Helping Our Children Grow Strong

By Lisa Merrin - 07/05/2024


When I had my son, my first instinct was to protect him from everything so he would never have to feel loss or pain or worry.  I think a lot of us feel this way, and it is certainly our responsibility to fiercely and attentively protect very young children.  But faster than we can imagine, they grow and take on increasing independence in the world.  We can either facilitate this or impede it, and finding the balance between our responsibility to protect and our responsibility to grow our children is one of the hardest paths of parenthood. 

Many of you will have heard the term “helicopter parent,” referring to the type of parent who hovers closely, with good intentions, but often limiting opportunities for our children to make mistakes and learn from them as day to day challenges emerge.  What happens when I don’t turn in my homework?  What happens when I forget to set my alarm?  What happens if I choose to spend all my allowance rather than save it for more expensive things?  There is also a lesser-known term that I encountered a few years back called “lawnmower parent.”  This is the type of parent who wants to remove all obstacles in their child’s path, so that they don’t have to stumble or fall as they move through life. 

I can certainly relate to being both a helicopter and a lawnmower parent at times, but I came across a powerful fact a while back that helped me to rethink my actions. There is a place in southern Arizona called Biosphere 2.  You may have heard of it.  It’s an incredible project created by a team at the University of Arizona to research the impact of climate change.  It’s like a world in a bubble, and it was not a big stretch for me to think of my own desire to keep my son in a bubble, and to want to ensure that he have the optimal world around him.  However, funny things happen when your life is lived in a bubble.  Some of the trees in Biosphere 2 did not develop the deep and strong roots that they would have if they were exposed to wind and storms that are part of the “real” world.  These trees could be easily knocked over and damaged because they did not have to endure any significant resistance.  It turns out that we need some degree of rough weather to develop a strong foundation that keeps us grounded and safe when the inevitable challenges come our way.

I have had to weather my own storms, and when I brought my son into the world, I wanted him to see only blue skies and gentle breezes.  But I have learned (better late than never!) that the healthiest kind of parenting is the one that offers a safe place to make mistakes and learn from them.  It’s cultivating an environment that allows for wind as well as calm.  I am grateful for all that parenting has taught me and to be able to watch my son develop strong roots at the same time that his limbs reach toward the sky.

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