Why You Shouldn't OverProtect Your Kids and Other Loved Ones
In the television series "Roots," there is a scene where a group of slaves are working with a kind overseer. The owner of the plantation walks up to the group, and wants to whip one of the slaves. The overseer takes the whip from the owner and starts whipping the slave himself.
As a young teenager, I was completely baffled by this. I had thought that the overseer was a nice man. My brother explained it to me, "The overseer is protecting the slave. The owner would hurt him worse." I tried to wrap my young brain around this concept. The overseer was really hitting him. Hard.
But the show kept going and I had to stay focused on the rest of the saga.
Was It Really Protection?
There may have been other things that supported the overseer's case for protection, but I haven't seen the show in a very long time, so we will stick with the story as presented in this hub.
Looking back on it, I still think that the overseer was wrong in punishing the slave himself. There are several reasons for this:
- We don't know for a fact that the owner would have caused greater damage. In an effort to make a realistic show of force, the overseer was really punishing the slave hard. How do we know that the owner wouldn't have gotten tired and walked away after a lash or two?
- How do we know the overseer's motivations? I think it is quite possible that the overseer was simply looking out for himself in trying to keep his job. Maybe he thought he would be fired if the owner didn't think he was an effective taskmaster.
- The other thing that bothers me is that the emotional pain of being beaten by someone on your side would certainly be greater than the physical pain that the owner could inflict. Having someone you trust turn on you is very painful, even if they think they are doing it for your own good. If people who care about you deliberately inflict pain on you, what does that say about the world in general?
You may think that this is a pretty extreme example to bring up in our modern days. After all, we are not slaves, and we usually don't go around whipping each other and causing that kind of pain.
But in our overprotective family, I think we have a tendency to try to protect each other from the "horrible world out there" as if that kind of pain does still exist out there.
In fact, I think we inflict much more pain, in the name of protection, than the world really would have inflicted. And the more we try to protect our loved ones, the more pain we continue to cause every day, in small ways and in big ways.
A Modern, Less Extreme, Example of Protection
One day, we were having a family gathering, and my daughter came downstairs wearing leggings and a pretty long shirt. It is a very fashionable style amongst her group of friends and looked very good on her.
I told her that it looked good on her, and had no objection to her wearing it. But I warned her that my mother might have issue with the outfit, because the leggings were tight, and my mother might think it was too sexy an outfit.
My daughter decided to continue to wear the outfit. At the gathering, received compliments for her outfit. As far as I know, my mother did not say anything positive or negative about it.
Let's examine what happened here.
- My intentions were good. I thought that if my daughter simply changed her clothes, she would avoid the horrible consequences of wearing leggings to a family gathering.
- I was wrong about the consequences. My mother did not find anything wrong with the outfit, and there were people who complimented her on it.
- I inflicted pain in her in an effort to help her avoid pain. She was probably uncomfortable and self-conscious throughout the gathering trying to figure out what everyone was thinking about what she wore.
- She gets a horrible message about relationships, that loved ones are allowed to inflict pain if it is well-intentioned. She can't hate me for hurting her because I meant well.
- It also provides a false perception of the world. If a loved one can hurt you this much, just imagine the hurt that strangers and enemies can inflict.
- Really, how bad would it have been if my mother had said something to her? Isn't the pain inflicted by me as bad as the potential pain inflicted by my mother? I would guess it is probably worse since she is closer to me.
- Would my mother have insisted that she go home and throw the outfit in the trash, never to be worn again, or would she say that it was inappropriate for a family gathering? My daughter would not know my mother's exact opinion unless she went through with her actions.
- If she had listened to me, and had changed her clothes, she would not have known which of her family members had an objection about her mode of dress. She may have had to assume that all of them had a problem with what she was wearing.
- It was only because she faced the world, and continued to wear the outfit, that she was aware of the actual consequences of her actions.
- By facing the consequences of her actions, she learned exactly which people had issues and which ones did not. Even if I had predicted that several people would have a problem with her outfit, by continuing to wear the outfit, she would know which ones did say something to her. She would also learn how strongly they felt about the issue. By trying to protect her, I was actually keeping her from having knowledge about where the landmines actually are, and whether they were actually landmines or windmills. This lack of knowledge actually leaves her less prepared for the world.
Stop Overprotecting Your Loved Ones
There are times when your loved ones need protection. If they have an abusive spouse or a bully, or suffering from an illness, of course, you will need to step in and provide assistance. But, by and large, your loved ones are capable individuals, and able to handle the "terrible world out there" on their own. In fact, they may come to find out, as my daughter and I did, that sometimes the world is actually less terrible "out there" than it is at home.