As a mom of four boys that play lacrosse, I have a surprising confession. I have a really hard time watching their games. Not because I’m afraid they will lose, but because I’m afraid they’ll get injured. So afraid, in fact, that my family members don’t like to sit by me during the games. And usually, I’m not sitting anyway because I’m too busy pacing like a nervous tiger on the sidelines, if I’m even there at all. I spend the entire Spring season trying to manage my fear.
This is an interesting paradox for me since I am so proud of the fact that my boys overcame their own fears while becoming the amazing lacrosse players that they are. I watched each of them grapple with the fear of really putting themselves out there in harm’s way, usually in their freshman year of high school. They each made a conscious decision that they weren’t going to let their fears hold them back on the lacrosse field. It takes a lot of courage to run toward the goal while an entire team’s defense is hitting you with a metal pole, trying to stop you. I am constantly in awe of their ability to do this (and every one of their teammate’s abilities, as well).
This got me thinking, ‘How is it that they have that courage?’. I believe courage is a muscle that we develop just like anything else. Each day, we are presented with opportunities to grow this part of ourselves. As children, we start with the little things. We learn that we are capable enough to tie our own shoes, make our own toast, handle a conflict that comes up with our friends, do our own homework and take the grade, stand up for ourselves on the playground, and a million other ways. Childhood is ripe with these opportunities. As parents, though, our tendency is to take over when our kids are in any kind of distress. We are easily capable of solving these issues for them and many times we step in and do just that. But each time we do, we steal an opportunity for our child to grow that muscle. Our sincere desire to lessen our child’s pain, in fact, lessens their ability to handle pain in the long run. This has become so prevalent in our society, that it has it’s own name, “Helicopter Parenting”. We all fall victim to it, some more than others.
I was eating in a restaurant by myself last week, so I was able to overhear the conversation next to me between a mother and her son, who looked to be about 9 years old. His juice box straw had fallen into the box while his mom had gotten up to get some more napkins. When he showed this to her upon her return, she said to him “That’s why you wait for me to help you with it.” She then proceeded to cut up all his spaghetti for him. The child looked miserable and I’m pretty sure he would have been easily able to manage a juice box and a plate of spaghetti by 9 years old if she hadn’t shown him with her words and actions all his life that he wasn’t capable of this. How is this child ever going to have the courage to do anything for himself?
While this is an extreme example of helicopter parenting and I can rest assured in the knowledge that I am never that overprotective with my kids, I think it is important to remember that we all need to manage our fears so that we don’t pass them on to our children. When we are in fear, we shut out the possibility that our children may have talents we never dreamed of. We cut short their chance to amaze us with their brilliance and problem solving skills. We are so afraid of what might happen, that we lose out on all the wonderful things that could happen. And when bad things do happen, because they will, we see that our kids are not as fragile as we think they are. They can persevere, if we let them.
As parents, we need to grow our own courage muscles to allow our children this chance. Therefore, I will consciously work on keeping my mouth shut for the rest of the season and I will focus, instead, on the beauty that are my children pursuing an activity they love and have perfected to a degree I never imagined possible.