As parents, we think of ourselves as protectors. Protectors of faith. Protectors of happiness. Protectors of innocence. Protectors from pain or disappointment and even the protectors of future possibilities.
And for a lot of years, I think our children see us as their protectors. They expect us to protect them from being hungry or homeless. They run to us when they are scared or insecure.
I think my children even hope I will protect them from the consequences of their own poor choices.
But should I?
DW and I cover our children with an umbrella of our values, ethics, religious and political viewpoints, goals and aspirations. We hope that the quality of people we choose as friends influence how they choose their friends or treat others. Most importantly, I think the greatest protecting force we can use in our children’s lives is simply our own behavior. I haven’t found it to be very effective to parent with a “do as I say, but not as I do” kind of attitude. If I don’t want my children to gossip, bully, drink or swear excessively, dress inappropriately, speed while driving (certainly not text while driving), then I have to be willing to be all those things too. I have to strive to be the person I hope them to be.
Of course, there are no guarantees. Our children have minds of their own. They start choosing their friends as they get older, find their own interests, and spend more time away from us than with us. At some point, we have to know when it is time to let go of our parental umbrella and give them space to dance in the rain.
But what is our responsibility if our children start spending too much time with individuals that negatively influence them? Of course there are extremes, like drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc. There is no question that I would make every effort to redirect my children, aggressively, hoping to avoid total destruction. But what about the little things? Things like being more sarcastic or mouthy? Or perhaps even the influence of being overly dramatic or melancholy? Maybe some friends seem to draw out more complaints or dis-contentment?
I don’t have the answer. So far my approach with the kids’ less likeable friends has been to embrace them and draw them into our household rather than let my children go to their homes unsupervised. I love on them, set reasonable and respectful boundaries directly with them, and treat them like I treat my own children. For some, this is what they were missing in the first place and their behavior changed for the better. Our family ended up being a positive influence in their lives. For a few, they simply stopped coming over and eventually stopped socializing with my child altogether.
However, there is one friend of The Tortoise’s that stands out the most in my mind. She just seemed to drain my daughter of all her joy, and yet, The Tortoise continued to spend time with her, despite my suggestions to spend time with someone else. I continued to let this girl spend time at our home without complaint, but the more I reached out to her, the ruder she treated me, to the point that I struggled to respond in kindness.
Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it any longer, The Tortoise came to me instead.
“Mom, I don’t think I want to spend any more time with so-and-so, ” she said.
“Oh? Why is that?” I answered relieved.
“Because, I don’t like the way she treats you.”
Perhaps, sometimes, our children hold an umbrella over our heads too.
(Unfortunately, I am over the word limit and several days late. )