gets united with Nemo. Take this quiz* to find out if you are Marlin of Finding Nemo or King Triton of The Little Mermaid.
1 Panic or feel very distressed when your child has a fall and bleeds a little?
2 Anticipate a difficulty and sort it out before your child can face it?
3 Get picky about your child’s friends because of potential ‘bad influence’?
4 Solve problems for your child even when help is not required?
5 Manipulate situations to ensure success for your child?
6 Decide who should be her friends?
7 Snoop around on his privacy – always checking his phone messages or calling up his friends to find out more about him?
8 Text her several times to know about her whereabouts?
9 Disapprove of him taking small risks, making mistakes and end up lecturing him most of the time?
10 Talk to her teachers almost every day to see how she is doing?
11 Believe that your child is always right, and blame others for things that go wrong?
12 Take ownership for and not entrust your child with any responsibilities?
13 Believe that your child should never be mischievous, to avoid complaints from others?
14 Advise your teen that those around him are bad and should not be trusted?
15 Ask her to avoid sports and games to prevent injuries?
16 Not let him run small errands because he must cross the road?
17 Keep a sterile home so that she doesn’t pick up infections?
18 Comfort him even when he is not distressed or mildly distressed and not struggling with it?
19 Tell her what to do and how to do, and not allow her to use her own reasoning, ideas, and learn from trial and error or mistakes?
20 Become anxious even when she is comfortable doing something on her own, and insist on helping her?
If a majority of your answers are “yes” Congratulations! You are Marlin of Finding Nemo. Now please reread this post. Back to square one.
Quiz Credit/ References: