Protect vs Teach
Protect: As a father of two girls 3 years apart, I want to protect them from everything big and small. Sure, I don’t want them to climb on the monkey bars, ride their bikes, sail on their scooter blade, or jump off the truck. My heart starts to race, and the fear begins to grow as I anticipate the fall from the things I listed above and the screams that are sure to soon follow. DAAAAADDDY!!!!! I cringe just thinking about it. The “what ifs” start to rear themselves…what if she breaks this or what if she breaks that. The thoughts just race through my mind. So before any of that occurs, I vocalize the only word I can muster…NO!
As I reflect on the first few years of my time with my daughters, I realize that our moments are tied together by a series of NOs. Then I tell myself, “I am being a protective father and taking care of my children!”. That is what I tell myself to get through the day. Further, I tell myself a good father protects his children from hurting themselves. I don’t want my little princess’ to feel any pain or get their feelings hurt.
There have been so many times when I begin the pattern of “No..fill in your situation of choice” and immediately after I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is not right. That nagging feeling comes from a question that was posed to me in my childhood that embedded itself deep into my psyche, so deeply that it changed my life the moment I heard it.
When I was about 13 or 14 years old my parents didn’t allow me to do much as far as hanging out with my friends outside the boundaries of our property. It is safe to say that my parents were strict. One day I was hanging out at the border of the property (because we push the limits at that age) when my neighbor (he was 17 or 18 and I looked up to him) came up to me and asked if I wanted to walk to the corner store to go buy something. A little context would be helpful here, I lived in a neighborhood surrounded by bars and all that those establishments bring as far as the type of people. The neighborhood was suspect at best so it is understandable that my parents would be cautious but nevertheless I was a teenager I knew what was best for me. Back to the question my neighbor posed, I told him that I couldn’t go because my parents would not allow it. The next words out of his mouth changed my life forever and has a strong influence on how I want to raise my girls to this day.
He said, “How are you supposed to learn about the world if you are not allowed to live in it?”.
This question floored me, and I didn’t know what to do so I confronted my parents with this question and I got the typical “you do what I tell you”.
From that moment on, I took it upon myself to push past the boundaries my parents had set. I would sneak out at night, go to Mexico (as in the country), took my parents car, insert dangerous activities for a teenager, etc… In my mind, I was living in the world and learning despite my parents strictness. So I learned to be street smart and those lessons I learned guide me to this day.
Teach: That nagging feeling I get as I attempt to block my girls from putting themselves in any situation that could cause them harm goes back to that day and that question. Should I allow them to fall, after all experience is a great teacher. Should I step back as a father and observe? Is that being a good father? Does this affect how my wife sees me as a father? The questions are racing with the answers far behind. Within the past year I have started the transition from protective, ok over protective, to teacher.
Once I started the transition I noticed a change in my oldest’s behavior. She began to grow and gain confidence in me and our relationship. She responded to my guidance in a way I had never experienced before. Of course there are setbacks but I look at them as more opportunities to be the father I want to be in her eyes.
To this day, I struggle with the need to protect vs the need to teach. After all, am I not suppose to give my girls the tools they need to be successful in this world? How can I do that if I block their every attempt at pushing the limits my wife and I have set for them?
I will summarize this post with the following. I am still refining my strategy for raising my girls but as of the time of this post here is where I stand. I believe I need to protect my girls by teaching them to protect themselves. I have 18 years, if I am lucky, to witness as many failures as possible so I can be there to give them guidance and put on my teaching hat. I am of the mindset to allow them to make as many mistakes now so I can have the opportunity to build trust, give them advise, teach alternatives, and help them grow. I want them to “learn about the world” but still have me as resource that they can depend on for advice to help them through those tough situations that they will inevitably experience. I know their independence will grow as they get older so I am focused on identifying every possible situation where I can provide them with guidance. Learn now so they are as prepared as possible for the time without mommy and daddy. On the topic of boys, well…that is a topic for another post!