Several months ago I was invited to a book club with a group of women from our elementary school. The first book chosen was "The Glass Castle" a memoir by Jeannette Walls. Loved it! (See our favorite Amazon books in the right column.)
The author's upbringing was riddled with a strange combination of neglect and love. Never before had I thought of those two traits walking hand in hand, but in her situation they did. Many chapters were hard to read, but I gained such compassion for children that are just left to raise themselves. Although her childhood was unnecessarily difficult, through these circumstances she learned to trust herself and developed determination, ingenuity, and strength.
It made me think of how careful I am with my kids. We live in a safe town, but parents here tend to be very overprotective because of the terrible stories in the news. It's true...that I guard what my children watch, I hear most of their conversations, I work in their schools, I help out at children's church. There isn't a lot of time where they are unsupervised. My kids play sports, and teams are a wonderful experience, but is there time in their schedules for neighborhood playdates that let them practice making good and bad decisions without the constant watchful eye?
When I talk to parents they don't want their kids to fail or experience hardship. Our "hands off school" keeps them from learning for themselves what happens when they play too rough. Does all of this really protect them or hinder them? Simple things we took for granted when we were in elementary school like riding bikes in the neighborhood is now considered reckless parenting.
Teachers are afraid to tell parents that their child is getting a poor grade. Do we get too emotionally involved in all of the playground politics and step in to solve our kids problems. An unending number of rules govern everything our kids do with the idea that we are keeping them "safe". Does this allow them the wiggle room to become successful, creative, independent thinkers?
I'm still defining this and working it out in our own family. Believe me, I don't even come close to having all the answers. This book just prompted me to ask myself more questions. It reminded me that childhood is a lot like bootcamp...bumps, scrapes, exploration, mean kids, getting dirty, failed tests, being uncomfortable, enduring situations that aren't fair, standing on your own two feet, is all a part of the real world. That being a parent means not protecting them from all of those situations, but being there to love, support, and give them the tools to handle what is hard in life. Whoever said that it was fun to build character? Good stuff to ponder.