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Forefront families by Sally Burgess; Hands on or hands off?...that is the question.; www.forefrontfamilies.org

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Brian and Sally Burgess

OK, so we can’t help it.  We mothers always want to protect our kids, even when they are in their teens.  We’re just like hens with our chickens.  In fact, I often still call my 39 and 37 year old children, ‘chickens’.  We can be downright embarrassing sometimes.  When my preteens came home from school with some tale of how they were wrongly treated, I only needed to say, “Do you want me to march down to the school with my purple umbrella?”  They would yell, “No, no!  Don’t come down to school, Mom.  Please don’t come to school!!!!” 

So, when should we take our hands off and allow our kids to become exposed to the bumps life inevitably brings?  The simple answer would be, when we have prepared them for every scenario they are likely to face.  But is that a reality?  We can never really know the extent of what they will encounter.  Life is one long training camp.  We only get one shot at it.  We don’t always get time to practice and sometimes we only get one try at the prize.  That makes parenting a really responsible job!

We teach our kids how to do many things through their early years.  It takes time and during the process we hold their hand, hold on to the bike seat or the back of the cart until they can do it alone.  What jubilation there is when they succeed without falling over! 

Teaching our kids independence is a bittersweet activity.  We want them to fly solo, but in doing so, they are telling us they don’t need us.  So we hang on longer than we need to, just to stay connected and in many cases to feel needed.

Perhaps we hold on because we don’t want them to get hurt.  After all, we know life is not fair and we know how it feels to fail.  We know we will not always be the winner, get picked for the team or get chosen for the job.  We know that when we make poor decisions there will be consequences.  But, that is life.  Our children will face these situations whether we are there to pick up the pieces or not.  So, is hovering over them or ‘smothering them instead of mothering them’ going to prepare them for what every person in the world faces at some time or another?  I say, no.

So, what SHOULD we do?  We have our children at home for around 18 years.  In that time we teach them not only how to perform tasks, but how to perform them safely.  We teach them our values and how and why these values form our character.  We coach them how to make wise decisions and choices.  We praise them for successes and we put consequences in place for non-compliance. 

We endeavor to be great role models, to be fair, consistent and equal with our love and attention to each child.  We teach them right from wrong and how to take responsibility for their own actions.  We stand close by and dust them off when plans do not turn out as expected.  We try to focus on their efforts rather than just their results.  Through this process we are teaching our children principles so that, even though a particular scenario may not be exactly the same as one we have taught, they will still be able to work out what to do, especially if we are not there for advice.

What we should NOT do is:  a) stand up for our child when the child is actually wrong; b) Protect our child from failure; c) Protect our child from all possible hurt; d) Give our child everything they want so they are never disappointed; e) Have unreasonable expectations (e.g. my child is an A+ student), if they are actually incapable of producing such a high grade. None of the points above have any connection with reality.

We don’t have to be cruel to be kind, but we do have to prepare our kids while we have them at home so they are well prepared for their future.  There is nothing wrong in being there when they fall, but they must feel some of the pain.  We do need to help our children evaluate the situation so they can get the desired outcome next time around.  And, even if the outcome was inevitable (because life is not always fair), we need to teach them not to dwell in the land of what ‘shoulda-coulda’ happened, but how to move on.

If you have any comments or stories on this subject please do not hesitate to contact us at sally@forefrontfamilies.org, check out our website at www.forefrontfamilies.org and our blog site at www.forefrontfamilies.blogspot.com. 

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