When is Helping Hurting?

A few years ago, my daughter would look at me with a twinkle in her eye and an adorable, slightly crooked smile on her face. I knew that look, and what was to follow. “Mom, because you’re such a kind, loving mom, will you…?” Then she’d bat her eyes and try to weasel an act of service out of me. As a parent, I must continually ask myself: What is best, long-term, for our daughter? When is helping an act of love and when does actually cause harm?

Our daughter’s behavior lasted but a blip because I’d always respond, “Honey, I love you too much for that. I want to train you to have a servant’s attitude, not a serve-me attitude. I want you to be responsible and confident, not dependent and insecure.”

In my opinion, helping hurts when it prevents growth or perpetuates faulty thinking.

About ten years ago I read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. In the book, one of the authors share a story of visiting a friend. While there, this friend picks up her teenage son’s room. Watching this, the author says he feels sorry for the young man’s future wife. Basically, he pointed out that although the mother thought she was helping, her assuming responsibility for her son would actually hurt him in the long run by creating patterns of behavior that would affect future relationships.

I wrote a story about this very thing on Samie Sisters, a tween E-zine. You can read it here. Through the story, I explore the habits formed during chores, habits that will carry into your child’s adult years. Although I didn’t mention it in the article, I also believe chores go a long way towards strengthening your child’s confidence. Each time we assign a task, then allow our child to complete it without jumping in, we are in effect saying, “I have full confidence in your ability to do this.” Each time we rescue them, perhaps because they throw a fit, get overwhelmed, or don’t do it how we’d like, we say, “I don’t believe you can do this.”

Everything we do, intentionally or unintentionally, forms habits, positive or negative. Our actions always make a statement. Multiply these unspoken statements over the course of 18 years, and you can see this is a big deal.

I adore my daughter. If given the chance, I’d shelter her from every trial and shower her with blessings, but as a mom, my love for her must override my desire for her pleasure. I need to parent from a long-term perspective, always evaluating attitudes and behaviors (I tend to place more emphasis on attitudes, because I believe attitude precedes behavior), in terms of our long-term parenting goals. We all want our children to be compassionate, responsible, dedicated, etc. The trick is helping them develop those character traits. I believe character traits are learned through consistent action.

Okay, so we all want these things for our children, and we love them deeply, but often we’re not sure how to go from desire to game-plan. (Forming a game plan, with your spouse, is essential because otherwise you’ll have a tendency to parent on emotion and the present, not based on forethought, education, prayer, and long-term goals.)

For me, one verse sums it up and ties it all together: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)

Notice truth and love must always go hand-in-hand. And what is the goal? Maturity.

Take a moment to prayerfully evaluate your parenting in light of your child’s adulthood and Ephesians 4:15. Make a list of character traits, habits, and attitudes you’d like your child to develop, then review your parenting in light of that. Are you and your spouse moving your child toward those goals or away from them? And what can you do, starting today, to help train the future adult in your child?

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