The book Saving Childhood poses this important question:
Are we preserving or preparing our children?
Are we preserving children or are we preparing adults?
I see a lot of “tiny adults” running around these days.
Children who have been taught to view the world as a cruel, dark, and menacing place.
Maybe the parents thought they were preparing, but instead they ended up squashing their children’s natural innocence, security, and optimism.
Every now and then someone will accuse homeschoolers of being too protective.
“Do you want your kids to live in a bubble?”
“They must be socialized!”
“Sooner or later they’re going to find out how the real world works.”
There’s a lot of voices out there wanting to raise my kids for me.
But no one else is going to protect their childhood like I am.
As their mother, I consider myself the guardian of my kids’ childlikeness.
Everywhere I see parents rushing their kids to grow up.
This isn’t always a bad thing…until it goes too far.
To use manners, to eat like an adult, walk and talk like an adult, play sports, attend classes, take on the workload and stress level of an adult.
I just want my kids to be kids for a while.
I want them to have a magical childhood – one they remember for a lifetime.
(No, that doesn’t just mean trips to Disney world.)
That means learning to see the beauty in everyday.
Letting them be outside.
Fostering creative play.
Listening to their stories.
Taking them on adventures to trails, creeks, parks, museums.
Reading books with them.
Stargazing with them.
There’s plenty of life lessons to be learned on a hike, for instance.
Endurance, motivation, delayed gratification.
I’m preparing them more than it appears.
But I’m also protecting.
Let Them Be Weird
I have a theory about homeschooled kids. (I am one, by the way.)
When people say “Aren’t you afraid your kids will turn out…weird?”
I answer “Actually that’s exactly what I want!”
The homeschool kids I befriended growing up were a little weird – but it was the best kind of weird!
It was the kind of weird that didn’t conform.
Didn’t care about “keeping up” with their peers.
The kind of weird that marched to the beat of their own drum.
That weren’t afraid to be themselves – to dance in the rain, to quote Shakespeare, or to wear a kilt – because they came from an environment where kids didn’t make fun of each other.
The kind of weird that isn’t trying to “save face.”
The kind of weird that is truly authentic.
The kind of weird that is inside all of us if we let it out to play.
I’m weird. My family is weird. Good weird.
And I want weird kids.
Protecting Childhood Isn’t Hovering
On the other end of the spectrum, some people might think I’m not protective enough of my kids.
I’ve never been much of a “helicopter mom.”
When Josh and I had our first child, we told each other, “Let’s act like he’s our second.”
Meaning, let’s not take this too seriously. Let’s be laid back about it and let him do his thing.
I think kids are clever, ruddy, and can figure a lot of things out themselves.
My kids run, fall, and get very, very dirty.
They play with sticks, talk amongst themselves, and let me know if they need anything or are nervous about something.
Protecting childhood doesn’t mean being over-protective.
It’s the opposite, actually.
Children can be given space.
I think it’s good for them.
Remember the sea turtles in Finding Nemo?
They lovingly let their babies find their own voice, take risks, and learn.
My two boys are naturally pretty clingy to me, so I’m usually the one pushing them to go farther.
I’m their cheerleader.
And let’s be honest, maybe I sometimes look like a helicopter mom because half the time I’m there with them, in the water or the mud.
But I beg to differ.
That’s not hovering because I’m fearful.
That’s participating because it’s fun!
Protecting Childhood Isn’t Go-Go-Go-ing
A major difference between protecting and preparing is our schedule.
While I love taking my kids places, most of our days are pretty laid back.
I believe in simplicity parenting.
We have no formal weekly commitments other than church and our Wild + Free nature group.
They play hard, then they need rest.
I do my best to allow plenty of breathing room in our days and weeks.
Early bedtimes if we were out all day.
A day at home reading and playing if they’re looking at me with those glazed, tired eyes.
Sometimes rainy days at home are great. (Even though I’m a sunshine person!)
Kids can get overwhelmed and overstimulated just like adults.
Most of the time they don’t realize it, either.
They’re probably not going to ask you to cancel tonight’s plans, but if they’re misbehaving or distant, sheer exhaustion might be the reason.
I don’t love screens, but we do use them daily during quiet time.
Sometimes I need a quiet night with a movie to decompress.
My son is the same way.
He loves watching Peanuts cartoons or a PBS show to wind down after an activity while his brother naps.
Not everyone may agree with this, but it works for us.
Learning moderation is often better than avoiding something completely.
Protecting Means Adult Stuff is Limited to Adults
When I was growing up, my parents watched the news on TV every night.
They had no idea, but it really stressed me out.
The nightly news stories brought stress and anxiety to my already fearful little mind.
Fear about things I didn’t even understand.
Fear about things I had no control over.
Robberies, kidnappings, elections, the stock market. (Yes, I got stressed about the stock market before I even knew what those lines and arrows meant!)
It sounds ridiculous, but it wasn’t fun.
Maybe some parents think their kids aren’t watching.
Maybe others think they’re preparing their kids for real life.
I say no. Turn it off.
Check the news when the kids aren’t around.
Protect their childhood.
Money was also stressful for me growing up.
My parents would disagree about money in front of us kids, and it led me to believe that we were one paycheck away from poverty.
Even if we were, it wasn’t my responsibility to fix it.
But I’d pray every night that my dad wouldn’t lose his job.
I’d get upset when we went shopping and spent $100 (which is huge to a five year old) on things I didn’t think were necessary.
I’m all for couples talking about money. Josh and I love doing the budget together.
But let me make a suggestion: don’t talk about money in front of your small children.
There will be plenty of time to talk about money when they are older – when they actually have their own money and are learning to steward it well.
Protecting Means Home Isn’t Stressful
The bottom line is that, as much as possible, home should be a safe place.
Young children have very little agency.
They are told what to do and what to eat.
They trust rather than control anything.
Try to be aware of their trusting, vulnerable position.
Do your best to help them build a strong, safe foundation.
Once you’ve established your home as that safe haven, they will eventually be ready to venture out.
They will find their voice, their gifts, their power, all while knowing they have a safe place to fall.
In the meantime, I won’t rush them.
I won’t run them ragged trying to “prepare” them for a lifetime of running themselves ragged in the rat race.
I want my home to be a safe haven, free from stress and impossible expectations.
I want them to know that they are loved without performing.
Without go-go-go-ing all the time.
Ultimately, I believe that’s how God loves me – and them.
The greatest gift I can give my children is a foundation of love and acceptance to build upon.
The greatest memory I can give my children is a beautiful childhood to cherish.