Saturday, May 18, 2013


Almost ten years ago Hara Estroff Ramano wrote an article for Psychology Today Magazine entitled “A Nation of Wimps.”  and then expanded it into a 2008 book, “ANation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting.”  Here are a couple of paragraphs from the original article.

Rubberized playground
Maybe it's the cyclist in the park, trim under his sleek metallic blue helmet, cruising along the dirt path... at three miles an hour. On his tricycle.
Or perhaps it's today's playground, all-rubber-cushioned surface where kids used to skin their knees. And... wait a minute... those aren't little kids playing. Their mommies—and especially their daddies—are in there with them, coplaying or play-by-play coaching. Few take it half-easy on the perimeter benches, as parents used to do, letting the kids figure things out for themselves. …

Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history. "Kids need to feel badly sometimes," says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. "We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope."
Someone will get sued!
Messing up, however, even in the playground, is wildly out of style. Although error and experimentation are the true mothers of success, parents are taking pains to remove failure from the equation.
"Life is planned out for us," says Elise Kramer, a Cornell University junior. "But we don't know what to want." As Elkind puts it, "Parents and schools are no longer geared toward child development, they're geared to academic achievement."

Coincidentally I heard the author being interviewed on the radio this past week on the same day that I had been debriefing some of our freshmen who had spent three days backpacking in the rain-soaked woods of northern New Jersey. This five-week project, which culminates with a 53-mile backpacking hike on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, is one of several things we do for (to?) our students to help them avoid the wimp syndrome. The rocks are not padded with foam rubber; the bears, rattlesnakes and deer ticks are not virtual --  they’re quite real-- and the rain is dreadfully wet.
Preparing for backpacking hike
A couple of years ago when we were explaining the May hike at a September orientation for parents of freshmen, one mother immediately shot up her hand and asked “How do I get my son excused from this project?”
Now back to the radio interview about parents turning their kids into wimps. Just that morning I had heard the following story about one group of hikers (they’re divided into teams of about eight) who had recently returned from a three-day training hike. It seems that they had somehow gotten off the marked trail and suddenly realized that they were lost. (Perfect! – a real-life problem-solving experience!) In the chilly drizzle. (Perfect! If you weren’t properly prepared for rain you were cold!) They stood there and started to argue furiously among themselves as to who was to blame and how they were going to get un-lost. (Perfect! No adult within miles: They have to figure this out among themselves!)
Suddenly one stalwart explorer had an inspiration: he whipped out his cell phone and called his mother. “Mom, we’re in the woods and we’re lost!” You think that’s the end of my story, right? Wrong! Mom then called the emergency contact number of the hike’s supervisor to give him the catastrophic news alert, expecting him to immediately go and extricate her child from the jaws of death.


As I reflected on the problem of “over-parenting” I asked myself how this applies to my
Where's God now?
relationship to God the Father. Don’t I call Him up when I'm lost in the woods and ask Him to get me out? Isn’t God supposed to be the "Way-maker" who makes a way when there is no way? Dozens of similar questions about my relationship with God suggested themselves to me, and maybe more will to you.
Does God bail me out or does our Father leave me to figure it out on my own? If the latter is the case, then maybe I sometimes act like a wimp when “God doesn’t answer my prayers” and I get angry at my heavenly parent. Some religious folks even lose their faith because they feel that God has abandoned them by not answering their prayer request or has not lined their life's road with enough bubble wrap.


Just today at Morning Prayer (Saturday, the vigil of Pentecost) we listened to a reading from the great German Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. It began this way:
The Spirit of Pentecost is the Spirit of holy unrest, of eternal discontent, the Spirit that again and again startles us with the cry: “You still have far to go,” the Spirit that makes even the saints dissatisfied with themselves, makes them their own accusers… It is the Spirit that renews the face of the earth, the Spirit of life ever new in new forms , on new roads, in new conveyances, on bold ventures, This is how he is and wills to be the Spirit of the Church.

This “holy Comforter,” then, comes to comfort not in the modern sense of the word (i.e. to hold our hand and tell us that everything will be all right) but in the original Latin sense of the word intended by the first people who translated the Bible into English: It comes from the Latin fortis, “strong.”  The Spirit comes to give us strength for battle, to encourage us for the fight.
So if you phone the Holy Spirit when you’re lost in the rainy woods, don’t expect a rescue helicopter.
God is not a helicopter parent. 

1 comment:

  1. This is great. Fr. Al. So true.