Containers and Compulsions
"Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?”
This important question is asked in New York Time’s bestselling author Julie Lythcott-Haims provocative manifesto, How to Raise an Adult.
As a dean at Stanford, Ms. Lythcott-Haims worked closely with high-performing students who had little clue about how to live as adults. In researching the book, she has come up with a long list of ways parents are carrying their children, teens, and young adults along unnecessarily.
Wanting to explore this vein with someone more knowledgeable than I, I asked one of my mentors if he thought kids have changed over time. Keep in mind, this is a man who has worked with tens of thousands of children and parents over the past fifty years in the summer camp industry.
He didn't bat an eyelash and said, "Kids haven't changed but, man, the parents sure have...."
“What do you mean? How have parents changed?” I asked.
“It used to be they drop the kid off, and we don’t hear from them again – no questions, no concerns, just go to camp, right? Now, every mom and many dads want to be involved in every step of the process. Second guessing us, themselves, trying to manage friends, activities… you name it. They don’t want their kid to have a moment that is not perfect and that, my friend, is a recipe for later disaster.”
A recent morning spent on the Georgia coast reminded me of his words. Close to a large port, I spent time watching an enormous cargo ship come in for delivery. The ship was piled high with the shipping containers it had safely transported across the Atlantic just in time for delivery — through storms and calm seas.
Seeing these shipping containers created a metaphor in my mind —we’ve become container ships for our kids.
In our quest to raise our children to not suffer from any problems while on their way to adulthood, we've robbed them of their ability to weather the storms of life. Rather than having them go through ‘real-world’ experiences, we do our best to transport our off-spring through childhood in order to safely deliver them into adulthood.
Out of our compulsion to protect our children, we've taken away their opportunities to learn creativity, problem-solving, and grit. They are not prepared for life ahead, and that’s a problem.
We've got to change our ways if we want our young ones to be prepared to inherit the earth.
A recent quote comes to mind: “We should do as little for our children as possible.” (I believe this was attributed to Jordan Peterson, but I can't be sure.) No more cutting their meat at ten years old. No more doing their laundry at fourteen.
Our children’s job is not to get good grades, hit a baseball, or whatever else. Their job is to learn how to be a competent, productive adult. And, it's your job to set up situations in which they learn.
They are supposed to have hard times. It’s the same now as it was at the time of the Bible. Here’s what James says:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. - James 1:2-4
How can our children become steadfast in their faith or anything else when they've had so little experience and so little testing?
In sports, we prepare our athletes to overcome challenges provided by the other team or the environment. In school, we teach them to think critically and to use their knowledge to solve problems.
We need to prepare our teen boys for how to use their faith in the same way — to be warriors who put on the armor of God as their protection. They must learn to take what’s going on around them, find a similar situation in the Bible, learn, pray on it, and decide how to act.
Trying to transport our boys through life on our backs does them no favors. They won't arrive into adulthood knowing how to battle the storms that will inevitably show up in their path. And, they'll have our compulsion to keep them safe to blame.
Take them out of the containers. Get them in the water and stay close by. Think about being a sturdy tugboat instead. By being close by as they battle the waves life throws their way, you'll help your son become a man prepared to be useful, happy, and loving of God.
*Photo by Freddie Collins on Unsplash