Our Kids Don’t Win When We Fight their Battles for Them
It was 4thand 10 with just barely a minute left on the clock. The other team would have to punt, which essentially sealed a win for our JV team. Not just any win, but a win against one of our in-town rivals, the same school whose varsity had beaten ours a few nights before. It was a sweet revenge the players on our sideline began to celebrate.
And that’s when everything changed.
The players on the side are supposed to stay behind a gray line, which is a few feet back from the field of play. But in all the excitement and jumping around, my older son (a varsity player just watching the game from the sidelines) got pushed from behind over the gray line. At the same time the ref who had been running with the play knocked into my son and fell over. Had one of our coaches not jumped out of the way the ref would’ve hit the coach instead of my son. But as it was, the ref threw out a penalty for sideline interference and instead of the ball coming into our team’s possession, he called an automatic first down within ten yards of their endzone.
You can guess what happened.
Our boys were devastated. But nobody more upset than my senior son. He blamed himself entirely for the loss. Never mind that throughout the game missed catches and other mistakes kept the score too close, or the fact he was pushed. All he could see was that the penalty was on him.
After the game, my senior stood with us along the fence while we waited for the coaches to finish talking to the JV team. He was beating himself up, afraid the coaches might replace him as a varsity starter for the infraction. Knowing his tendency to feel like a failure, I worried how the false narrative playing in his head would affect him mentally, especially if the coaches punished or shamed him in any way. Everything in me wanted to talk to the coaches myself. I wanted to set the record straight to make sure they knew what really happened so my son would be cleared of blame.
As parents this our temptation, isn’t it? We want to fight their battles for them, to run over all adversity, to rescue, and control. Too often this is exactly what we do.
But when we step in, we deny our kids the opportunity to think, act, and grow. Instead of leading them to be more independent so they are ready to tackle the world without us, we clip their wings, making them more dependent. Is it any wonder this generation of kids are called soft? Or, they are falling apart at college, unable to navigate “adulting?”
In our eagerness to “help,” we actually harm them. This is hard to digest. Equally as hard is not jumping in when everything in us wants to lash out (there is a reason for the term “Mama Bear”). Believe me, many times I’ve had to talk myself off the ledge of interceding on one of my kids’ behalf. But in the midst of these internal debates I’ve had to ask myself, Why? Why do I have to go explain my point of view to the coaches? Why do I have to make sure my son is absolved? Why can’t I let it just work itself out, even if it seems unfair?
After honest assessment of my heart, there seem to be two motivations behind my Why.
- Fear over how others will view him, and me.
I don’t want him blamed as the one who cost the game for the team. It’s a classic case of tying identity and worth to performance. Good or bad, we see our actions – or those of our kids – as indicators of how good or bad we are. Instead of resting in a worth bound up in Christ, the temptation for me then is to try to control how others view me and my child.
- Fear over the emotional and spiritual toll it will take on us both.
If others believe he is the reason our team lost, he will be depressed, and I’ll be worried. This may in fact be true, but is God not in this situation with us? My problem is I struggle to trust him to accomplish his good will in the hard circumstances. So I step in, trying to keep out the bad, as if I know better than God.
Too many times in parenting teens, I’ve been faced with my idol of control. But the more I see my underlying motive, the more I know I am needy and fully dependent on God, even for his help to trust him in all things. I need his wisdom to discern between when I might need to advocate for my child versus inserting myself when I shouldn’t. I need his grace to help my child learn to speak and act for himself, and to process what’s going on his heart.
That night as we stood by the fence waiting for the coaches to release the JV players, I wanted to say something to the coaches. At the same time, I knew that even if my boy was misunderstood or stood accused, God saw him and would not leave him alone in it. Nor would he leave me. So, I just stood there silently praying for my son with his head hung low. That’s when he turned to my husband and me. He said he needed to go talk to the coaches and then walked off toward the locker room.
My husband and I went on home, but with every ticking minute, not knowing what was transpiring or how my son was feeling, my heart grew more anxious. Just when I was ready to send my husband out for him (can you say control?), my son walked through the back door with a smile. It was taken care of—and I wasn’t needed.
Oh Lord, we of little faith, help us to trust you with our kids. Give us the grace to allow them to experience adversity, to fight their battles, and even wrestle with your ways. Help us to see our idol of control for the sin it is and let it lead us to live in more dependence on you.
For more on the idol of control in parenting, check out What’s Driving Our Lawnmower Parenting?