Mothers of old burned their children with fire. In those days of large hearths with a continual blaze used to heat the home and cook the food, a tiny child mesmerized by the dancing flames could reach for the beauty and their flowing clothing would quickly catch fire and consume them. To keep their children safe, wise mothers would intentionally burn their tiny hands so they understood early the pain and danger that was ever-present in their home.
Today most moms couldn’t even start a fire in the old way, much less cook over one. Life is so very easy and we’ve become soft. There are no literal fires to burn our children’s fingers, so we convince ourselves that there is no danger.
I would argue that a literal fire is vastly safer than today’s flames that can devour our children. It is still up to the parent to intentionally burn their child. This requires a brutal honesty, a tough love that can pierce a mother’s soul. It means sending her child through pain and suffering on purpose when she is still around to apply a tiny bit of balm to the wound. If our children don’t learn from the burned fingers, we must have the courage to step back entirely so they feel the full weight of their folly.
We moms can be fiercely protective and so we should be, but too often that protection extends to sheltering kids from their own actions and the consequences of those actions. I’ve seen this take many forms. On one hand a mom is just so enraptured with her brilliant child that she can’t see his faults at all. This leads to a child of incredible arrogance that turns into an adult of incredible arrogance. My son tells me that many brilliant physicists are so totally impossible to be around that their secretaries are only enticed into staying by receiving hardship pay. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be remembered as mothering a monster.
Then there is the mom can see clearly the problems in character or social skills, but is too softhearted to risk damaging the kid’s self esteem. If the child is only in groups of understanding kids like you find in church and homeschool, they never come face to face with their actions until they are far away from home and suddenly find that no one wants to be around them. Suddenly the bubble has burst and they face a hard cruel world that they didn’t know existed and they are totally unprepared to deal with it.
While our kids do need to have some people that love them in spite of themselves, we also need to place them in situations that will burn out the weaknesses that could overwhelm them in adulthood. As parents, we need to have the courage to correct, to set up experiences when we know the chance of failure is high, to continually lead our kids out of their comfort zone. This requires a vision far beyond today.
To be honest, most parents see their kids as they currently are. I always looked at mine with an awareness of who they could become. I was willing to risk the pain today for a greater outcome in the future.
Look at it this way – what is cute in a three-year-old is ugly in a thirty-year-old. By laughing at it when they are three, you are setting your child up for failure at thirty. By dismissing a bad attitude as “well, that’s just a teenager” you are positioning them to have a much rougher ride into adulthood (and creating a much rougher ride for yourself).
We tend to think that we are much more sophisticated than the simple, uneducated women who slaved over their hearth fires. But, after years of watching sloppy parenting, I’ve decided they had a wisdom most people today don’t understand.
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