My husband’s father was in the military. He is fond of telling me that his father was a “no-nonsense” kind of guy, and growing up, when it came to either physical or emotional pain, his dad’s best advice was, “suck it up, soldier and walk it off.”
My husband says he is a better man today for this kind of approach. While I feel that maybe sometimes his dad was a little too extreme, there are times when a little “tough love” is appropriate. If you want your kids to be independent, and grow to be teens and young adults who are equipped to solve problems on their own, sometimes when they need help, the best help you can give – is no help at all.
Jonathan McKee, an author of over 20 books on parenting, has pared down the kind of “help that does not help,” into two categories: “Meddling” and “Freaking out.” McKee says all parents do both, too often – even with the best of intentions. “Parents tend to meddle because they care so much,” says McKee. He says that we all hate to watch our kids suffer, so, in an effort to spare them pain, we end up micromanaging every aspect of our kid’s lives. McKee says that when researching for a book he was writing on the subject, one mother told me, “I wish I would have taken a step back and just let my kids experience the consequences. I thought I was helping but turns out I was robbing them of real life.”
He went on to say that, after speaking with dozens and dozens of parents, his research revealed that in addition to meddling, the thing all the parents said they regretted most was “freaking out.” He describes “freaking out,” as the helicopter parent on steroids. The parents that admit they “freaked out” too much and too often are the ones that not only swooped in to “save their kids from any possible tragedy,” but also completely overreacted, creating a mountain out of proverbial molehills.
So, where do you find that middle ground? When do you know when you need to intervene, and when to back off and let you sons and daughters figure it out for themselves? My husband’s father would say, you always have to let them “sink or swim on their own” (apparently he was good with platitudes like that). But, McKee says you will know, and it starts with one word – “trust.”
As self-admitted “meddler” and “freak-outer,” he describes his own “ah ha,” moment.
One day my daughter was having a fit. “Dad, Alyssa isn’t sharing!”
I tried my best to not “meddle” nor “freak out,” and said, “So, what are you going to do?”
My daughter didn’t even blink. “Hit her.”
I laughed, probably more at myself because I was doubting whether this was going to work. Did helping her really help? But I persisted. “Well, I think you know how that will end up, so I’m going to trust you can figure out a better solution.”
My daughters actually did work it out that day. Who knows, maybe God stepped in and intervened that one time just to teach me a lesson. But they worked it out. That was the kind of help they needed.
No, I’m not some hippy parent who began letting my 8 and 10-year-olds do whatever they wanted…but I slowly learned to let go and let them learn to discern.
My secret? I kept my eye on the calendar. I kept picturing them 8 years later, then 5 years, then just a couple years later, in that college dorm by themselves making decisions on their own. Was I preparing them for that day? Or was I meddling or freaking out and making every decision for them?
Was I really helping our kids or not?
As hard as it can be, we need to take a lesson from parenting experts such as McKee, or maybe from that song that every parent is oh so familiar with, and “let it go…let it go…,” and be ready, willing, and able to offer real help, by giving your kids a chance to make mistakes and learn from them.