Home Education Magazine
November-December 2001 - Articles and Columns
In Defense of Protectiveness - Christina Hendrick Croft
It was Monday evening, and I was enjoying those few grown-up hours between the kids' bedtime and my own. Thinking I might check the week's weather, I turned on the local news and started to file my nails. Minutes later, I could feel my heart drop as I listened to yet another story of a shooting - this one in a nearby McDonald's. It was while watching the details of this tragic event - police lights flashing, survivors crying, and sketches of the gunmen - that I was startled by a small familiar voice. Looking down the hall, I saw four-year-old Mark standing in the doorway of his bedroom.
"Change the channel, Mommy," he whispered. "It's an old one."
An old one, I thought as I ushered him back to his bed. A re-run, a repeat. I tried not to cry, feeling I'd let him down for not protecting him from such horrible images.
One of the most frequent accusations directed at homeschooling parents is that we are over-protective, trying to shield our children from the realities of life. We are often warned of the dangers of sending a child into the world with minimal exposure to it, in spite of the fact that most of our children are exposed to the world, just in a different sequence. People respond to cautious homeschool parents as if they are neglectful or simply bad parents: "They're just homeschooling because they're too protective."
When did protecting our young get such a bad rap? Being protective almost always carries the connotation of being neurotic and nervous parents, too frightened to ever let our children be a part of the real world. Yet in the same breath with which critics lament the perils of over-protective parenting, they raise concerns about the danger and violence present in our children's daily lives. Abuse, molestation, rape, neglect, gun violence, automobile accidents, absent parents, death, illness, and heartache - rare as they may be, these are all parts of the world in which our children are expected to exist. We want our children to be happy and carefree, even as they navigate their way through a world in which random shootings are old news, a re-run.
It's enough to make me re-think my opinion about how protective a parent I want to be. Formerly, I too saw protective parents as setting their children up for an incredible culture shock. Before Mark was born, I smugly and freely commented to friends about the way my dad and his wife were raising my young, home-educated brother. They couldn't protect him forever and when he finally learned of all the broad realities out there, nothing in his sheltered upbringing would have prepared him to assimilate those new ideas, or so I thought.
Even recently, I've been guilty of the assumption that my parents simply don't want my brother exposed to beliefs other than their own. Several months ago on a trip to Epcot, my father asked me if the dinosaur ride was still around. Knowing of their religious beliefs, I reminded him that the ride discusses evolution and the big bang theory, and is hosted by an open lesbian. My dad laughed, saying, "The big bang and evolution theories hosted by a lesbian? Let's go!" When I asked about how my brother would handle these ideas, my father reassured me: "He knows about other theories and lifestyles because we tell him. We just also tell him what we believe about them." Now I better understand how protection works, and why.
Protective parenting doesn't mean you fully shelter your children from all ideas and images that are frightening, unsettling, or that contradict your family's views. It means you protect your children from harmful ideas until they are ready for them, and then you help your children develop a context within which to place these ideas. It isn't unfamiliar, violent, or conflicting images and values that are unsettling to our children; it is not knowing how to process those images, and not knowing how those values fit in with your own.
My feelings of failure over exposing my son (apparently more than once) to the idea of a random restaurant shooting were short-lived, as I soon found the value of the experience. That night, as I was settling Mark back into bed, he asked me why any man would want to shoot somebody. I explained that some people are sad and angry and never learned how to handle those kinds of feelings. Some people, I continued, are just really sick and need to get help to learn better ways of thinking and behaving. He asked what happened to the people that got shot. We discussed how hospitals and ambulances help people who have been hurt, and revisited our discussion (raised earlier by the death of a pet hamster) about what happens when someone dies. Kissing me goodnight, Mark seemed content with our discussion and my answers, and snuggled comfortably into his bed.
I may not always protect my children as well as I should. Like most parents, if I could completely protect my children from any pain they might ever experience, I would. If I could kiss them once - a magic kiss - and be assured that they would never experience pain, tragedy, heartache, or misleading ideas, then it would be a terribly tempting way out of the protective and instructive role I naturally hold as their parent. It is a parent's responsibility to protect their children to some degree, and I'm learning to resist the urge to downplay (out of embarrassment) the level of protection I provide my children. I'm learning to be proud of the level of support and shelter I am able to give my little ones, and I'm thankful for the unique opportunities homeschooling offers to expose my children to diverse concepts in ways they can handle.
(c) 2001 Christy Croft
November-December 2001 - Articles and Columns
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