It’s that middle place for children, right after self-awareness and just before it’s singed with pride and embarrassment: When they look back at you after a great or terrible act with a question in their eyes, “Did you see that?” Of course, this carries far past the little years, but there is this short period of time where their need to be seen is so… seen. They threw a ball! Did you see that? They pushed their brother. Did you see that? Their chubby little fingers stacked the third block and it didn’t fall—head turns and eyes grow: Did you see that?
Our seeing their accomplishment actually completes it for them. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? They feel at home in our gaze; they feel like a whole person with our eyes on them. To be seen is to be. We would be fools to think that we somehow grew out of this basic human need. We’ve just figured out how to shade our eyes so that no one sees us looking around, trying to catch another’s gaze: “Did anyone see that?”
Longing to Be Seen
We can feel this sorely, though not solely, as mothers—when every part of our body and brain and soul just needs to lie down, and we can’t even remember what made us so tired in the first place. We hurt from loving, we ache from longing, and no matter how affirmative our husbands might be, we can still feel unseen. (Is anyone watching me make four lunches at once?) We may (I have) turn to sharing our moments on social media. Maybe a few hundred hearts and thumbs will quench this thirst. Maybe a comment of solidarity will pick me up off the ground. But it can’t last, can it? I can’t hold that person’s face in my hands and fix their gaze forever.
It’s not just the hard moments that we wish for others to see—like when two people need their bottoms wiped at the exact same time (always, always… law of nature!). But it’s the beautiful moments, too: when your baby hugs your leg and says, “I love you!” for the first time, unprompted. Oh, did anyone see that?! And so, like I experienced as a young mother, our brains can spiral down into a philosophical depression—is my life of motherhood the proverbial tree that falls in the forest? Do these common, everyday moments mean anything outside of someone’s gaze?…
As loud and crazy as my house gets with five little boys, I don’t relish the day they will leave. Sometimes I cuddle the baby and whisper, “You can stay with me forever.” If my husband overhears me, he says, “Oh, no he can’t!” So I whisper to the baby that I will make him a special room in the basement.
But I know in my heart that I am not raising them to live in the basement. I am raising them to be independent, godly leaders of their own homes, churches, and communities. My only reservation is…the basement seems so much safer. How can I keep them safe and prepare them to leave the nest at the same time?
The False Security of Sheltering
I have a couple of readers in the house now. My oldest two sons will grab anything with words on it and read it to me. Recently they’ve been reaching for the newspaper. But I was quickly reminded that the newspaper isn’t rated “G.” The same page with an educational article about the economy had articles about a public official’s affair and a sex-trafficking bust. Time to put the paper away for a little longer.When I see a newspaper page like that in the hands of my sweet young son I get angry. I feel like my kids don’t deserve to grow up in such an evil world. I want to protect them from everything “out there.”But the Bible says sin doesn’t come from “out there.” Sin comes from within. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Not from the newspaper. Not from the politicians. Not from the internet. Sin comes from the heart. “Sheltering” gives us a false sense of security when we take comfort in shutting out the world. We fall for the lie that if we make enough rules and create a completely controlled environment, our kids will be safe. But there is a better way to shelter our kids. Instead of using sheltering to smother and control, we can use sheltering to prepare and equip.
“Absolute Truth. Absolute Truth. Everything in the Bible is the Absolute Truth.”
I can still hear my daughter singing this chant she learned in her two-year-old Sunday school class. My husband and I had her sing it over and over again because of how adorably expressive she was—her clapping hand motions were as loud as she sang. By God’s grace, almost twenty years later, the words of this song are settled deep into her heart. She knows the absolute truth of His Word, trusts in His righteousness for her, and now with a voice that moves me to tears, sings of His truths each week at her campus’ RUF gathering.
But in holding firm to the Truth about Jesus, she increasingly finds herself at the crossroads of our rapidly changing culture and the Word of God. As do we all. Our culture today is very different than it was when I began parenting, and certainly from the world in which I grew up.Truth today is not absolute, and the Bible is not seen as authoritative. Instead, pop culture tells us to do “whatever makes you happy” and “you do you.” Even Christians have bought into this mindset, sometimes without even realizing it. But the less we hear the true gospel and spend time in God’s Word, the more susceptible we become to subtle twists to the truth.
Every time I scroll through my social media account, I see some type of warning about being a helicopter parent. They say kids these days are too sheltered and are suffering from our fear-laden over-protection. I know that I’m not supposed to obsess over my child’s life. I’m not supposed to solve his problems for him, perfect his resume, or rescue him from natural consequences, but I’m wondering, am I a helicopter parent? Are you? And if we are, what should we do instead?
I’m concerned that as a society we’ll panic and swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. In an effort to avoid over-scheduling, over-indulging, and over-controlling our children’s lives, we’ll simply steer our helicopters away, erring on the side of neglect. In 20 years, we’ll discover that our children have grown up without the much-needed presence, wisdom, affection, and support of their parents. Parents will simply “helicopter” somewhere else, obsessing over careers, self-image, health, pets, or whatever.
Simply “flying away” is not the solution.