How Not to Be a Smothering Parent

As a homeschooler, I have always been very aware of the cultural trend toward keeping children overly supervised “for their own good.” Because of this, I found myself becoming concerned about letting my kids outside while others were in school. What would people think? Would my kids be in trouble for having such freedom? But then I would think, “how will they ever be independent if I keep them tied so close to me?” It brought to mind that saying we used to hear about being “tied to your mother’s apron strings.” It was considered a negative observation.

I finally decided that I was going to let them grow up. Let them be individuals. But as I watched people around me, not just homeschoolers, but all parents, I saw something unsettling.

The cord between parent and child is getting shorter instead of longer. It used to be that the parenting model was to gradually give your children more and more responsibility and freedom with their own lives. Now it seems that a parent becomes negligent if they so much as let their child walk around the corner out of sight for a split second.

I’ve read many articles lately that discuss the challenges that parents are facing from the general public as well as the legal system concerning what is seen as responsible parenting and what is not. I am a baby boomer and my generation remembers well the freedom that we had as children.

I remember my summers as times to take off on my bike and ride anywhere I pleased in our small college town. I could ride to the local swimming pool six blocks from home, stay for hours, and then ride home on my own. As long as I was home for dinner and then again before the street lights came on, I was fine. I walked to school with just the neighborhood kids, or sometimes by myself when I was in the first grade. No big deal. I suspect that the very idea of sending a first grader several blocks to school alone horrifies a young parent today.

How did we get here? How did we become so deathly afraid of letting them grow up? I know, everyone immediately jumps to the argument about human trafficking and the dangers that exist for a child in our culture. But why has American culture become so fearful?

I recently read an article titled, From Tokyo to Paris, Parents Tell Americans to Chill, that discussed free-range parenting from an international perspective. It seems we are lagging behind the rest of the world in training our children to be independent. Or perhaps it’s that we used to be better at it and have lost perspective.

If you research the crime statistics over the past fifty years you will find that the number of crimes has steadily decreased. This includes those committed against children. It is actually, statistically safer for kids today than it was when I was growing up in the 60s. So why all the hyped stress?

I think we are more fearful today because we have been trained to fear EVERYTHING. We fear illness, having our identity stolen, mass shootings, being injured in an accident, having our home broken into, and having our children abducted. And the list gets longer every day. We spend more money on safety measures than ever before.

And in the process of being more fearful, we have become smothering parents. Our kids can’t do anything unsupervised. So why are we surprised when 20-somethings are still living at home and expecting their parents to make all their decisions for them?

I think the remedy lies in a few common-sense principles.

First, learn to trust yourself as a parent. You know your kids better than anyone. You can judge when they are ready for an increase in responsibility and freedom. Stop listening to the running commentary about how it’s reckless to allow your kids to learn to think for themselves before they turn eighteen. There will be times when you have to trust your gut. You just know that something is good or bad for your child. It must come from inside you, not from the opinions of others. God gave your child to YOU for a reason. I have said this often to homeschoolers that I’ve coached over the years. You are the person best equipped to parent your child.

Trust your children. They are smart. Probably much smarter than you think. They can figure things out if given time and encouragement. They want to feel successful in their decision making. They want to explore their own interests.

One of the most important things I learned as a homeschooler is to trust my boys to make choices. Sometimes I didn’t agree with them at all. Sometimes they went ahead and did something against my advice. Most times, after a while, they finally came around and realized their mistake. They learned valuable lessons from those times.

Give your children a firm foundation of your values and let them learn from their mistakes. They won’t always get it right. But did you? I’m sure you can instantly think of actions you took when you were young that were less than responsible. Maybe they are even embarrassing to think about now. But you still grew into an adult that can manage your life. They will too.

Finally, trust God with your children. He designed them. He has a plan for them. He placed your children in the right environment to allow that plan to be birthed. He can protect and guide our children much better than we can. But He’s chosen to give us the privilege to participate in the amazing process of raising a child. You can trust yourself and your child all day long but if you don’t entrust that precious one to God, you will always be fretting and worrying about their safety, their choices, and their future.

So try to loosen your hold a little and let your children experience childhood. There are so many opportunities that will encourage them to become independent individuals. But they can’t do it if they are still tied to their mother’s apron strings. Let go and see them fly!

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