In our recent Ward Conference, our Bishop and Stake President gave us some straight-forward counsel about parenting. The Bishop talked about “helicopter parents,” those parents who, in trying to shield their children, protect them from consequences that would actually end up teaching them. For example, a helicopter parent might try to convince a teacher to give their son or daughter make-up work at the end of the semester in order to bring their grade up. In this example, the child would actually learn far more about responsibility if they had to suffer the consequences of getting a bad grade. Our Stake President talked to us about how the emphasis of training our children is shifting from outside the home, to inside the home; he talked about how our homes are the new Missionary Training Centers as we continue to have such growth in our missionary force. He emphasized the importance of teaching the “what” AND the “why” of what we do.
The Bishop told us what he expects of young men and young women who want to serve a mission. Again, he encouraged us, as parents, to help our children learn and do certain things for themselves before they reach this age. Here is a partial list of the things he expects of a young woman or young man before he will recommend them for missionary service:
–Have at least $5,000 dollars saved. This isn’t money saved by the parents, grandparents, or friends–this money is supposed to be saved by the prospective missionary themselves.
–Know how to prepare several healthy, balanced meals.
–Know how to do their own laundry.
–Have their own exercise regimen in place so it is a habit and they are healthy and strong.
–Have a testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel.
–Have read the entire Book of Mormon.
He gave a few other things in the list as well, but seriously, isn’t this a great list?? If we, as parents, actually helped prepare our children before their missions in each of these areas, I know our missionaries would be even greater than they already are. The key is, though, it is our job as parents to let them actually learn and grow in these areas, NOT to do it for them.
If we bear our testimony every night to our children, that is wonderful and important, but is that going to actually give them a testimony? No. They have to get that for themselves. If we read the Book of Mormon to them as a family, that is wonderful and important, but is it teaching them to create the habit of reading themselves? No. They need to make that choice on their own. If we save money for our children’s missions, that is wonderful and helpful, but is that going to help them feel truly invested in what they are doing? No. They need to work hard for it themselves. If we shield them from the consequences of each of their mistakes, we may feel we are serving them, but are we really? No. We are actually taking away great lessons of life from them and making them weaker.
Now, as a parent of young children, I have been thinking about this list a lot lately, and about how to not be a “helicopter parent.” It sounds really great in theory, but this morning, I was tested.
Story time: My 7-year-old, Buddy, gets picked up by another mom on Friday
mornings at 8:45 a.m. After doing his morning chores and getting showered and dressed, I reminded him to have his coat and backpack with his homework in it (it’s due every Friday) ready in the front room so he could grab them as soon as this mom drove up–He said he was all ready, and I believed him, so he started to play and dance around with the other kids.
Well, 8:45 rolled around, and she pulled up. I called for Buddy, told him they were here and that he needed to go. Frantically, he ran to his room searching for his backpack (Apparently, he wasn’t as ready as he said he was). Not there. Then, he ran into the mudroom to check. Not there. I told him the carpool was waiting and he needed to go now. He started to cry: He didn’t have his homework to turn in. In that moment, all I wanted to do was promise him that I’d search for his backpack, come to the school later, and turn in the homework. But this recent counsel from our Bishop flashed through my mind, and I didn’t promise him anything. Instead, I told him how sorry I was that he was going to have to miss points on his homework for turning it in late.
I actually called my husband right after Buddy left because I felt awful. I needed some validation that I was doing the right thing. After all, he’s not 8 yet and not accountable. . .Was I being too harsh?
But the reality is, 2nd grade is a much better time to learn this lesson of being prepared and ready to go than it is far in the future when a scholarship or job is on the line. I’m hoping that over time, these little life lessons will sink in.
But I still feel a little guilty. . .
What experiences in parenting have you had like this? What else do you think we can be doing to help prepare our future missionaries?