To Christians With “Overprotective” Parents

overprotectiveparents

Here are two things you should know.

1: This post is a letter written to Christian kids under age eighteen. If you’re not a Christian and/or child and you want to read this post, take it for what it is: not written for you.

2: This is an insanely-super-long post, so if you don’t have a lot of time and/or are highly distractable, don’t read this post right now. Bookmark it and come back later after you’ve taken care of your important to-do things.

What to do about overprotective parents?

Full confession: I’m eighteen now and make my own decisions. Before I turned eighteen, though, my parents were what they jokingly call “overprotective.” Meaning, I didn’t read Harry Potter until one year ago, the kids in our family couldn’t watch the Disney movies with ghosts until we were too old to appreciate the slapstick humor, and most of my siblings still don’t have Facebook. Basically, I’m saying I know what it’s like to have parents who say no.

Maybe you’ve said/heard people say things like this:

Dad shouldn’t try to control me so much!

I may not know everything, but neither do my parents, and I know myself a heck of a lot better than they do.

Harry Potter isn’t going to damage me; it actually teaches some really good lessons.

I know my parents are well-meaning, but they don’t understand me.

It just hurts that Mom doesn’t trust me with something as harmless as a children’s book series.

But are we looking at this all wrong? I’d posit that we might be, that maybe overprotective parents are not a curse, but rather a blessing. I thank God and my parents for most, if not all, of the decisions they made, even though I disagreed with them at the time.

To explain why, I need to start from square one:

Everyone is overprotective sometimes- and thank God that we are.

When people say “overprotective,” what do they really mean? No one knows the future, obviously, so there is no way to be just the right amount of “protective.” People have to be either under- or over-protective, and most folks like to err on the side of caution.

Let’s just take the most basic example: a seatbelt. Every time you get into your car and put on a seatbelt, you are necessarily being overprotective. Gee whiz, you’re probably not going to wreck every single time you’re in a motor vehicle. What’s the big deal? In fact, while we’re at it, we could probably do away with those giant concrete barriers in the middle of the highway and just use one yellow line instead of two. It would definitely save the government some money. Buckling up is a time waster.

Yet, if you’re smart, you buckle up. You know that if you don’t have a seatbelt on, you could get hurt– just like my friend. Last month, driving back from vacation, a distracted driver rear-ended her car at high speed, totaled the vehicle, and gave her whole family whiplash. If my friend hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt, she would have flown through the windshield and probably died. This is why the law requires people to buckle up.

If you don’t crash, a seatbelt is an inconvenience that wastes maybe five seconds on every drive; if you’re in a bad wreck, it’s that fine line between life and death. Next time you pull into the driveway safely after a road trip, thank God that He made people to be overprotective.

Of course, overprotection can be a good or bad thing. Where do overprotective parents fit in? Well, let’s get to the next point:

The keyword is not “overprotective.” It is “parent.”

Let’s say you’re a mom or dad who just brought home your first child. Congratulations, balloons, meal trains. Now what do you need to do? More than you think. Contrary to popular belief, your job as a parent is not just to clothe and feed that hypothetical child and make sure he/she doesn’t do bad stuff at parties until age eighteen; you as a parent are now responsible for an actual soul. When God creates a child, He doesn’t just make a body with a brain that sometimes functions with ample caffeine. He creates a person with a soul that will live forever. (C.S. Lewis wrote a good explanation.) God gives children to you, the parent, with the responsibility to make sure that you take care of their little souls, lead them to seek out and obey His plan, and teach them diligently in the hope that they will come to a saving relationship with Christ.

This is why we have Mother’s and Father’s Days. Because, all things considered, your parents are doing a pretty freaking awesome job.

I don’t know about you, but when I step back and realize the overwhelming responsibility of my parents to care for my soul, I find it really hard to be mad about not reading TwilightIn fact, I even have a little bit of gratitude that Mom and Dad made the best decision they could for my benefit. They probably didn’t enjoy some of those decisions any more than I did. (It can be hard to say no to people you love, especially if it makes them sad.) Some of those safeguards were probably unnecessary, but my parents didn’t put them there because they were monsters. They put them there because they cared.

If you understand all this, yet you still fundamentally disagree with your parents’ Hunger Games policiesthen here’s another bit of truth that might help:

You probably aren’t missing out on much.

If you really miss out on something good, you can catch up on it later. I don’t think it takes that long to read The Hunger GamesIn fact, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you take your parents’ advice and wait.

Now if your parents are starving you, then by all means argue, disobey, and do whatever it takes to eat and survive. That’s not overprotection; that’s abuse. (Metabolism is one of the four biological criteria for life.) If they aren’t letting you encounter opposing worldviews and you’re in your teens, maybe have a talk about that one- or else college is gonna be tough for you. But if your parents tell you not to do something you want but don’t need… then don’t do it. Face it, you don’t need Harry Potter in your life. Queen Victoria never read Harry Potter, and she ruled the British Empire for over sixty years. Tell yourself you’re being like Victoria. It will do wonders for your attitude.

And if you think that you should be able to make your own decisions because you know best, think again. Many times, when my parents told me not to do something, I later realized they were right. For example, a few years ago when I was probably fifteen, maybe younger, I wanted to watch Sherlock. Dad said no because it had a lot of swearing, it could be scary, and it would probably do me no good. I disagreed with him on that last bit quite strongly; but I decided to do the right thing and obey.

Now, as an adult (and Sherlockian), I can see at least two reasons why it was a good idea to skip the show at that age. One, Sherlock is in fact scary, and being my usual empathetic, prone-to-depression self, I would not have handled Moriarty’s psychopathic tendencies very well at all. It would have done me more emotional harm than good. Two, Sherlock has some particular themes in a particular episode (if you don’t know, don’t look it up) which my dad didn’t know about because he never finished the show. If I had stumbled upon that episode a few years ago, I would have been too disgusted to finish the show, and thus I would never have watched “The Sign of Three.”

There was no way for me to know all that at age fifteen. Good thing my parents were overprotective about a show they never finished.

And lastly, if you still disagree, I just have one more thing to tell you:

You should obey anyway.

Even if nothing else in this post has inspired you to obey, this should be enough to convince you. As a Christian, you have a responsibility to obey your parents in everything. Look at Colossians 3:20. In context, “children” means “people under the legal age of adulthood.” That means that if you’re a Christian under age eighteen, you have to obey your parents whether you like it or not. (Even adult Christians are still required to show honor to their parents.) Unless they command you to do something sinful, disobedience to parents is disobedience to God. Obey them, if for no other reason than your desire to obey God.

Ultimately, it helps to know that your parents do actually care about you.

They aren’t always right. Parents can be wrong sometimes; I know my parents make mistakes because I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my few years of life, and they’ve been around a lot longer than I have. But now that Mom and Dad have messed up a few times, they can help us avoid doing those things. They can protect us from things that just might be dangerous. When they say no to something, try asking why- I’m sure they’d love to explain it to you if you just ask them nicely. You can disagree and present your reasons for why they should change their mind; in fact, you may actually get them to agree with you. But in the end, it’s the job of Christian parents to make a wise decision, and it’s the job of a Christian son or daughter to accept it.

And it’s worth mentioning that the sooner you decide to trust your parents, the likelier they are to start trusting you with more of those things you want to do.

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Thank You

So, yeah, inspiration is not a thing for me this week. I was thinking about this post from my old Christian blog lately, and I figured the rest of you might like to read (or re-read) it as well. And even if you’re not a Christian, you might still like to hear an “insider story” of why believers aren’t- or shouldn’t be- afraid to be joyful. 

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that embracing emotion doesn’t come naturally to me. For example, I don’t usually cry during movies, even when I feel like it. Yes, INTJs have feelings; we’re human, just like everyone else. But whenever those feelings try to insert themselves into our daily lives, we subconsciously try to suppress them. Call it a weird psychological trait, if you will.

Yet this lack of feelz can be a bit of a problem when it comes to the Christian life. We Christians are supposed to be intensely joyful people who don’t back down from emotions, and it’s admittedly difficult to be a joyful person if one suppresses emotion. It’s all throughout the Bible: make a joyful noise, the joy of the Lord is our strength, et cetera. Christians should have the joy of God in our hearts because the ruler of the entire universe loves us and has saved us- and cold robotic apathy, however comfy for us Thinker types, doesn’t line up with that calling.

But God is the ultimate problem-solver: he never leaves a problem without a solution. Over the last year, I took two of Jeff Myers’ courses on biblical leadership, and in one of those lessons, Dr Myers taught about the three foundations of leadership. The first is vision: knowing what you want to have accomplished at the end of your life. The second is mission: the practical steps that help you to achieve your vision. The third one is gratitude.

Crickets.

Gratitude. I know, it seems far-fetched. Of all the things that Dr Myers could have cited as a foundation for leadership… integrity, honesty, courage, ingenuity, flexibility, humanity… why would he say gratitude is the foundation? Is it really so important?

Yet I decided to give it a try. I revived an old habit of thanking God for three things- just three- every morning. Throughout the day, I would do my best to appreciate those three things, remembering how I am blessed in ways that others might not be. Peace, chocolate, the Bill of Rights… anything goes. It was a simple practice that I could do every morning after reading my Bible and every night before I fell asleep. And do you know what? The results surprised me.

Now you may have heard what psychological research says. Having a grateful attitude causes people to be more satisfied, optimistic, agreeable, spiritual, and neurologically healthy. And of course, all of those things did indeed happen, and I did get a lot more work done with much more fulfillment than before. But I wasn’t prepared for how much more gratefulness this little exercise gave me.

I remember one particular day on which one of my three blessings was “words.” I was thankful for words. I remembered how I had used words throughout the day: for encouragement and interpersonal enlightenment (okay, debate), as well as for hurting others. I prayed about all of these things, and then I realized that “words” were tied up into another blessing: God gave us the tool of language to help us accomplish His plan. On another occasion, when I thanked God for creating the trees and grass, I forgot about the terrible Texas allergies and was able to thank God for the sheer beauty of springtime.

Maybe I am inclined to overthink things, but in this case, it’s not a matter of overthinking, but of realizing just how good God’s plan is. The bottom line is that, on days when I make a prayerful effort to be grateful, God helps me to feel more gratitude. It really just puts the whole world back into perspective for me. 

I know it’s hard to feel grateful sometimes. Yet when I experience that feeling of thankfulness, I realize that it’s something I don’t want to miss anymore, and I don’t think anyone else would want to miss it, either. Try thanking God every day for just three things in your life, and continue to thank him throughout the day. See how it changes your perspective.