by Guest Blogger Tyler Jacobson
Whenever people ask me what it is like being a parent, I tell them that I didn’t know what love was until I adopted my first child. It was like my eyes were opened for the first time. I saw the beauty of the world, the promise of the future. I also saw the horror, the pain, the suffering. All of the dangers that could impact this boy my wife and I had brought into our home were suddenly all too real.
I will fully admit that with my first two children I was a helicopter parent. I will also say that with my second two I learned my lesson and have since come to understand that all those dangers I dreaded as I held my first son in my arms were a necessary part of he and my other children and him learning to stand on their own two feet.
That doesn’t mean that I hand my children knives and tell them to go juggle them out in the middle of the street. But it gave me an appreciation for the fine line we have to find as parents between good boundaries and overreaction.
Perhaps none of my children taught me that lesson more clearly than that first son.
Dealing With Disconnection
We adopted my son when he was six years old. Going into this, my wife and I knew that he had struggled with some emotional issues and behavioral problems stemming from early childhood trauma and neglect. Both of us agreed that we were ready for anything that life threw at us, as long as we could finally give him the home and family he had always deserved.
By the time he was eight we had an official diagnosis and already we had struggled a great deal with his tantrums, aversion to affection, deceptions, anger and general disobedience. He was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and with that title we were finally able to begin really establishing boundaries, consequences and a regimen of firm but genuine love that would help him to overcome many of his difficulties.
Because of these early experiences with our son, my wife and I became a little hypervigilant in our parenting. I was especially guilty of that and when our daughter was born around the same time, I let that overcorrection carry on to how I interacted with her. I was a full blown helicopter parent and more than a little annoying.
My wife was the one who finally sat me down a few years later and told me I needed to calm myself down. Our kids were not learning to stand on their own two feet, to do things for themselves. What would they do when they went into the world and were unprepared? How would they learn if I did everything on their behalf in a desperate attempt to keep them from feeling the sting of failure, or the pain of regret?
She was right. I made a conscious effort to sit back and let me kids experience the world, good and bad, for themselves. I kissed tear stained cheeks and put bandaids on skinned knees. I kept my panic at bay when my daughter fell off her bike and fractured her arm, kept my cool when I found out my son had been lying about studying for a math test.
When my other two children came along, I was better prepared. More than that, I was at ease. I no longer felt sick every time they went out the door to play at the neighbors’. I didn’t try to stop my son from spending long days out with his friends. I didn’t stop my daughter from exploring the neighborhood.
Letting Go and Letting Them Live
Some people reading this will recognize themselves in the narrative. It is easy to become overwhelmed with what could potentially happen out there. But the truth is that we are safer than we have ever been before at any point in history.
Perhaps the best thing you can do for your children is to step back and let them fail. Don’t frantically try and help them complete a science project the day before it is due because they forgot to tell you weeks before. Don’t stop them from riding their bike down that hill (though make sure they have a helmet on when they do). Don’t constantly ply them with Purell and spray Lysol all over your home.
Life is full of risks and dangers. But the way we thrive as human beings is by learning early on how to protect ourselves from them. The way we grow is by being ready and willing to face challenges head on. If you keep your children from either, you will be doing them a disservice.
So that is the line I had to learn as a parent. I will always be there to stand up for my kids. I will always be around for them to come to in times of need. But I won’t hover and I won’t hold them back. Even if inside of me there is a nagging voice telling me to pull on the leash. That voice doesn’t help them and it certainly doesn’t help me.
Tyler Jacobson is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled teen boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on: modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now. Follow Tyler on: Twitter | Linkedin