The Great Paradox of Parenting: Protecting vs Preparing

As single parents, we’re trying to create a stable home life. But when things seem out of control, it can lead us to overprotecting and overcompensating for our kids. Learning to balance what is our responsibility as parents and sheltering too much can be hard. And as they get older, the process of letting go of our responsibility and our kids get even harder. Questions like, “What if my child gets hurt and I’m not around?” or “How can I trust them to make good choices?” Fear can really cause us to overcompensate with a desire to protect.

This is perhaps the greatest paradox of parenting. On the one hand, we as parents are—and need to be—deeply attached to and invested in our children. On the other hand, one of the primary tasks of parenting is to prepare our children to take responsibility for their own lives and let them go so they can become who God created them to be.

So how can we learn how to help our kids gain their own confidence? Single mom, Elizabeth, joins Robert and Kimberley to discuss preparing vs. protecting our kids. As a mom of an 8-year-old boy, Elizabeth said she’s clumsily trying to figure this out. But recently, she gave Jax the freedom of playing basketball down the street from their house with his friends—without her there. Elizabeth explained this was a big deal for both her and Jax. She set rules ahead of time for him to come home after 15-20 minutes and said that if his friends left sooner than that, he had to come home too. Not only did Jax follow the rules, but he came home with a new sense of pride and confidence in being treated like a “big kid” and having some freedom.

Of course, levels of freedom look different for kids at various ages—and maturity levels. Kimberley has two kids ages 21 and 18, and she explained that she’s in a very different season now. When her kids got their driver’s licenses, she obviously wanted to know where they were going, who they were going to be with and when they would be back home. But now that they are young adults, she feels like she’s unable to keep tabs as closely and is praying that she has raised them to make good choices. At the end of the day, Kimberley says, “I just have to give it all to God, and ask myself ‘what do they need me for right now?’” She knows that even now they still need her as their mom.
We’ve all heard of helicopter parents. But how do you know if you are one? Robert shares some examples and how to know if we’re being overprotective and maybe even overbearing, which can prevent our child or children from being able to function on their own.

For parents of toddlers, you might be a helicopter parent if:
You try to prevent every minor fall or avoid age appropriate risks.
You never allow your child/children to play alone.
You think you always have to be there, and they always have to be entertained.

For parents of elementary-age kids, you might be a helicopter parent if:
You choose your child’s friend for them.
You enroll them in activities without their input.
You complete school homework projects for your child because you don’t want it to look bad.

For parents of teens and beyond, you might be a helicopter parent if:
You don’t allow your child to make age-appropriate choices.
You’re overly involved in academic work and extra curriculum activities to shield them from failure and disappointment.
You intervene in disagreements with their friends, co-workers, or employers.

This checklist can help us point out our overprotective tendencies but can also help us remember that we need to allow our kids to make mistakes and take risks. Our kids will only learn how to be successful adults, to have their own voice and set their own boundaries if we give them the space to do so.

Robert has learned first-hand how important it is for our kids to fail and figure things out for themselves. It doesn’t mean that we can’t be there for support and help when they ask. Robert says, “if we’re protecting them too much from their feelings, or from failures we are definitely not preparing them. Because once we’re gone, they’re going to deal with a whole bunch of stuff. I can see in my kids now that there are areas that I wish I would’ve done better. Not in like this is what you should do, but just allowing them to fail.”

So how do we let go? At this point in her life, Kimberley says she has to take it to Jesus—a lot. When our kids are older and we aren’t part of their everyday decisions and lives, prayer and wisdom from God are what can help us get through in trusting that our children will be protected by the One who loves them more than we ever could.

When our kids are younger and we aren’t part of their day-to-day because they are with their other parent, it can be really hard to let go. This is when trust in God’s provision for our kids is essential, while also remembering that we have a responsibility to show up for them in appropriate ways when they are with us. We can remember that when they are with us, younger or older, we aren’t just preparing them for adulthood, we’re also preparing them for the next time they are at their other parent’s home, when they’re at school, when they’re around friends, etc. We can think about it at a macro-level and prepare them for later in life, and also at a micro-level.

Overall, protecting our kids AND preparing our kids are both very important. We have to continually ask ourselves, “Am I parenting from a position of fear or love?” Robert says, “Am I managing this idea from something that I am just afraid of? Maybe there’s an area of it that is just not accurate.” He emphasizes that fear is an emotional reaction and is usually based on something that is future casted and speculation about what could happen – not based on facts.


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