Back in the day I was a pretty serious long distance runner. No 26.2’s, but I ran my share of half marathons. But this is how I processed those long races. I would always be anxious the night before, and the drive over, and finding parking at the event. Always my nerves would be chomping at the bit right up to the park and lock. Now, I’ve always been a person with a strong faith in Jesus coupled with an unapologetic fighting spirit. SO it was, as I arrived at the starting line, without fail, there was this total sense of peace that came over me. I wasn’t afraid of the 13.1 miles in front of me. It was as if the starting line was in effect, the finish line. I waited for the gun to go off feeling like a million bucks. And this mantra would go through my head. I made it. Crazy I know- because the race had only just started. But truly the worst of it was behind me. All I had left was the finish, and clearly that was in hand the minute the gun went off. Literally a jolt of adrenalin would shoot through me. I knew at that very moment, it was as good as done. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesmen of all times, and most courageous leader of the free world, delivered these famous words in a 1942 speech at London’s Mansion House, just after the British routed Rommel’s forces at Alamein, driving German troops out of Egypt. The battle marked a turning point in WWII: Churchill: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” And THAT, my friends is pretty much exactly what I told my girl in Paris today. She is about to go into mandatory home confinement with the rest of her French allies. That means the physical company of both her friends and the local parks which she has so enjoyed up to now, will be no longer. I said to her “Shelby we are in the middle of this now. We have already conquered the starting line. We only have to finish. We can do it. I know we can. Keep your chin up, and most importantly keep your faith in the fight.” What about you? Are you hung up in the parking lot? You’ve already passed the starting line. So keep your faith in the fight.
If your kids are like mine, they grew up with plenty of what they needed. Well, don’t get me wrong. Ours had plenty of chores to do. They volunteered a ton. They had lots of homework and extracurricular activities that required personal responsibility and time management. But still, we did a lot of stuff for them. I made doctor’s appointments, negotiated the bills, cooked hundreds of meals, which they gladly consumed, washed endless loads of laundry, and goodness, the “taxi” driving we did for them. Meg Meeker, MD, a renowned pediatrician and parenting expert said, “Never do for your kids what they can do themselves.” I think that is great advice. Why? Because as parents, we already, inherently complete a ton of tasks for our children that frankly they can’t do for themselves, at first. But, if we never let them do anything on their own, (age and stage appropriate), we are doing them a ginormous disservice. Who knows? Maybe even putting their life at risk. Scary stuff I know.
It became magnanimously apparent to me, this need for teaching our children self-advocacy, when we started parenting young adults.
Example 1: Recently, our youngest daughter, a college sophomore, was immersed in a very difficult situation at her job. The truth was written on the wall in plain language. She needed to confront a superior about some serious issues involving the amount of work and hours she and her co-workers were putting in. And she did. But she vacillated for several weeks before calling that meeting, while many of her young co-workers waited in the wings to see the outcome of her courage.
That’s the irony of self-advocacy. Sometimes it just effects the one taking a stand. Still, other times, self-advocacy impacts a whole lot of other people.
Example #2 My middle daughter recently had a serious of doctors’ appointments necessary to treat a serious dermatological issue she was having. Newsflash. Over 18-year old’s have to handle all their own medical needs, appointments, and prescriptions. Because, well, they are of legal age to do so. No one is going to talk to Mom or Dad without a special release of information on file. It doesn’t matter if they are in college and still on your insurance plan. Same for the bursar’s office at their respective college. Doesn’t matter that you are dropping 1000’s of dollars into an account in your child’s name each semester. You don’t have an automatic right anymore to know a thing about their tuition bills or their grades. So, when my girl left the doctor without gathering important information concerning her follow up appointments, logistical chaos ensued. It was a hard lesson learned about the need to advocate for herself.
The truth is I know adults much older than my 19 and 21-year-old who would never undertake this type of necessary confrontation. They won’t confront a boss with professionalism and confidence to discuss ongoing problems. And they don’t ask the doctor appropriate questions that concern their own health and welfare. Is it such a surprise then, when our young adults struggle with self-advocacy?
In the current pop culture that our children and young adults live and work, it has become more and more of a challenge to expect our kids to advocate for themselves.
I’m going to submit two highly plausible reasons for your consideration.
1 Because we DO and we BUY way too much for them when they are growing up. We do stuff that is far outside the scope of what parents should and should not do for their kids. We speak for them when we shouldn’t. Teachers, coaches, youth ministry leaders, doctors, restaurant staff, etc. We “handle” all of their personality conflicts for them! Furthermore, we often spend ridiculous amounts of money on them, (whether it is a special occasion or not), just because they want it? Year after year of that, and boom, you get a young adult whose appetite for self-indulgence can only be satiated with immediate gratification. He doesn’t know how to stand up for himself because his parents never allowed him to experience disappointment. If your kid has no framework for disappointment, that is going to make the real world an overwhelming place for them to survive. They will be out of our house sooner or later. Parents that is not the place or time we want our kids to begin negotiating disappointment.
2 It has become less culturally acceptable to teach our kids prevention. Prevention has become a dirty word for blaming the victim. Which is utter nonsense. For instance, it is critical that we teach our children self-advocacy when it comes to sexual activity or mixing drinking with their social life. We want to equip our girls and boys for what’s heading their way before it clobbers them like an oncoming train. I want my girl to have the tools necessary to maximize her safety and to avoid becoming a victim. That means teaching her prudent ways to manage her social media. It means teaching her that she is worth more than a “like” on a stupid phone. It means teaching her the importance of moderation in drinking alcohol, and the dangers of being drunk and incoherent in social settings. It means teaching her that indiscriminate sexual activity could inflict deep physical and emotional wounds that will leave an indelible mark on her life. We should understand that teaching our kids prevention, means that we are teaching them both self-respect and self-advocacy in a culture that is extremely shallow and unforgiving.
- Both now and/or later, our kids need to be able to:
- Order their own food without being rude to a waiter.
- Have a professional and grace filled confrontation with micro-managing bosses.
- Talk to their spouse about their personal needs in that relationship.
- Negotiate a doctor bill that does not sync with the corresponding explanation of benefits from the insurance company.
- Say NO! when they mean NO!
- Do for themselves all of the stuff that we have done for them all of these years, laundry, cooking, driving and more.
And they need to understand that they can advocate for not only themselves, but when and where necessary, they can intercede for another person.
Remember the “Me Too Movement”?
Of course, you do. We all do. Especially us moms. Our hearts broke as the respondents increased day by day by the hundreds of thousands. This sad state of affairs should inspire us as parents to teach our girls and our boys with gazelle intensity how to advocate for themselves and others. Hopefully, all that pain and suffering has not been lost on us. How many fewer, precious souls would be hash tagging “Me Too,” had they been taught more about healthy boundaries in their life and the paramount importance of self-advocacy?
We can and should equip our kids with the life skills needed for engaging in healthy conflict resolution and confrontation. We can and should equip our kids to speak up for themselves and others, not with arrogance or rudeness, but with professionalism, grace, and confidence. We can and should arm our children with the necessary tools for maximizing their safety and to avoid becoming a victim of someone else’s evil intentions.
We have a choice.
We can emphasize the importance of self-advocacy when raising our children. OR we can hope for the best without teaching these life skills. Clearly, there is no fool proof way of ensuring our child’s safety or success in life. But we can do better than the status quo. We can do better than what has been done up until now. We must. Our child’s physical and emotional health may be hanging in the balance.
The very first tip in my book, Parenting with Gumption and Grit, says this: Don’t go it alone. It’s #1 for a reason. In making an argument for the interconnectedness of all people, English Poet John Donne penned these famous words in a 1623 essay, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” As much as I might sometime like to retreat from the world and everyone in it, I am keenly aware that I simply cannot do life alone. Well, not successfully anyway.
I have never been one to parent that way either.
My husband and I have raised three daughters. It is probably no coincidence, but nevertheless, it is rather funny as I contemplate just how many mothers of my daughters’ best friends have been my best friend. Throughout the years, these dynamic duos, have included Kristine and Tanna; Susan and Abi; Wendy and Alysse, Vanya and Kylie, Shari and Casadi, and Lisa and Emma. Just to name a few. We were a military family, so we moved around a few times as the girls were growing up. It was always hard when we moved, but that was only due to the close relationships we had nurtured and cherished in the place we left behind. It was the same for me and the girls. But as hard as it was to leave, each new arrival found us enveloped once again by moms and daughters ready to take us into the fold. So yeah, as soon as we made landfall, we made friends. And I mean the true blue, steadfast, and resolute kind.
How did that happen?
Well, the truth is you have to be willing to take risks. It requires vulnerability, transparency, and even personal disclosure. And as if that isn’t risky enough, it requires you to actively listen when the other person is being transparent and vulnerable. But this kind of sharing and depth doesn’t just happen the first day you meet someone. These kinds of forever friends are built on a foundation of trust that evolves out of sharing your lives together. For me and my mom friends that meant shared carpools, listing one another as emergency contact persons, birthday parties, graduations, and recently, even weddings! But it also meant late night telephone calls, semi-emergency coffee meetings, and crying on each other’s shoulder. I have sent and received my share of casseroles, hosted more than a few sleepovers, and kept kids when my friend’s husband was on a long deployment, and she just needed a break. Life is just easier when you have others to lean on. It’s also a lot more fun.
This world inflicts deeper wounds than what our individual skill set alone can manage.
We were never meant to shoulder our personal burdens unassisted. That may be a new concept to some of you, but it is true. I cannot imagine navigating this parenting venture solo- 1 without my husband or 2 without my steadfast friends and fellow moms. Who knows better than you how it feels to have your tween, teen, or young adult child break your heart? Another mom that’s who. Who knows better than you how exhausted you are from sleepless nights with a nocturnal infant? Another mom that’s who. Homework, significant others, discipline issues, joy, and heartbreak. I’ve navigated all of that and more with other mamas, who like me sometimes just need a hand up from someone who understands!
Just a few days ago, my middle daughter Halle flew to Florida between college semesters to visit her precious friend Alysse whom she met over a decade ago when both of their families were living overseas. I know the two of them have weathered many storms together including quarrels with their respective parents. A few days following their visit, I was texting with Alysse’s mom Wendy, sharing prayer requests for both girls. Next week, my friend Kristine is coming for a visit. Her daughter, one of Shelby’s best friends for over 20 years, was married this year. The funny thing about that is, I was there with her in the midst of her struggle with infertility before she became pregnant with Tanna, over 22 years ago. And now here we are. So many years and so many celebrations, calamities, and adventures later, we are still standing. A few grey hairs for sure. But still stronger than ever.
I have navigated some tough, and some joyful seasons with some pretty great moms. And guess what? We are still, all in this together. Some of them live minutes away from me. Some of them, hours. But all of them are an intricate part of my story. Our kids drew us together. Now nothing can draw us apart. Neither time or distance.
We certainly don’t expect a life free of obstacles or pain, right? Of course not. Indeed, we know that is not true. Especially in parenting. Psalm 23; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; John 14; and Romans 8:26, just to name a few, each of those verses are rife with both trouble and assurance. In each of them we see difficulty surrounded with help. Pain surrounded with healing. Hardship surrounded with relief. Be the one who surrounds another mom with help, healing, and relief. And, be the one who receives that from another mom. She’s the best best friend you’ll ever have. Don’t. Go. It. Alone. That’s an awful lonely island to inhabit.
Just when I think the term helicopter parent has been exhausted, then I meet another one. Before we talk about the dangers of hovering and how not to be so over-controlling, I think it is important to address why we might be tempted to be so in the first place.
Possible reasons for being a hovering parent, and there could be overlap:
- You want a different life for them than what you had growing up.
- You have trauma in your own past. You were hurt by someone you thought you could trust.
- We are not risk takers ourselves. So why encourage that in our kids?
- You are a control freak.
- Your anxiety level is so high you don’t possibly know how you can keep your kid safe.
- You believe the world owes you, so therefore, they owe your kid as well.
- Any of the above edges out common sense parenting, leaving hovering as your primary parenting tool.
Let’s be clear. There’s a difference between advocating and hovering. Recently I knew of a young boy who called his mom to pick him up so he didn’t have to go to his sporting practice. He wasn’t sick. He just didn’t want to go. She did it. She picked him up. That’s hovering. I listened to a birthday prank on the radio this morning. The DJ told the father on the phone that the game system he had purchased for his son for Christmas was on back order. With no other provocation, the dad dropped two expletives 60 seconds into the phone call about how he needed that game system for his son by Christmas. That’s hovering. (And rude). A couple of weeks ago, a young and brand new teacher friend of mine sent a note home to a mama that her daughter had used permanent markers to draw all over the class room bean bag chairs. The chairs were ruined. Mom sent a note back and said “I thought they were supposed to get three warnings.” That’s hovering. How many parents have stormed into public school buildings angrily demanding to know why their kid didn’t get the part or the position or the award he should have. That’s hovering. At the park, I saw a toddler fall down, suffer no physical damage whatsoever, other than wounded pride, and his mom went busting over to rescue him. The rescue consumed at least 5 full minutes and led to the conclusion of play time at the park for the day. That’s hovering. Someone showed up at her son’s job interview. (Literally, this happened). How many times have we given into temptation to shower our college kids with cash at the drop of a hat or been tempted to usurp their abilities to take care of their own college business? That’s hovering. Maybe you over involve yourself in your adult child’s business. You just can’t afford to let them live their own life. They might mess it up. That’s hovering.
As I already mentioned, there is a difference between advocating and hovering. We can and should be advocates for our children. And even our young adults. But did you know that advocating for your child doesn’t just happen in a necessary conversation with another individual about something that concerns your kid? No not even. We advocate best for our kids in conversations we have with them. (Parenting tip # 23 in my book.) Instructional conversations, life giving conversations. Conversations about expectations and consequences. If your daughter attends college 15 hours away from you and goes to an ATM machine at night by herself with an unsavory character lurking nearby, you would be at your advocating best if you were there in the parking lot with her at the time of the event right? Yes for sure. But the conversation you had with her years prior that warned her of the dangers of going to ATM machines alone at night, that was you advocating for her in the anticipation of events yet to happen. Yes, conversations we have with our kids by the truck load-that’s us advocating for them. Newsflash. They are going to be out doing their life away from us, at some point or another, whether we advocated for them in this way or not. If we spent those years hovering rather than advocating, well, it could be a rough ride. If you want your kids to be productive, positive, empowered adults, then when they are young quit bailing them out. (Parenting Tip #10)
The difference between advocating and hovering is measurable and quantifiable. Over controlled kids are more anxious, misguided and have low conflict resolution skills. This equates to problems in the classroom and in personal relationships, perhaps sadly, for years to come. In an article in Psychology today dated August, 2016 by Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., Dr. Lent states:
“Helicopter parents that seek to shield their children from all forms of adversity are not doing them any favors. Physical exertion, confrontations on the playground, competitions with real winners and real losers, getting minor bumps and bruises, and even periodically experiencing fear are all inducers of acute stress. Falling off of a swing, for example, teaches a kid a variety of lessons that just can’t be learned any other way. If kids are protected from all possible risks when the stakes are low, how will they navigate risk-taking when they are older and the stakes are much higher? While we should all strive to protect children from chronic stress, depriving them of healthy forms of safe stress may leave them unable to deal with stress as adults.”
Kids, whose parents are healthy advocates, are typically better adjusted emotionally. They can navigate disappointment in life, because they have been allowed to be disappointed and even at times, bored. They have not been routinely bailed out. They have had to use their imaginations when they didn’t get every single new thing they wanted for Christmas or their birthday. They are kids, whose parents are not perfect, but neither do they lead lives defined by past hurt, trauma or failure. Advocating means these parents choose not to teach or discipline or love their kids through the lenses of comparison, bank accounts, fear, entitlement or bitterness. Parents who advocate for their children verses hovering realize that their child’s love for them is not fragile. They know that just because they discipline them for falling out of line, doesn’t mean their kid will fall out of love with them. Advocating versus hovering. It’s critical that we can distinguish between the two. It can make a world of difference in the adult your child becomes down the road.
Recently a mentor of mine was helping me work through a couple of current conundrums in my life. At the end of our discussion, she reminded me that I had no control over the actual people in my conundrum or their own personal outcomes. I find this frustrating since I am a problem solver by nature. I pleaded with her, tongue in cheek, to just give me a few steps for successfully changing them. She just laughed and reminded me to consider what is in my area of influence and what can I personally change.
In other words Judy, what can YOU change in YOURSELF to make YOU better? So that those around you benefit in the process? I think that is so true in parenting and marriage too.
Sometimes we want instant solutions to make our children behave or to get our spouses to do ____________XYZ! I did recently write five-great-habits-for-getting-your-kids-to-listen. And it’s true we need tried and true methods of handling situations in our life and parenting. Yes yes yes! But the truth is a lot of relationship building and successful parenting is about how much WE are willing to change ourselves. We are often so intent on manipulating others, that we cannot as my grandmother used to say, “see the forest for the trees.” In other words, we can’t see solutions because our big giant egos are blocking the view. We can’t see what would bring us joy or happiness. We can’t see what would actually help! We are just blinded by our own unwillingness to change things in ourselves that perhaps need to be changed and that can be changed.… For example, I recently recommended to someone the financial peace program by David Ramsey for helping squash her debt. It’s actually a proven program that has helped literally hundreds of thousands of people reduce or eliminate millions of dollars of personal debt. Anyway, she was super offended because unbeknownst to me, she was atheist and said she would never do that program since Ramsey is a Christian. Oops, I felt bad. I had intended no harm whatsoever in offering this advice and I apologized for doing so unwittingly. I then shared with her the truth that I am a Christian, and yet one of my very favorite leadership books ever written was by a Mormon (The Severn Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey). Moreover, I added that I have a handful of solid parenting books in my personal library written by various experts in their fields, which make no reference to Christianity. Along with those, I also have parenting books authored by some of my favorite Christian authors. I have learned from all of them. But she couldn’t see the forest for the trees. She couldn’t acknowledge that this was a perfectly good tool to debt free living for her and her children. She was blocking her own view.
I was blocking my own view back in my early 20s. I made bad decision after bad decision, and conveniently always found someone to blame for my bad decisions. It is true that I had been dealt a difficult childhood of sorts. But only when I acknowledged that my life was about more and more of me and less and less of anyone else, did I finally have the wherewithal to ask God to please pick up the pieces of my brokenness and help me move forward. And not only that, but the wherewithal to ask other people to help me. I finally figured out I was blocking my own way out of misery. It is true that my life had been hard. But I still managed to be my own worst enemy.
That realization and awakening was the beginning of a new lease on life for me. I was able to be in healthy dating relationships for the first time in my life. I was able to build friend relationships without undue expectations of those I was befriending. This led to healthy parenting down the road. Knowing I cannot change people around me makes me a healthier individual and therefore, more adapted to parenting kids (now young adults) who are also healthy emotionally. Knowing I can ultimately only change myself led me to be better equipped for parenting my kids with purpose.
Being in relationship with our kids as we are raising them is a different thing all together than what it means to be in relationship with our spouses or parents or adult friends. And I want to make that clear. There are multiple scenarios we find ourselves in with littles where we do have to tell them what to do. And we can and should expect them to obey us. But God has created them, like you, fearfully and wonderfully. (Psalm 139) When we recognize that He has created all of us with purpose then we can look at all of our relationships through that filter and not through the filter of our pride or our past or our unmet expectations.
What can you change about yourself today? How will that set you on a path of better parenting and more joy in your relationships?