Advocating for Your Child: Guidelines for Would-Be Helicopter Parents
One of the most amusing and frustrating stereotypes in parenting circles is the “helicopter parent.” Most of us have experienced the phenomenon, and if we’re honest, we’ve probably been guilty of it ourselves. Who among us hasn’t watched with a barely-suppressed smirk as the overprotective mother at the playground douses her child’s hands with industrial grade hand sanitizer every five minutes? We may have bitten our tongue while a well-meaning friend throws herself into the messy vortex of middle school drama because she is certain her daughter has been grievously wronged. And we might have heard a dad confess that he “edited” his son’s college admissions essay, knowing that the college-bound teen probably has little idea what the essay he submitted actually says.
Or, just maybe, we’ve been that parent.
No one wants to be known as a helicopter parent. But before we judge, we should remember that there are a couple of things that are almost universally true about raising kids: 1) we as parents feel a tremendous burden to “get it right” when it comes to our own kids, and 2) few things in life have the ability to derail us as quickly as our child’s problem, whether real or perceived. Most of us do not respond with complete calm and circumspection when we feel our child has been wronged. And we reason that if we can somehow fix it, we should. At the very least, we should let someone know how we feel.
This approach doesn’t always work out well, though. Our attempts to micromanage our kids’ lives frequently create more problems than they solve. For example, if we are always taking care of every minute detail of our daughter’s schedule, can we really be surprised when she gets to college and finds herself completely overwhelmed because she lacks time management skills? Or if we are always the “squeaky wheel” at their school, shouldn’t we expect that after a time, our concerns are increasingly dismissed? After all, the boy who cried wolf should have taught us an important lesson.
Advocating for our kids is a tricky subject for many parents because situations are not always completely cut and dried. Some of us can find ourselves at times at the opposite end of the spectrum from the helicopter parent: we might be hesitant to get involved in a situation in which our child needs the support and authority that we as parents can provide.
The Bible doesn’t say much about how to advocate for our children, but it does give us a compelling example of the one who advocates for us: Jesus Christ. By applying Jesus’ example to our role as parents, we can see more clearly when and how we should step in to provide the defense of and encouragement to our kids they need.
Our children need us to advocate for them when the stakes are particularly high.
Scripture makes it clear that Jesus’ work on our behalf continues past his sacrificial death for our sins. Romans 8:34 (NIV) says, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us.” One might wonder why Jesus would need to defend those for whom his willingness to die and his obedience to his Father had already resulted in salvation. The answer, quite simply, is sin: although Jesus’ redeeming work is done, we continue to sin and to feel the effects of our own sin and that of others. The effects of sin are profound; the stakes are high. So Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, continues to make our case for righteousness before the Father.
Likewise, we as parents should be prepared to do the same for our children when the stakes are high. Clearly, our kid’s health and safety demand a vigorous response. But there are times when the line between what is necessary and what is overkill is difficult to interpret. It helps to remember that we cannot protect our kids from every situation, nor should we want to. We must always remember that as Christians, we will face trials, but we should keep in mind that persevering through trials will ultimately produce the hopeful character and unshakeable faith of the mature believer.
When determining if the stakes warrant our involvement, we should also be careful that we are not replacing what God wants for our children with what we as parents want. We all have dreams and expectations for our kids, but the sooner we recognize the divide between God’s will and our own, the easier it will become to release our ironclad grip on our children’s lives. It might be as simple as asking, “God, is this important to you, or is it only important to me?” The answer we receive might prompt us to back off when that’s not our natural instinct, or it could give us the courage to step out and go to battle for our child if the stakes are high enough in God’s eyes.
Our children need us to advocate for them when our willingness to do so demonstrates a love they desperately need to see.
When I imagine Jesus Christ sitting beside the Father and defending my own wretched sinfulness, I have to admit to a feeling of shame. And then I remember that it is Jesus’ great love for me (and for all sinners) that makes this very action possible. How comforting and inspiring to know that our Savior doesn’t abandon us in our sinfulness! Indeed, even at his weakest moment, his body wracked with unimaginable pain, Jesus loved even those who hated him and pled for them before his Father. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV) Such love is almost unimaginable to us, but how reassuring it is!
Likewise, there are times when our children simply need to see the depth of our love for them. It’s important to note here that advocating like Jesus does not mean excusing or rationalizing sin. Jesus’ defense of us is never a defense of sin. In the same way, our kids should understand that while we may defend them, we are not necessarily condoning their actions or reducing the importance of the lesson that needs to be learned. We are simply letting them know that our love for them can never be diminished by their mistakes. In extending grace to our child, we model the love Jesus Christ has for each one of us.
With Jesus Christ as our guide, we can better determine when and how to do stand up for our kids. We can assure them that we have their back when the stakes are high. Most importantly, we can demonstrate that our love for them is always greater than the magnitude of their mistakes.