I’ve always been fiercely protective of my children. Part of it is that fear of loss. I’m like Marlin the clown fish in “Finding Nemo.” Like Marlin, I’m starting to realize I need to let the kids have some adventures.
Any good parent is going to be over-protective to a point, and that’s how it should be. God gave us these kids to nurture, and we have to make sure they make it to adulthood and beyond.
But we’re also supposed to teach them how to survive adversity. For all my talk in this blog, I haven’t always done that part very well.
Some of it is my own background. Having watched my parents divorce, a brother die and a best friend commit suicide, I’ve had an overwhelming urge to shield Sean and Duncan from danger at all costs. That kind of compulsion is tailor-made for someone with OCD, because we drive ourselves mad trying to control all the things we are absolutely powerless to control.
I’ve gone crazy over all the usual things. I see a mosquito bite or two on their legs and I go into a fit of lunacy because mosquitoes can carry dangerous diseases. Letting them out of my sight would fill me with dread.
But I also remember something else from childhood: After my brother died, my mother, who was already overbearing, became absolutely suffocating. I think she wanted me to stay in whatever room she was in straight on through adulthood.
Naturally, I rebelled.
Thank God I did, because without taking some chances in life and breaking free of your protective sphere, you amount to nothing.
I can’t put my kids through the same thing, no matter how much I worry about them.
Learning to better control my OCD had been helpful. When I learned to break free of the fear and anxiety, I stopped going crazy over the little things.
This summer I’ve suddenly realized how far I’ve come.
Sean and Duncan have a couple new friends from the neighborhood. One boy’s family runs the farmland all around us and is accustomed to exploring all the woodland trails. Sean and Duncan now run off with their new friends, hanging out in a secret fort they built in the woods and digging holes in the mud by the culverts.
A funny thing has happened here. I find myself kicking the kids out of the house on sunny days, telling them to go explore and enjoy the outdoors.
A couple years ago, the prospect would have terrified me. Now it feels natural.
This doesn’t mean I no longer worry about my kids being in danger. I worry about it all the time. I don’t think that’s the OCD. I think it’s the normal reaction from a parent who adores his children.
But now, when I get uncomfortable about it all, I remember a scene from the movie I mentioned at the beginning of this post: Marlin and Dory are inside a whale, and Marlin laments that he failed to keep a promise to his son. The exchange went something like this:
Marlin: “I promised I’d never let anything bad happen to him.”
Dory: “That’s a funny thing to promise. If nothing ever happens to him, then nothing will ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”
Kids need adventure. They even need to experience adversity. That’s how they learn to be good, strong adults.
That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.