Watching a child hurt isn’t easy. Whether the pain is caused by a skinned knee or a broken heart, loving parents suffer along with their children. Parents’ instinctive reaction is to prevent or alleviate the child’s distress. Unfortunately, doing so can sometimes lead to deeper and longer-lasting misery in the future.
I have (accurately or not) read of cultures that don’t make any attempts to keep toddlers away from fire or sharp knives. The logic is that the child will learn an unforgettable lesson before doing serious harm. That wasn’t my philosophy of motherhood for my own two-year-olds.
At the same time, a trend I recently read about doesn’t fit my philosophy either. Thanks to the electronic social networks available to us today, mothers whose children are homesick and lonesome on college campuses or beginning their careers in an alien city are reaching out to other virtual strangers who are also moms, enlisting them to personally bring a care package, extend an invitation for dinner or offer a hug and supporting shoulder.
A Facebook group for parents of 15-25 year olds facilitates these connections, allowing mothers to connect and ask for help from mothers living in the locations where their children are. One side of this is lovely. Making connections and extending friendship to strangers speaks of the best of human nature. My question is if there is potential harm to the recipients of the gracious behavior.
Learning to solve one’s own problems is a vital marker in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Running into difficulties is an unalterable reality of life. Responding to those difficulties builds us into greater human beings while avoiding or succumbing to them leaves us weaker and smaller. Sitting alone in your dorm room while imagining everyone else surrounded by laughter and friends is miserable. If you mom’s “friend” knocks on the door with some donuts and coffee or sends her own daughter to meet you, you will be happier in the short run. But you won’t have grown. You won’t have learned to navigate the world and make your own way to a successful life.
I have done my share of getting off the phone with crying daughters who are in far away cities. It is tremendously painful to listen to a suffering child. Had “virtual mommies” been available at those times, would I have taken advantage of that fact? I don’t know. I think the question to ask is whether the message being sent and received is, “I know you’ll be fine and you’ll figure this out, but I want to send some love your way,” or “You don’t have the ability and tools to handle this so I’ll rescue you.” The answer to that question shines a spotlight on whether our focus is on making our children feel better or only ourselves.