I love this photograph.
It’s an oldie but goodie, taken ten years ago of my oldest daughter and me.
To me it is the epitome of what parenting actually is: Standing behind your child, focusing on them, while remaining somewhat in the background.
Too many times in society, I see parents standing in front of their child, protecting them from everything: experiences, consequences, and life in general.
You have the overprotective parents who are constantly on guard to prevent anything bad from ever happening to their children. Not only are they insulated from kidnappers and dangerous situations, but they are sheltered from discomfort, or hard work, or pain of any sort, or tribulations.
The problem is when that happens, there’s so much interference that nothing good can happen to these children either. It’s hard to know the sweet when you haven’t tasted the bitter, joy when you haven’t experienced sadness. Then, when these emotionally swaddled individuals grow up they have no capacity for discomfort or pain, no stamina for trials. Like overly-protected garden plants, after the first storms of life pass over, these crippled adults lie crushed on the floor, unproductive and unable to reach their potential.
Or, you have the parents that let their kids run wild, but when there are repercussions to their unrestrained actions, the parents jump in, shielding their offspring from the consequences. I see this on the news all the time. A first grader goes wild, destroying school property and hurting other students and you hear the parent saying in an interview, “Can you believe they put my six year old in restraints? I’m suing!” Well, yes, I can believe they restrained your kid because he caused thousands of dollars worth of damages and made other children bleed. Wild animals belong behind bars.
These parents aren’t really interested in protecting their children, they’re concerned with protecting themselves. If the situation is always someone else’s fault, then there is no reason to change their parenting or become more involved or pay for the consequences.
But even worse than the parents who stand in the way of their children, obscuring their path, are the ones who are completely absent from the picture altogether.
Right now I’m reading a fabulous book called Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. Set during the 1980’s, it’s a book about teenagers and love and finding a place to fit in. In a small way it reminds me of Bridge to Terabithia: There’s a sensitive, sweet boy doing his best to fit in among the lackluster crowd, and a creative, far from normal girl, who prevents this.
However, Eleanor and Park also contains a mother who is constantly choosing an abusive spouse over her children. And reading this hurts me, because I can’t stop being a parent even when losing myself in a good book.
All children, even fictitious ones, deserve parents who stand behind their kid and protect them from the truly evil things in life.
So back to the photograph:
I suspect I love this picture, not only for the bald-headed cuteness that is my daughter, but because it reminds me to let my children experience their own failures, defeats, heartbreaks, and consequences, while supporting them from behind the scenes with so much love, it shines through my eyes.
What are your thoughts, Gentle Reader?