As we remember eternity and embrace death for Christ as gain, then our lives will change. One change I predict is that we will stop helicopter mothering ourselves and the people around us.
To helicopter mother is to hover over others with the intent of controlling them and/or the circumstances surrounding them. You’ve probably heard the term “helicopter mom” in regard to how some moms tend to obsessively overparent their children. Child psychologists in the West have been documenting this as a social trend and publishing their opinion papers online. Sometimes grim forecasts are given for children who are parented in this manner: depression, anxiety, poor performance in school, and financial issues. In her article “Helicopter Parenting—It’s Worse Than You Think,” Hara Estroff Marano worried that with the rise of helicopter parents, “independence took a great leap backward.”She reasons that when we eliminate risks for our children, we will “rob kids of self-sufficiency.” Marano, a psychologist, believes that the state of parenting is “worse than we think.” No woman wants any of these things for her children or for the people she is nurturing.
I’ve heard Christian parents say that they loathe that trend, but we must recognize a problem that’s even worse than the loss of independence that Marano and others bemoan. The greater concern about helicopter parenting is not that children will not learn independence, but that we will inadvertently model to them that God’s faithfulness is not dependable. Because we’ve bought the story that the best things in life are health and youth, financial security, and self-confidence, which comes through subliminally in our helicoptering. In our mothering efforts we do everything “in our power” to get and keep those things for ourselves and our kids. The overarching consequence of obsessive overparenting is simply that in our failure to live out the truth of the big story, we fail to pass on that big story. What is this helicopter parenting subconsciously teaching our children about God, themselves, and his call to spread his glory to every corner of the earth? In our disciples’ eyes it may seem that God, who is so big, so strong, and so mighty, is really no bigger than we are. God is not mighty to save; Mommy is.
Taking Gospel Risks
Are we in danger of becoming so preoccupied with eliminating risks in our children’s world that we neglect to encourage them to take risks for the gospel? For now, forget about the question of whether we let a child go down the twisty slide, eat a breakfast cereal with artificial coloring, or cross the street. Consider the noble quest of crossing cultures for the sake of the gospel. Are we parenting in such a way that our children will one day not hesitate to say, “I think Jesus is calling me to follow him into [fill in the blank: a hard place, a risky ministry, a university with less prestige for the sake of being close to a local church, etc.]?”
Will we celebrate the kindness of God to lead our children to take risks and make sacrifices for his mission, to spread his glory over the face of the earth? Or will we respond with the common objection that many young people hear from their parents today: “What about everything that we have invested in you? Will you waste it?”
We need to understand that our obsession with safety is not the gravest concern regarding helicopter parenting; risk intolerance is. When we spend unhealthy amounts of energy in training our children and disciples to be afraid, they will subconsciously adopt our anemic view of God. “If God is not for us, then we need to be for ourselves,” is the mind-set. When we unhinge our obsession with safety, we can see that it is not held together by God’s wisdom but by a demonic strategy to hinder God’s mission
My friend Tim Keesee was speaking about the reign of terror and paranoia in Mao’s China, but his words are poignant for this specific topic too: “Boundless terror is the greatest way to control the most people from the cradle to the grave.” Who is governing our mind set about mothering? Is it King Jesus or an impostor?
If our stewardship goals are to get as much as we can of the American dream for ourselves and our children, then we betray our King and live as though his kingdom is worthless. I say those hard words just as strongly to myself—even now as my family is preparing to visit the United States for three weeks, and I can’t stop thinking about chasing food, stores, and stuff. We need to continually renew our minds in God’s word according to his story. Otherwise, we’ll subconsciously buy into the helicopter narrative that gets its lift from the so-called prosperity gospel, which says we ought to have our best life now. Hundreds of Christian parents stand up in front of congregations every week and dedicate their children to the Lord. With great hope and expectations we affirm that children are a gift of the Lord. But, I wonder, what exactly is the nature of our investment? To which kingdom have we really dedicated our children?
The kingship of Jesus Christ and his authority over all things in heaven and on earth is sweet encouragement to this mother’s heart. What I need to address first, then, is not the rules and cultural norms of mothering where I live. I need to have a renewed vision of who rules our family. I need to see Jesus. Is he worthy of our adoration when one or many of us are physically unhealthy? Is sharing his gospel worth staying in a place where we receive less than perfect health care? When I think of training my children, do I look first to bloggers or to the Bible? Is Jesus worth the sideways glances I will receive from the people around me when I parent my children in a way that honors him? Am I more concerned with the food that my children eat rather than what their souls consume? Do I point my children to worldly success as their big goal or to the mission of God as their reason for being? Do I believe that Jesus is willing to guard and guide our lives as we sojourn in this world filled with uncertainty and risk? Do I remind my children, by my words and actions, that God loves us enough to take care of all the “what ifs” in our future? Do my kids think I serve the almighty dollar or the Almighty God? Do we nurture our children with radical self-abandon, as though we are expecting deliverance from another world? Because we are.