For mature, healthy kids, stop “carrying pillows”

If there was ever a job at which I wanted to be perfect, it was mothering. Unfortunately, the Schrocklets Four did not come with instruction manuals, how-to guides, YouTube tutorials, or warning labels.

“Buyer, beware! Occupants of these Pampers may hose down immediate vicinity during diaper change. Speed is advised.” That would’ve been helpful, but as it turned out, I learned that one real quick and on the fly.

In my 34-year career, what I’ve learned could fill an encyclopedia. What I’ve yet to learn could likely fill two more. Some of the best lessons have come through my mistakes, and today I want to pass one of the big ones on to you. Here it is.

Do not spare your children from the consequences of their actions. I call it “carrying pillows.” Eager to save our kids from pain, suffering, and setbacks, we rush to slide fluffy pillows beneath their faltering buns. I know how it works because I used to be an Olympic-grade pillow carrier myself.

For example, if they slept through an alarm or refused to get up at the first call, I’d give second, third, and fourth chances. With each attempt, my blood pressure would creep higher and higher until it was flirting with the red zone. Instead of allowing them to explain a tardy to the principal, I’d rescue them. It wasn’t helpful.

I have far more clarity now than I did in those early years. Looking back, I see that in attempting to save them, I hindered them. By sparing them from natural consequences, I kept them from learning important life lessons. It merely delayed that learning, kicking the can down the road where the consequences only got bigger.

Over time, I began to see that my insistence on protecting and managing was an unhealthy form of control, and that control was driven by fear. Fear-based control of human beings, no matter who they are, is an inhibitor of relationships. It is the hands around the neck of the other, suffocating and strangling the flow of love and connection.

The instinctive reaction to such grasping control is resistance, a stiffening and pushing away from the source. This is a natural response. When I finally realized what I was doing, I repented; I changed my mind, asked their forgiveness and began practicing a new way.

It was a golden opportunity for me to face the fears that were driving me, for those were mine to own and no one else’s. As I began to relax and release the fear, my relationships improved significantly. Now I was operating from a place of inner peace, and they could feel it. It allowed them to relax, too, and enjoy their mother.

Recently I wrote an essay called “Weighting and waiting.” In it, I mentioned a weightlifting term called time under tension (TUT). It is the amount of time a muscle or muscle group is activated during a set. Increasing the time under tension can promote muscle growth. You cannot grow muscles and increase strength without it.

The same is true of character, and that includes our kids. If we want them to be people of integrity and maturity, we must allow them to go through hard things and to learn from their own mistakes. If we insist on snowplowing the roads of life for them, we will produce weak, self-centered, immature adults. The consequences of that are sobering and long reaching.

As with nearly everything in life, there are two ditches. One is the authoritarian model of parenting that is punitive and harsh, giving children no voice. The other is wholly permissive with few, if any, rules or guidelines. The children are placed on pedestals, anointed as kings and queens, de facto rulers of the family. When the real world comes calling much later, it is a cruel surprise to learn that the only pedestal was in your childhood home, and you aren’t the ruler out there.

Always, the goal is to shoot down the middle, finding a healthy balance. When we as parents are self-controlled and temperate first, we will be equipped to parent from a place of wisdom and peace, guiding our children successfully to adulthood. As we can never ask our children to be and do things we are not and won’t do, we must first govern ourselves well.

In our family, we have experienced the many blessings of this kind of parenting. As we saw our own mistakes and failures that impaired our relationships, we learned to admit them, humbly asking forgiveness. Then we taught them a better way, explaining what we were learning, then practicing until the ‘better way’ became the natural.

Gratefully, all of our sons reach out to us frequently, seeking our wisdom. They love returning home. They now have the maturity to offer prayers and support for their father and I instead of being only the recipients, and they are a blessing to the world around them.

If you know you’ve failed, don’t despair. Simply admit it and begin to practice that better way. Over time, if you are faithful, it will bear fruit.

May God bless you, your families, and this country that we love.

Every Saturday morning on 77 WABC, America’s small, caffeinated mom joins James Golden, aka Bo Snerdley, to discuss the topic of the week. They’d love to have you listen in.

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