By Rev. Regina Girten
I remember the first time my daughter fell while learning to walk. Our house was not carpeted and as I watched her tiny body topple over my heart skipped several beats. My instinct was to plunge forward, scoop her up and ensure she was ‘booboo’ free. But as the upper half of my body began to react, the lower half said, “Stay put. Give her a second.” Calmly on the outside, freaking out on the inside, I said, “Baby girl, are you alright?” She cried a little bit, I walked over calmly to check her out, reassured her that she was alright and then gave her a hug before placing her back down onto the front to give this whole walking thing another go.
As parents, we want to protect our children. We desperately want to do whatever is needed to ensure their safety. We want them to succeed. We desire God’s absolute best for their lives. And as a result, we can tend to hover. We have all heard the term ‘helicopter parent.’ The parent that is constantly present ensuring they know all and are able to control all…or so they think. In Youth Ministry, we have seen a rise in the helicopter trend. Over the last ten years in youth ministry, I can honestly say that helicopter parents have, in fact, become…the snow plow parent. Parents can be not only a helicopter swooping in to save the day but an enormous snow plow…shoving any and all dangers out of their child’s path before they even have a chance to encounter the trial, tribulation, or hurt.
We have seen snow-plow parenting play out in the media most recently in the 2019 college admission’s bribery scandal. Parents paying off test monitors to ensure their children get the highest score possible to get them into the universities they dream of attending, never stopping to think that perhaps their child would have climbed that mountain on their own. These parents did not just race to their children’s rescue: their intervention was preemptive. The college scandal presents even more than the obvious legality of their actions. This is an extreme example of the rise of parents seeking to ensure their children thrive and do not fail. This is not rooted in a negative intention, it is rooted in love, but a love that has taken on an enormous number of unhealthy boundaries which creates a toxic parent to child relationship. Though the College Admission’s Scandal is an extreme example, it brings to light the fear parents have to remove obstacles from their children’s paths as opposed to allowing them to learn to work through successes and failures they may encounter. As youth ministers, we must guide parents in seeing that this behavior is not actually love, but fear masquerading as love. Whether it be calling a teacher to make excuses for a student’s poor performance on a test, demanding a student be placed on the dance team after they were cut, expecting their child to start on the football team or even accompanying them as a chaperone on every church trip that they attend…parents more and more are robbing students of opportunities to grow into their independence and learn skills that ultimately will help them achieve the success their parents desire.
In Growing With: Every Parents Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family and Future by Kara Powell and Steve Argue, they present a compelling paradigm-shifting approach in parenting that allows parents to give their children space to grow into the individuals God has created them to be, while maintaining relationship with their ever-changing adolescence. Often times, in desperation for relationship, perhaps parents are trying to make clear the path in an attempt to grow closer to them. Recently I read a blog of a mother on winning and losing. The author said, “We need our kids to be losers sometimes. It’s vastly important. Character and grit and resilience are only born inside of these experiences. They are NOT born in championship wins, or letters of acceptance of natural giftedness.” Our students need to fail. Our students need to be given space to make mistakes while still under the protective wing of their parents so parents can offer guidance and wisdom, while challenging their students to implement the foundational skills and tools parents taught them in their young childhood.
As youth minister the challenge is figuring ways to be there for the parents just as much as the youth. If our parents do not have healthy boundaries within their parenting, our students are certainly not going to develop these tools themselves. Powell and Argue remind us that it is never too late to begin anew with the ways parents interact with their children. And, truly, there is a lesson for our students in the humbling act of a parent saying, “Hey, we are going to try things from a different direction.” If we can provide experiences for our parents to engage in open conversation together about the challenges they face as parents, and we as youth minister are able to sit and strategically listen, we may be able to settle the plow. This is not just merely sitting in a room and asking parents to share the difficulties they face, but to challenge parents to lean into the emotions they are feeling and critically assessing if we are acting out of a place of love or reacting out of a place of love. If it is the latter, a shift needs to occur.
In Growing With, Powell and Argue present a compelling and simple definition of how to solve this problem. “Growing with parenting: a mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trusts God to transform us all (17, Powell). What we know to be true: God loves our students more than we do, as youth minister, and more than even their parents do themselves. God has entrusted us with these children and while protecting them is vital, protection sometimes looks more like taking a step back or standing our ground rather than plowing forward. Growing with parenting creates a picture of two people walking alongside one another as a team or a unit. The humility a parents shows to say, ‘I will not barrel ahead of you, instead I will walk with you and be with you in the present moment.’ This act of presence and growing with, may likely strengthen the bond between parent and child and do so in a healthier and mutual way.
Just as God watches over us, God’s children, we must equip, empower and support our parents in watching over and walking beside their children too. When Evie Mae first learned to walk each stumble and fall propelled her forward, setting her up for future success in the form of resilience and persistence. Each of the potential challenges, heart breaks and difficult journeys that she may now face propels her forward to thrive as an adult.
The instinct I felt to stay still before I went to check on her is the same instinct I must draw upon in different seasons, she and I will just be facing different issues. There is a mutual growth that happens in parents and it continues and shifts in the ever changing adolescent years. As parents seek to maintain their relationships. As youth ministers, may we remind our parents that as the upper halves of their bodies begin to react…may they listen more to the lower half that says, “Stay put. I am going to give my child a second.” And in this humility to know that we are not God and cannot save our students from every possible failure, we may find ourselves growing closer in our trust of God and in relationship with our student.
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