Every Generation Judges the Next (and usually harshly): Parenting Edition

No, I have not read this book:how-to-raise-an-adult_custom-486b723d84bbdeae0e5b15b621999f90af939d6b-s400-c85

But I am a parent of my times, and so I know ALL about “helicopter parenting.”  Honestly, I can’t take it too seriously.  Do some parents go overboard?  Yes.  In every generation, are there some parents who are outliers of the norm and give the rest a bad name?  Yes.  Am I tired of this discussion?  A resounding YES.

It might be because I’m a wee bit defensive, having just dropped my first kid off at college, and am facing the consequences of “attachment parenting.”  (My preferred name for my parenting style.)  Holy cow, no one told me it would be THIS hard.  I knew it would be hard, but my household is reeling – Spouse and daughter included.  And no one warned me how it would feel to be an “attachment parent,” and have those kids actually grow up into amazing young adults and, gasp, LEAVE.

In case you want to start, yes I have a life.  I have an incredibly rewarding vocation as pastor.  I have deep, close friends I see regularly.  I practice yoga, and I’m studying to be a yoga teacher.  My life does not revolve around my kids.  BUT:  When they were born, I nursed them, and found it very hard to leave them even for a night when they were babies and toddlers.  When I weaned my first because I had a week-long youth mission trip in NYC, halfway through the week, my spouse and son joined us.   I chose Doctor of Ministry program because friends lived in the area, and could watch my toddler for me.    (Daughter came in-womb.)  I didn’t plan it, but I’ve been entirely grateful that my work allows me the freedom to be there for my kids – after school, for sports, for rides (Just not on Sundays.  Or some weeknights.  That’s the gift and curse of parish ministry.)

And my kids are independent, fight their own fights, and when those times come, freely asked us to not get involved.  And we don’t.  But when we’d have the international students of the Hopkins Masters of Public Health over for dinner, and I heard these mothers and fathers leaving infants, and toddlers, and school kids behind, on another continent, for a year – my heart broke for them.  And again, I was thankful I never had to make those agonizing choices.  Motherhood and ministry just worked together, more or less seamlessly, with my personality and attached parenting.

Maybe that’s why we’re floundering so.  I wouldn’t change a thing, but I would warn other parents who are practicing “attachment parenting.”  It’s really, really hard when they leave the nest.

A guest blogger on Parent as Protector (or, the pain of letting go.)

My dear, dear friend Kim is a few years ahead of me in the parenting role – She’s been through the sending your kid to college transition of life, and her words were so beautiful and clear, I’m offering them here for every parent letting go just a wee bit more, whether it’s the first day of daycare, preschool, middle school, high school, marriage, or moving across the country:

From Kim:

babyWatching my stepdaughter care for her new baby, I’m taken back to the all- consuming, protective love of new parents. She cried when her baby was playfully dunked in the pool during her first swimming lesson. It’s the kind of love where you give your infant swimming lessons.

This little girl’s been treasured since we new she was coming.   And now that she is here, her parents do all of the gazing, adoring, worrying, and protecting of every new parent.

I’m in a different phase now, that of launching grown children in the world. And I think about the balance of Parent as Protector. My young adult children require much less protecting, but it’s still hard to let go.

I remember that defenseless newborn in my arms. I remember sitting in the car crying to my husband after our first-born had his initial immunizations. I babbled on about my inability to keep him from hurting. Looking back, the scene seems comical (and probably hormone influenced). But then, the feelings were intense; love and protection fused together in those early days.

And as my children grew, love as protection became more blurred. They didn’t overlap so neatly. When does love mean protect, and when does it mean trust?   I could find no formula in the parenting manual, so I learned by trial and error, instinct, and conversations with friends. Pulling back on protection demanded a gradual release, with lots of stumbling, second-guessing, and re-negotiating terms.

But it wasn’t and isn’t easy to define those terms, especially when my kids still often look like they could use some protecting. Just this year, I watched one son select his college because it was near a Chipotle. OK, that wasn’t the only reason, but honestly, I think it was the factor that tipped the decision. Then I read the text from his brother telling me that he thought he would take himself swimming with sharks while on a trip to South Africa. How much do I say to each of my young adult sons? Do I trust or protect?

They both went. And survived. And I’m sure grew up some because their choices. But other times I’ve had to watch them get really hurt. When my oldest son went through a difficult break up, I watched him shut down and literally shrink. He lost weight, his voice grew quieter, he pulled back from friends and family. And though I tried, there was really nothing I could do. It was his time to do some more growing, to learn some hard lessons, to build resilience. But it was my time too. At 48, I’m learning humbling lessons about how hard it can be to let go, and to separate protection from love.

I have compassion now for the younger me when I remember that overwhelming need to protect our new babies.   And I have compassion for myself because it’s so hard to overcome that protective instinct as they grow.  But we must struggle, because otherwise our children won’t be ready to launch and be independent, and cope with life.

But it all starts from such a beautiful place. There is a purity in my step daughter’s love for her daughter that is so right and sweet. I could no more speak to her about pulling back and letting Piper struggle and develop resilience than I could convince her to move to the moon. It’s one of the many paradoxes of parenting, this balance between holding tight and letting go. She will and can only figure it out as she goes. As do I.

It’s Not Fair! now what……

What’s a baby brain to do?  We come pre-wired for detecting when we’re being treated unfairly – We know this because of how primates react.  

See this video (It’s less than 60 seconds)


Here’s a picture from the video of the monkey having a tantrum because  she just realized her friend is getting a juicy delicious grape in exchange for a rock, and she’s only getting a lousy slice of cucumber.  If you didn’t watch it, really, you should.  It will make you laugh.Image

Researchers with primates and babies (at the Yale Baby Lab) recognize that we do seem hard-wired for fairness, and for spotting “moral” behavior.  That’s a good thing, right?  

When we’re a year or so old, we start being told, “Share  your toys!  It’s only fair!”  

Okay.  We get that – We may not like it, and we may not do it, but we get it.  We like things to be fair.  It upsets us when things aren’t fair.

And then, about a year later, we hear something completely different.  We want a cookie NOW, and we’re told “No, eat your peas first.”  And we yell “That’s not FAIR!”  And we are horrified – HORRIFIED to hear in response, “Life isn’t fair.”  What?  Wait just a minute here!  We’ve been told to share, because that is fair, and now no cookie until we eat our peas, which we do not like?  Who made the rules here?

So, another adjustment.  

Adjustments are not easy for our brain.  And understanding that we may be prewired for “fair” and “right” doesn’t mean we are born committed to justice.  We have these mirror neurons that have to come on-line, through being “mirrored” ourselves in a caring relationship.  Then we start taking another’s perspective.  And then, more experiences, watching and observing, and we realizes that sometimes it is in our longer-term interests to act fairly.  That takes delayed gratification. (Think, the marshemellow test.  Here’s a clip if you aren’t familiar:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ

And then, true maturity:  We are wired for community, but we’re also wired for “us-them” dichotomy, and to look out for “us.”  We are capable of expanding “us” to include “them,” but we need to be taught.  Religion is great at this: 

Love your neighbor.  Love your enemy.

Be generous, and ready to share.

Show hospitality.

If someone is in need of a coat, offer them your shirt as well.

Every time you were kind to the stranger, you were kind to me.  (jesus)

(These aren’t direct quotes, just good summary snippets.)  And it seems pretty obvious to me that the wiring for spotting injustice may already be there, at least when we’re the ones being injured.  But it may take some careful guidance and experiences to learn how to spot injustice when it’s our sibling – Then we need to be taught how to work for justice for our clan, and then taught that every person is in our clan.  And then the real leap, in some ways right back to where we began:  That even other creatures, indeed all creation, is in our clan.  And deserve justice.


As my faith tradition begins the season of Lent, I think about God’s invitation to us to use what we’ve been given in these amazing brains.  Practice sharing.  Practice giving.  Practice spotting injustice (it isn’t always easy because we’re blinded by what already is.)  We may be hard-wired for fair and right, but those neurons won’t get us very fair until we use them regularly.  





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