It’s ok to ‘shelter’ your kids.

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I can’t remember who exactly said it or when, but I’m sure it’s been said to more than once. I’ve been accused of being ‘sheltered’.

It’s not intended as a compliment obviously. It’s usually said with a bit of snark, or a lot of snark – or sometimes lovingly but patronisingly.

You haven’t been out partying, or had sex, or tried alcohol, or smoked a bit of weed or had someone attempt to sell you weed, or been invited to join a local gang. You weren’t allowed to stay out past midnight age 16. You weren’t allowed to have a boyfriend. Your parents monitored what you watched on television. You weren’t allowed a computer in your room. You weren’t allowed to hang around with certain people. Add on to the list..

Other parents would sneer at your parents too strict rules, and you would hear whisperings about how you would inevitably implode and rebel against the weight of all those rules.

Yet, here I am age 25 and still relatively sheltered. I’m not a goody two shoes by any stretch of the imagination and like any other 25 year old, I’ve had my screw ups, got my secrets and  had moments where I’ve completely disregarded everything my parents taught me. But yet, the core values they taught to me have always stuck – I will never be comfortable bumping and grinding with randoms and the non-alcoholic lager I tried a couple years back didn’t exactly inspire any desire to try the real thing. I’m still saying my morning prayers, going to church, drinking my soya milk and trying not to give my cookies away. And most importantly I’m learning each day (hopefully) to be more loving, kind, honest, courageous and faithful to the God I claim to believe in. So I guess their sheltering has mostly worked.

When I look around at my peers who weren’t as sheltered as I was, while I don’t want to throw shade on anyone else’s parenting style, I don’t envy their life when i compare it to mine. The idea that sheltering your kids is something to run away from baffles me. Parents are supposed to shelter their children. There’s nothing to be gained from this idea that children have to make their own mistakes, and that it’s better for them to have multiple screw ups before they ‘find themselves’.

They might find themselves pregnant, high, drunk in the bed of a stranger, or with emotional and mental scars that take years to heal. If that’s finding yourself then miss me out. Life is messy and hard and it hurts sometimes. We can’t protect our children from that – but I’m trying to avoid inflicting unnecessary hurt on myself if possible.

Smart people learn from other people’s mistakes as well as their own. I don’t need to make the same mistakes my parents or other people made in order to don some badge of adulthood. I’m glad that I can look at  other people’s lives and realise that the decisions they made didn’t work out well for them, and that it’s probably a good idea to avoid doing what they did. Don’t misunderstand me  -it was important for me to understand that people lived life differently to the way I did and I’m not advocating only letting children interact with others who share the same belief system. I love the fact that my parents allowed me to find out about different cultures, religions and belief systems. It strengthened my own belief and encouraged tolerance.

But the idea that you can’t be a successful well adjusted adult if your parents don’t allow you to engage in ‘normal’ teenage behaviour is a complete myth. I’m happily living in a house by myself and paying my own bills with money from what most people would consider to be a good job. I wasn’t allowed a boyfriend till 18 but I don’t spontaneously combust in the presence of mankind, and start drooling (apart from if he’s 6 ft 5 and has perfect grammar). I’ve managed to struggle through the first 25 years of life without a Bacardi Breezer as a companion on a Saturday night and still developed a robust sense of humour. And despite not ever having smoked a blunt, I have still retained the remarkable ability to think outside the box.

I know there are some people who were brought up in a strict household and feel resentful that they missed out on the best years of their life being tied up by a stringent set of rules. I understand that sentiment – I just can’t relate to it. Even if I became an atheist tomorrow or just more liberal in my values, I honestly have had so many good times in the community I grew up in, along with the values that come with it, that I would find it hard to be angry. Even if I’ve been completely misled, I’ve been quite happy with it. It’s not always been rosy – there are times when I’ve wanted to see what it’s like to live completely differently. There are times when I’ve felt like a complete outsider, and it can be very lonely. And Lord knows (literally He knows) that there have been times when a bump and grind with good looking guy isn’t the easiest thing to say no to (because we all know that’s one of the hardest things).

But the bottom line is that children usually rebel when you give them rules without relationship. Children rebel when you’re a hypocrite. And children rebel when they ask hard questions about WHY they can’t do certain things and you don’t give them good enough answers. Thankfully for me, although my parents weren’t perfect, there was a healthy enough dose of love, authenticity and smart answers that by the time I was able to live my own life, I actually believed all the values my parents taught me. I had seen it work for them and I had seen the path of other people who chose differently to know that I preferred the values that were handed down to me.

Everyone has to figure out life on their own and if  children choose to travel their path differently from their parents recommended route, then it’s entirely their choice. But whatever your moral compass, don’t apologise for sheltering your children from things you don’t want them to see or experience. While it’s important that they aren’t naive to the point of being vulnerable, they have plenty of time to see all the ugly things the world has to offer. Let them rest in the beauty for a while.

What are your thoughts? Were you sheltered? What is too much sheltering?


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