Desire and Hyper-Parenting

Recently David Brooks, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, gave these words, “We may sit around at gyms. We may watch Kim Kardashian. But human beings were born and blessed with moral imagination, a great longing for ideal holy. All human beings. We all have a longing to lead a good life. A life of transcendence. Some people may not have the categories on how to do that, but they do have a sense that the world, the material world, is incomplete and that they want to surpass the world.” This longing shows itself in our helicopter parenting, our workaholism, our must-stay-busy-all-the-time-ism, and the many other roles we play. These next few posts will all be related to the amazing hunger within us for something (or maybe someone) more. First, let’s take a brief look at helicopter parenting.

Helicopter parenting, or “curling parenting” to our neighbors in the north, has grown from concern for a child’s well-being to submitting their resume at college fairs and negotiating their salary with the H.R. department. Surprisingly, many employers are adjusting to the presence of these parents by introducing ways to keep them involved, for example having a “Take Your Parent to Work Day.”

What is unfortunate about all of this is the damage done to both parent and child; it is hard to know who suffers more. In the case of the child, they are never allowed to struggle, which is a problem because researchers have found that hope is a function of struggle. Hopefulness is a skill that is learned, and many learn this as children when their parents didn’t rescue them from difficult and challenging situations. According to C.R. Snyder, a psychologist and researcher in the area of hope, hope involves three steps: 1. Setting realistic goals. 2. Having the ability to achieve goals (even if it takes a few tries). 3. Believing we can do it. The most hopeful people are those who have struggled out from underneath something that was really difficult and challenging. So when we fly in and ‘rescue’ our children from any perceived threat, or when we crush any opposition that stands in our child’s path, know that we are also slowly diminishing their ability to hope.

Parents also suffer from this toxic relational arrangement. A parent who is working so hard for the success of their child will never be satisfied; there is no goal too great for their kid. If their child accomplishes something truly great, it becomes easy to think, “Well if they can do that, they can probably do this.”

Pamela Druckerman wrote the best selling parenting book, “Bringing Up Bebe,” which gives an insightful explanation about the French style of raising children, while also offering a critique to American child rearing. Druckerman offers some helpful advice on this culture of “hyper-parenting.” She suggests, “Don’t just parent for the future, parent for this evening. Your child probably won’t get into the Ivy League or win a sports scholarship. At age 24, he might be back in his childhood bedroom, in debt, after a mediocre college career. Raise him so that, if that happens, it will still have been worth it.” As true and good as this advice is she makes it seem like it is an easy thing. She seems to be missing the bigger problem, which is that as parents there are deep voices in our heads that say if our child fails it is because we failed him or her as a parent.

Our striving to have perfect children comes from the intersection of our desire to be perfect parents and trying to vicariously live through our children’s success. It’s from a place that believes if I am this way or my child is this way then I will have made it. I will have the success that I really wanted, the affirmation, the approval, and then I can relax. But we never get there, and we just keep exhausting ourselves and those around us. In the case of hyper-parenting we will either over discipline our child because they aren’t perfect, or we will crush any obstacle in their way so that they glide through life (but lose hope).

The Christian story is one of a God who sees through our busyness and our attempts to control the destiny of our children and sees the child that he loves. The child (you) who loses their way again and again, and yet, the Father beckons them to come home and find rest. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” This same Jesus, who is God’s only, beloved son, who died so that we can live. The offer of Christianity is to live in Christ and he in us, to become united with God; that is the transcendence that our souls long for, and yet we think we will find it when our child gets on the honor roll. It’s not easy to turn from desires that seem so strong, but God always offers us a hand to guide us through the pain and difficulty of losing a dream that we may be found in Him and He in us.