Monday, August 03, 2009

How Much Should You Protect Them?

Years ago I read an article that broke down the roles of mothers and fathers into nice, neat little packages. It said (as best I can quote) that the typical job of a father is to challenge his children to do hard things. Things that stretch them--things that might even be a little bit dangerous--but which get them to grow and learn in the face of difficulty. Then it's the mother's job to tell them to be careful and not do something stupid.

I suppose if you have that balance it's a good system. You have one person in your life urging you to take that risk but then you have someone there to warn of danger and keep you alive long enough to conquer the world.

But I have to say after last week's scare on the river I'm feeling rather spooked. It's hard not to think about how close we came to a full-on tragedy, especially after getting Andrew and Spencer home and hearing their stories over and over (it even made the newspaper and the six o'clock news).

It's an odd feeling--I recognize that life is inherently dangerous and that trying to sterilize my children's experiences only weakens them but still, I look at them and think about what could have happened and it makes me feel rather woozy. There's been a lot of talk among the families of these boys that not only are they glad everyone is safe but that in the end it's been an interesting, even a good, experience for the boys. I agree--but mostly because that's all I can do at this point. What's happened has happened so learning what you can seems to make the most sense.

For example, while it's common for a group of kids to have their differences and for there to be conflicts here and there, after everyone was safe and recovered all those things were forgotten. It's odd to see a group of macho guys who normally try to show how cool they are hugging and showing emotions in front of each other. Even days later it's pretty amazing how close they seem as a group.

The leaders talked with the boys once they were dry, asking if they wanted to continue the campout or if they should go back to town. All the boys agreed that they wanted to stay and a day or so later during a quiet moment at camp Andrew said Spencer was sitting next to him when he suddenly put his arms around him and said, "Dad, I'm really glad you're alive."

I certainly don't want this happening again--in fact, I'm having a hard time thinking about the overnight rock climbing activity they've got planned in a couple of weeks--but I guess there's something to be said for having your teenage son tell you he loves you. Maybe this kind of a thing will help keep him safer and more careful the next time he's on the water, or with a greater respect for life. Maybe it'll keep him closer to his dad. Who knows, but for now, I'm just glad they're both home again.

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illahee said...

you know, my babies are still so young so i can't even imagine. your family had a close call, i am SO glad no one was hurt. can i just send you some cyber hugs and tell you i think you are right, i guess that eventually we have to let them go and take on this world, however dangerous it may be. it's just really tough on us mothers!

i am glad your husband--and son--are alive, too!

InkMom said...

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately . . . although, more in a spiritual sense than a physical one. Ir would argue, though, that sometimes those physically dangerous experiences become the genesis of spiritual growth.

My kids are still small, are still largely experiencing the things that are arranged for them, and only making the choices I deem as safe and appropriate for their age. But eventually, line upon line, they will take on more decision making responsibilities for themselves.

No one wants their kids to choose badly -- to choose heartache instead of happiness. But there is something to be said for learning what it feels like to be without the spirit . . . otherwise, how do you learn that you want it around?

So now I'm trying to figure out exactly what my role is supposed to be. I can't protect them from every bad decision that they make, nor do I want to, but is it okay to hope that they make errors bad enough to help them understand the whole plan, to figure out how repentance works, to learn that it is better to choose the right, to know from their own experience what true sorrow and true joy really fell like. But not bad enough to really screw their lives up for the long term.

Tough question, I think. Good think I'm not parenting teenagers just yet. Four years old is bringing enough conflict for me right now, thanks very much.

Janelle said...

My husband's troop does a caving/rafting/cycling trip every September, so there's lots of room for disaster there.

This Summer, they did a week-long canoeing trip on the French River in Ontario, Canada. At one point, while out exploring my husband, two boys, and a troop dad got lost (their map didn't seem to line up well with the actual lay of the land, so they were disoriented) and ended up meeting five- and six-foot waves in the open water of the Georgian Bay. In canoes. Of course, I didn't find out until after they were back, because there was no way to contact anyone, except in a true emergency situation, and even then, you might be a day or two from help. That made me really nervous when he told me the whole story after the fact.

Janelle said...

(Sorry...I hadn't thought to comment on the story last week when you posted it.)

Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side said...

Oh wow. That's really something. Hold those babies close, but be willing to let them go if God calls you to.

My story didn't have such a happy ending. My brother drowned at summer camp when I was a little girl, and so I live every day knowing that God could choose to take any one of my children at any time. I know you know that too.

I am so happy that your family was protected.

Evie S. said...

I'm glad they are all home too. Connor has been a little more affectionate toward me these last couple of days and that's okay with me.

Heart2Heart said...


Perhaps its in those moments that life once again gets to be appreciated for what it is, precious and not to be taken for granted.

I makes us appreciate the little things in life and what really matters most in our lives. For some people it takes something that big to change them for all the right reasons. Just glad that it all turned out alright!

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Inkling said...

Every time my husband goes out to lead one of his wilderness trips, I pray hard. Even today, as he is scouting out a backpacking trip location, I'm praying for his safety from bears and cougars and whatever else. Though we joke about not being able to wait until our six month old can join him on his trips and that we are looking forward to having him be able to fit into a climbing harness and helmet, I have to admit that when the day comes, I'll want to wrap him in bubble wrap and keep him home.

And just to put you at some ease maybe, climbing, if it is a top rope anchor, is safer than any other outdoor activity. If it's a top rope anchor and the belayer uses his brain, the climber cannot fall more than a couple inches. Even if it's multi-pitch and not a top rope, it is usually a pretty safe activity as long as wisdom and care are taken with each placement of protection and each move. May your guys have a great time.

(My sister-in-law was more interested in us taking out her three young boys on a kayaking trip in the ocean than on a climbing trip. That is, until we explained to her the differences in safety levels. Now I'm pretty sure she just wants us to take them to Chuck-e-Cheese. It's hard, but a mom has to let her sons be adventurers.)

Suburban Correspondent said...

I know that woozy feeling well. But I also know that, if left up to me, my older kids wouldn't have been pushed and challenged enough. I'm glad my husband insisted on doing things with them that I felt too dangerous. Life is not without risks.

But...I still feel woozy.

Pam D said...

I do believe that Scouting is great preparation for life, and the things that the boys learn to do and to overcome will serve them well. They will be better men for it, and even in college, I imagine that they will have a little different attitude than the boys who have never really been challenged. Trusting in God is HARD, but this is where the rubber meets the road. Now, to get the car out of "park" and just do it..

Daisy said...

These stories go down in family history, too. chuck's grandma used to tell about "Uncle John" who drowned in the river after a sledding accident. Chuck was working on his family history research and found news articles about the accident -- 11 teens in the river, only 2 lived. Grandma wasn't kidding!

Heather said...

I hope that this will make him more cautious and more appreciative. Glad they are okay.

MommyTime said...

And, of course, hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to see the positive side of them having taken this risk because in the end, no one was seriously hurt. If the outcome had been different, it might be harder to see the benefits. I am NOT suggesting anyone should have done something differently on this trip, but rather trying to say that these questions do not have concrete or easy answers because the question of context always filters our perception of the danger/learning potential equation.

Terresa said...

What your wrote, "with a greater respect for life" seems to hold true. Seeing what myself and my siblings lived through as teenagers certainly made me pause and gain a greater respect for Mother nature and life. In the letting go we find strength and our children find their own two feet.

Mirien said...

Well said. I know those feelings. My brother-in-law is still in the ICU after a biking accident in the canyon last week. His helmet saved his life. And my heart is in my throat as I watch my kids ride off to school on their bikes.

Janet said...

The Boy Scout trips are a few years off for us, though we have started camping with them. We have discovered though, that our vehicle is just not big enough for camping AND climbing gear.

I really think climbing is safer than rafting, having done both.
When we teach new climbers, we stress the safety factors first. Tie the ropes properly, make sure your belayer has everything set up properly. People do die while rock climbing, but it's typically experienced climbers who just get careless. Check and double check harnesses, clips, figure 8s in the rope, etc. And make them wear helmets. Our kids don't climb very high, so we just use their bike helmets.
We took some friends climbing on Sunday, and we repeatedly had to tell the 10-year-old "no climbing without a rope attached".

In my family we were never challenged physically. Our only responsibility was to make good grades, which fortunately I was able to do. We didn't go on vacations or do anything athletic at all, unless you count my grandfather trying to teach my brother and me to golf. Although come to think of it, the two of us flinging clubs around probably ranked right up there on the "danger Will Robinson" monitor. I don't know if this lack of anything interesting contributed to my low self-esteem, but there certainly wasn't anything available to build my confidence.

My kids have already had more adventures in their short lives than I had by the time I was 30. It's very scary, but you're doing a good thing.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

Fascinating question -- one with profound everyday implications.

I think boys NEED a few experiences like this to prove themselves to themselves. That doesn't make it easy, and by no means do I want them hurt. But I've watched teen boys go through circumstances like this (I think of one Colorado adventure trip in particular) that really helped shaped them into men.

But it's always a tightrope, this launching our small, helpless children into strong, capable adults.