When helping is really hurting

In the animal world they say that it is detrimental to assist in the hatching of an egg. Veterinarians and animal experts provide a number of reasons as to why the phenomenon of hatching is vital to the long term wellbeing of a new hatchling. Humans should never intervene no matter how difficult and dire the circumstances may seem and encouraging the mother of the species to interfere is equally harmful.

Yesterday I was watching my youngest son at football practice from afar as I usually do. I’ve come to realize that sometimes the best place for me is at a distance where my boys can be allowed the freedom to decide on their own whether or not to be fully engaged or to languish in mediocrity without my constant nagging and oppressing presence. I still give them my input and encourage them to do their best, but ultimately it is up to them.

At the same time I was quietly observing my son, there was a cross-country run taking place at the same location. I hate running but I admire people who participate in distance running because it requires a steady, unwavering discipline and a mastery of the body as well as the mind. Good runners have excellent poise and control over their minds because it is required in order to overcome and endure what is happening to their bodies.

I watched as a large group of what appeared to be 10-12 year old runners take their first lap around the entire length of the large field. Everyone seemed to be doing well. On the second lap, the stronger runners began to ease away from the pack and assert themselves while a group of stragglers began to fall off the pace. By the third lap, I saw the familiar strain on the faces of all the athletes as the leaders made the turn into the final lap. Along the way, the stronger runners had already ‘lapped’ those who had fallen far behind. Some of the stragglers were now walking, the exertion and pain now evident in their body language and the anguish in their labored breaths. Some of them were even walking but I was encouraged by the fact that rather than quitting the race altogether, they were at least finishing the race.

The determination on the face of one runner was exemplary. I could tell that she was struggling badly and she hung her head but I got the sense that she wanted to finish. As she made the final turn I saw her look up then turn her head for a brief moment, then she began shaking her head before putting her chin to her chest.

As she got closer to where I was sitting I could hear her sobbing. I was about to yell some words of encouragement to this total stranger who was bound to think that I was a random lunatic jeering her poor performance when I heard her say, “Leave me alone mom!”

Startled I looked up to see who she was addressing and noticed for the first time an older lady running towards her.

“C’mon! You can do it! I know you can. C’mon! Pick up those feet you’re almost there!” I heard the woman say to the girl.

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me. Let me do this on my own!” As those words left the young girls lips she found the strength to pick up the pace and put distance between her and the woman whom I assumed to be her mother.

I’m not sure how that story ends – but it gave me a moment to reflect on my own habitual badgering of my sons to be stronger, run faster, and think harder and so on and so forth. I wonder sometimes if, like that chick trying to escape from the confines of its shell, that if by doing more for my sons am I really helping them or am I hurting them more? Should I be allowing them more opportunities for growth, allow them the ability to shine on their own and resolve their own conflicts? Should I intervene every time I think something is too difficult or when something or someone is going to hurt them?

It’s human nature – we don’t like to see the people we love get hurt or sit by and watch them make bad decisions. But I believe there are times and situations when it is necessary to take a step back and allow our kids the chance to learn from their mistakes. I will always be available to support and encourage them but we can’t always know what is best for them which also means that sometimes you’re going to learn together.

In my life I have known and lived this truth – adversity makes us stronger. I don’t want to hurt my sons by taking away learning opportunities because as a parent, when we try to make it easier for them, doesn’t it seem like we’re really only trying to make it easier on us.

What do you think?

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