Why the seventies were the best time to be a kid— these popular “Buzzfeeds” and articles compare the carefree children of a world where moms didn’t worry much to the anxiety-ridden, adventure-stifled children of today— the children of helicopter parents. We’ve all seen these parents (some of us may have even been them) agonizing over all the endless information, over all the details of life so much so that they get in the way of life. Like, sure your kids might have organic sandwiches and BPA free cups but are they having any fun?
And so in reaction to these stress-filled households many people try to turn back time and disregard the barrage of warnings. After all, they say, didn’t we turn out okay?
And I definitely relate to this desire to cut off the blog subscriptions, turn off the radio, and tune out the noisy threats. But, like the very thing this approach tries to avoid, that is a weak answer. Both the tune-out and the helicopter approach say, the knowledge scares and/or overwhelms me. One continues, therefore, I will follow it obsessively wherever it takes me. And the other says, I will ignore it entirely. Neither approach seeks the truth and thus neither approach finds what it is truly best for the family.
As difficult as it can be, we must seek the truth. If I find out from a reliable, scientific source that strawberries have been proven to cause disease then I shouldn’t feed my child strawberries even if I was okay eating them. If I find out that the kids at school are bullying my child I should do something about it even if kids were bullied “all the time” in the 90’s. The saddest part of all of this is that some children didn’t physically or emotionally survive the more ignorant times– it can be tempting for us to forget or ignore their stories and to focus on the happier ones. But we must be honest with ourselves. Circumstantial ignorance may be bliss but chosen ignorance is foolish. We have to accept and seek the knowledge as it evolves even if it demands of us hard decisions and research.
But this knowledge should not lead us to anxiety. We do not have to become helicopter parents. For in addition to stealing the fun, helicopter parenting is irrational. It seeks the impossible. It seeks to achieve total control and assurance. Knowledge often fosters the fallacy that we can hide ourselves and our children from every danger. But knowledge also teaches us that there are always new and unexpected dangers. We cannot control everything and so trying obsessively will necessarily be destructive.
There is a third way. It is the ability to say, I will do everything I can to preserve my child’s happiness or safety short of preserving in a way that hinders or destroys that very happiness or safety, and then I will worry no longer because it does me and my child no good. This way requires prudence and self-control. It requires both a fervent desire for knowledge and a healthy detachment from it. Because at the end of the day, the knowledge is probably only going to increase— as will the dangers. And we are all going to be at least a little afraid. We are all going to be tempted to turn to one of the two extremes in order to avoid such dangers— ignoring them, or obsessing over them. It can be scary to take the third way— scary to admit reality— scary to admit that first, we wish to protect and can protect, but then to realize that we can’t do so entirely. What a terrible position to be in over someone you love!
But there is a happy caveat to the third way. It’s called hope. We can choose to believe that our children are going to be taken care of in the end. We can choose to believe that we are mere instruments in the saga of our children’s lives— not in a flippant way, but in a trusting way. Of course, the third way could be taken as is, without the caveat. But I cannot help but believe the caveat applies. I cannot help but believe that the love which drives me for my child derives from a greater love. And if I believe that that greater love has power over and beyond the dangers I cannot control I can content myself with doing my best. If I have hope then I can watch my child grow in this changing world without fear. And if he doesn’t live in an environment of fear then he can have the adventures, the spontaneity– no matter what the threats may be. We can be a family of hope. But we don’t have to go back to the seventies for that.