We saw what appeared to be (from inside a car moving at 30 miles per hour) a dead mouse on the road the other day. It struck me because I had just been thinking how rare that is. We see dead possums, raccoons, and various other critters all the time in these parts. But mice, which surely are as plentiful as any of the others, manage to escape road-pizzadom. Until last week.
As is generally the case, I have a theory. I think mice have smaller lives than the other, larger mammals decorating the highways and byways of the Florida Panhandle. They do not need to roam far from their nests, so they have much less reason to cross 20 feet of asphalt. That has certain advantages which, given the circumstances of this conversation, would seem to be obvious. And perhaps they are not worldly wise enough to appreciate the disadvantages. But we appreciate them on their behalf. And we can’t help but pity them a bit. The experience is worth the danger, I say. I suspect you agree.
I write this having pushed one of my mice out of the nest recently. The other one will follow one day. And in many ways, it would be safer for them if they stayed home, keeping their lives small and uncomplicated. But I want more for them than that. So occasionally, like the eagle of Deuteronomy 32:11, I stir the nest up a bit. I remain close at hand to catch them if they aren’t quite self-sufficient, certainly.
But it’s not my job to make them safe. It’s my job to make them fly.
I want a full life for my children. But they have a greater chance of heartbreak if they get married. A child who is never born to them can never apostatize. They can’t get fired if they never get a job. So if my top priority is keeping them from the bad things in this world, the reasonable thing to do is to shelter them from all the decisions that can go poorly. As a side benefit, I get extra people at the table on board game night for the rest of my life.
And then, one day, I’ll die. Tracie too. And two teenagers in the bodies of women in their 60s will be left by themselves, completely unfit for life.
I don’t want that. So I let them grow. When necessary, I force them to grow.
Training a child (Proverbs 22:6) is a multistage process. First they watch. Then they help. Then you help. Then you watch. Then you leave. Whether you are teaching them to bake a cake, build a friendship, serve society, or study the Bible, the process is the same. You will probably go backward a step or two from time to time to fine-tune their skills. But the objective is always to abandon them. They must be allowed to fly. And, yes, perhaps crash. Hey, if Geppetto wanted Pinocchio to stay safe, he shouldn’t have wished for a real, live boy.
The problem I see with “helicopter parents,” as they’ve come to be called, is ultimately selfishness. The parent cannot bear to let the child go, for fear of either the child’s failure or the parents’ isolation; in so doing the parent stifles the child’s development. Either the child’s life remains small forever, or the child one day wakes up in a world for which he or she is completely unprepared. And gets run over. This is fine for parents in the short term. They don’t have to cut the cord, and they don’t have to watch their child suffer quite as much. But it hurts the child in the long run. They can’t sleep in cribs forever.
“The discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) has to be administered by me, the parent. I teach them what God’s expectations are. I train them. I correct them. I show them the proper way, both in word and in example. And always, I emphasize that it is His guidance, ultimately, and not mine. I teach them to obey me (Ephesians 6:1) so they will be positioned to obey Jesus (Matthew 7:21) — even when I am not around to guide them.
Yes, it hurts to watch them disappear into the world. But it would hurt more if I left them unprepared, thinking that day somehow would never come.