Back before I had kids, two friends and I met up early every Saturday morning to play golf. That is a distant memory, but what I still vividly recall is what it felt like to stand on that number one tee box. No matter how atrocious my game (I can assure you, it was bad, and time and lack of play have not been kind), every new Saturday on number one- the smell of freshly mowed, slightly damp grass, the sun’s rising warmth on my skin-was a new beginning, a fresh start, an opportunity that perhaps this would be the day when it would all coalesce into the perfect game.
Shockingly, that never happened. But, that vivid reminder of new beginnings comes to my mind at the start of every school year. Each new year is a “do-over,” an opportunity to learn from the past, and to do it better this year. And, unlike my golf game, each year I have been at Grace has been better than the last: maybe not always in the way the world defines greatness, but in the transcendent goodness that God brings as we passionately pursue His will for our lives.
The new school year isn’t just a new beginning for kids; it’s a precious opportunity for us, as well. As our kids face a whole new set of victories, challenges, friends, opportunities, and defeats, we also have the chance to grow and mature in our response to those things in their lives.
As I send one to college, and prepare my other two for this year at Grace, may I share my prayer for Ashley, for me, and for every other parent at Grace this year?
I’m praying that we’ll let our kids live their lives. We’ve all heard the expression “helicopter parents:” the ones who hover over their kids, waiting for the second that it looks like they’re going to make a mistake, then swoop down and rescue them from the situation or the person who has so “egregiously” wronged them. Over the past year, I’ve heard two other terms, one not so flattering, and one that I would propose we all consider this year.
The first is the term: “lawnmower parents.” No longer content to hover, this bunch stays closer, roaming the ground, waiting for their child to sniff failure or sadness, before coming in to mow over anything or anyone who gets in their child’s way. Their goal is to pave the way for their child, eliminate obstacles, and guarantee success.
Now, before we jump all over “those folks,” saying, “yeah, I hate people like that,” let’s be honest: don’t we all have more than just a little crazy in our tank when it comes to our kids? If, like me, you’ve ever stepped in and talked to a teacher about a grade, a coach about playing time, another parent about a “friend issue,” or, even worse, talked to someone else about that person, you may have let that two-cycle engine loose in your life. I know I have, and it isn’t pretty.
While it’s definitely motivated out of love and a desire to see our kids succeed (and, if we’re honest, a less-attractive desire to make ourselves look good as parents), it’s not healthy for our kids. A 2011 study by Terri LeMoyne and Tom Buchanan at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, looking at more than 300 students, found that students with “hovering” or “helicopter” parents are more likely to be medicated for anxiety and/or depression. When we hang our hopes, our dreams, and, yes, our identities on our kids, we make them little gods over our lives. They weren’t created to handle that spiritual weight; only God can, and it’s crushing when we put that burden on them.
By letting God be the Lord of our lives, putting our hope, our trust, and our identity in Him, and His provision for us in Jesus Christ, it frees us up to be the third kind of parent, the one I want to pray all of us will be this year: “free-range” parents.
You’ve heard that the best kind of cows and chickens are free-range: given the opportunity to roam, to explore, and make mistakes. I get that our kids aren’t chickens, but you see what I’m saying: if they’re not our little gods, we can turn them loose to try new things that they want to do, not what we over-schedule them for, or what we want them to do. We can let them experience the joy of being a part of a team, working toward a greater goal, rather than manipulating the coach for more playing time because we want to relive our “glory days” through them. We can let them experience failure on a test, or to try something grand and fail epically, because we know that God has control of their lives, and that He has a purpose and plan for them that is so much greater than this grade. And, if they are having a great year with friends, we can call them out to reach out to someone who might not be. If they’re having a bad friend year, we can coach them through that, as well. Letting God be god in our lives frees us up to raise well-adjusted, resilient, confident kids who aren’t afraid to try new things.
As I alluded to last week, nine-tenths of life is God delivering us through hard times, not delivering us from them. If our job is to glorify God in our parenting, to reflect Him, shouldn’t we be doing the same?
Anyway, that’s my prayer. I’m praying it for you, too, whether you like it or not, because I love you and your kids. Let’s play a good round this year.