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              (Part 2 of Four:
                      Safeguarding the Journey-#2)
                                                                     
 

The Parenthood Journey may have started peacefully enough, but our travels along the Parenting Highway soon encounter challenges and conflict. Many of these difficulties develop as we try to fulfill our protector role as parents. Grant and Grace, our geese couple, no doubt discovered quickly that the challenge of protecting seven goslings was at times an overwhelming task! Our goal is to safeguard the child’s journey from his entry into our family until his entry into adulthood. Throughout the journey situations often arise that can accidentally or purposefully threaten the health and safety of the children we are trying to protect. These threats represent battles we must fight effectively in order to achieve a safe arrival at the ultimate “launch site.” The Parenting Highway becomes a type of “battlefield” upon which many “protection battles” are fought by loving, courageous Dads and Moms. Since the safety of our children is at stake, we definitely want to win the War of Protection.
 
 
In the previous article I presented a four-step approach to building an effective protection program. For that program to be workable it must be well-balanced so that unhealthy extremes can be avoided. First, let’s explore the development of a balanced program, and, secondly, let’s consider how we can implement that program with loving leadership and consistent courage, particularly in regard to resistant kids and abusive spouses.
 
 
BALANCING THE PROTECTION PROGRAM . . .
 

A successful parenting journey requires balanced protection. We understand that an automobile faces the risk of breakdowns or collisions if its wheels are “out of balance.” The resulting shakiness causes wear-and-tear on both the car and its occupants, along with problems related to steering and handling the car. Likewise, we understand that safeguarding the parenthood journey requires a healthy “balance” of protective services.
 
 
In my Marriage and Family Therapy work I frequently encounter parents who worry about “how much protection” to enforce. They worry that they might be too extreme in their protectiveness. They fear that they could be overprotective and “smother” the child, or they fear that they will be underprotective and “neglect” the child. Understandably, both extremes pose problems and need to be avoided. The concern brings to my mind the image of a highway with a deep ditch on either side of the road. The roadway itself represents a balanced level of protectiveness; there is an appropriate amount of safeguards in effect. These safeguards are sufficient to provide the needed protection but open enough to allow for the desired exposure to life. Accordingly, the child is not suffocated in the one “ditch” nor is he neglected in the other “ditch.” The right balance is often difficult to discern, as it is dependent upon numerous variables, such as the age of the child, the maturity level of the child, and the nature of the activities under consideration.
 
 
Grant and Grace, the geese parents, did not hesitate to demonstrate their defensive power when a threat appeared, that is, a curious therapist who unknowingly violated their safety barrier. Likewise, there are times when wisdom requires that we “jump in” and actively defend the children. At other times wisdom may suggest an appropriate “hands off” reaction when our children make mistakes so that they can learn naturally what does not work and what will work. The action of allowing nature to take its course (or “natural consequences”) can serve to protect our children in the long run as they learn from the pain of their mistakes. No doubt you’ve heard the old saying, “If you want your children to be able to stand on their own two feet in adulthood, you may have to let them fall on their faces in childhood.”

BATTLING WITH THE PROTECTION PROGRAM . . .
 

The “PRO” parent strives to build a balanced protection program that will safeguard the children’s journey toward adulthood. Initiating a good program is a necessary beginning; implementing the program consistently over time will achieve the desired ending. That day-by-day implementation is where the real struggle begins. Basically, the parents deploy themselves into battle—into a warfare that will last until the children are finally launched safely into adulthood. The enemies are the situations that threaten the health and safety of the children. The parental battle cry is “Protect! Protect! Protect!” 
 
To withstand the enemies that threaten our children we need to incorporate at least two important components into the protection process. First, we need the love to lead; secondly, we need the courage to confront.
 
 
The Love to Lead . . .
 

First, the “love component” is essential to effective protection. Our efforts to protect must emerge from a constant, abiding love for our children. The continuing question confronts us daily:  “What is the most loving thing I can do today to protect my child appropriately and effectively?” The power of love will lead us in the practice of provision. That is, we will strive to provide as many opportunities as we can for our children that will enrich them and equip them steadily toward adulthood. At the same time our love for our children will lead us in the practice of protection. The parental theme song never changes: “Because I love you I will protect you!”

The Courage to Confront . . .
 

Furthermore, this “love that leads” will lead us to develop the second component: the courage to confront any situation that threatens our children. This second “courage component” keeps us on track with the maintenance and enforcement of the “child protective services” we put in place for our children. Predictably, every parent will encounter situations which threaten and test the protection program. In preparation for such encounters parents must cultivate the courage to confront. In my professional work I’ve seen numerous problems that involved the issue of parental protection, but I can quickly think of two family situations in which courage is particularly difficult but definitely necessary. The first situation involves a resistant child; the second involves an abusive spouse.
 
 
Confronting Resistant Children . . .
 

Unfortunately, parental efforts to protect children often encounter resistance from the very ones we’re trying to protect. The parenting journey becomes much more stressful when children, especially teenagers, resist and reject our efforts to protect them.  Their declarations are clear:  “I’m a teenager now and I can take care of myself. I don’t need protection!” However, in spite of such resistance from naïve and overconfident kids the parents still bear the responsibility of protection until the children finally and fully launch into adulthood. Without love-motivated courage parents are likely to “throw in the towel” and abdicate their responsibility, especially when they reach the point of emotional exhaustion and physical weariness. Teenagers seem to have more energy to “wear down” the parents than the parents have to “hold the line.”
 
 
A child’s resistance should cause the parents to re-examine their current level of protective services. Is the protective rule in question too narrow and constricting for this particular child at this point in the child’s development? If so, the parents can modify the rule so that it is more age-appropriate, and, as a result, the resistance will decrease or stop entirely. However, if the rule being resisted is deemed to be the best one, the parents must make a “call to courage” and stand firm in the face of teenage resistance. The parental message is clear:  “I will protect you from clear danger whether you like me for it or not. Your health and safety are more important right now than your personal feelings about me.” Led by love and committed to courage, parents will use all available, appropriate resources to confront the issue and to insure the child’s health and safety.
 
 
 
 
Confronting Abusive Spouses . . .
 

While a resistant child may represent a major stress, some parents face an even worse situation—an abusive spouse! The spouse may be the child’s biological parent or a step-parent, but, either way, the child is suffering from the emotional and/or physical abuse the parent is delivering. Tragically, some parents face the unwelcomed and frightening challenge of literally removing a child from the abusive parent in order to protect the dependent child. This confronting process is one that requires tremendous courage on the part of the protective parent.
 
We’ve seen the process too many times. A mother becomes increasingly concerned about the father’s behavior that is placing their child at risk. She makes repeated efforts to get her husband to stop the negative behavior, but he minimizes or justifies his treatment of the child. He continues and even escalates the undesired behavior until the mother concludes that “this behavior is abuse and it must stop.” At that point she asserts her responsibility for her child and removes the child, along with herself, from the danger posed by the abusive father. That action often involves legal authorities and perhaps the state’s child protective services agency. The choice to leave an abusive spouse for the sake of children is always a heart-wrenching decision that leads to significant life changes.
 
 
Unfortunately for the entire family, some irresponsible mothers and fathers choose to behave in such a violent, destructive manner that they place their spouses in the position of having to leave and of seeking police protection. These scenarios occur much too often in our communities, and they obviously take the role of “protecting our children” to a whole new level!
 
 
The Failure to Protect . . .
 

Parents who abuse their children violate legal and moral standards, and through their abusive behavior they become guilty of a “failure to protect.” Spouses who know about the abuse but who refuse to confront the situation are also guilty of a “failure to protect.” In today’s self-centered society too many parents practice a “failure to protect” lifestyle. Through that failure the lives of their children are either shortened through unnecessary death or else the surviving children suffer throughout life from their childhood trauma. Our local newscasts and newspapers report on a daily basis many sad, sobering accounts of childhood abuse and the obvious “failure to protect” lifestyle that either caused the abuse or that allowed the abuse to occur. The bottom line is clear:  abusive adults are defectors to their charge and rejecters of their children!
 
 
Even though they may appear resistant at times, children want—and need—appropriate protection from their parents. When that protection is withheld, most children struggle throughout life with feelings of betrayal, abandonment, and resentment.  I’m thinking at this point about one middle-aged woman who still feels overwhelmed with pain because her biological mother refused to protect her from abusive men. Her mother knew that she was being sexually molested but did nothing to protect her young daughter. Tragically, to make matters worse her mother increased the girl’s suffering by adding her own physical and emotional abuse upon her daughter. Now grown, the daughter cannot comprehend the mother’s lack of love and her failure to protect. The daughter is haunted by the unanswered question, “Why didn’t my mother protect me?” It’s a question that plagues the hearts and lives of too many adults who grieve the loss of childhood and who struggle to overcome the inexcusable and irresponsible misbehavior of selfish, self-serving parents.
 
 
Another “failure to protect” tragedy occurs when self-serving men and women choose to have sex, the act results in a pregnancy, and the would-be parents elect to have an abortion. Clearly, an abortion delivers the highest level of abuse (ending a human life) upon the least defensive person (a human fetus). The responsibility to protect children has to begin “B.C.” (that is, Before Conception) in regard to choices about sexual activity. If a pregnancy occurs as a result of consensual sex and that couple disregards the value of the alive-but-unborn child via abortion, what else is that couple capable of doing if they were to actually have children? If I’m capable of ending the life of a child before birth, I am certainly capable of abusing the life of a child after birth. Legal rights for abortion may exist in certain societies, but those rights are superseded by moral values that should transcend selfishness and that lead adults toward protecting children, whether those children are in the womb or in the world. A “wake-up call to responsibility” is needed in regard to selfish adults who would rather have sex than to protect children, and in regard to an irresponsible society that condones and even promotes the destruction of unborn children. Apart from exceptional situations the choice to abort the child is a rejection of the charge to protect the child!

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS . . .
 
 
 

The aspiration to be a “PRO-Parent” is indeed a worthwhile goal to pursue, especially since parenthood is without doubt the highest level of human endeavors. As such, parenthood requires the highest level of child protection. In the role of a protector who is directed by the “love to lead” and driven by the “courage to confront,” the concerned parent will work diligently at three protective actions. First, parents will work hard to detect threats, an action that requires alertness. Secondly, they will work hard to disarm threats, an action that requires assertiveness. Thirdly, they will work hard to deter threats, an action that results in assurance. These actions may not guarantee the presence of total protection, but they will provide reasonable reassurances that protection will prevail. If you feel overwhelmed as you attempt these actions, particularly in regard to resistant kids and abusive parents, you may want to secure the assistance of a professional helper, such as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
 
 
The consistent practice of reasonable safeguards will help parents cope with the predictable apprehension that accompanies them along an uncertain Parenting Highway. Hopefully, these protective efforts will be sufficient for survival and will achieve a safe arrival at the launch location at which the child is promoted into full adulthood. After a successful launch the weary but joyous parents can celebrate: “Mission accomplished! Journey completed!”
 
 
I wish the best for you in your parenting travels and in all of your relationship journeys!
 
 
                                                                                                        
                             
                                                          
 
 

 
Other Resources: If you are looking for additional information about parenthood, check out the list of helpful books and relevant websites on the Parenting  category under Resources (from the Home Page), or just click here.

 
 
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                 (Blog #PC 404)

 
 
 
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