Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Mother's attempt at protection may do more harm than good
Q: How do I convince my wife that she needs to let our kids participate in life and to stop smothering them? She's terrified her children will be physically or sexually abused if they're out of her sight (no, she does not have any history of abuse herself). She homeschools our 7-year-old and refuses to allow him to play Little League baseball or any other sport — especially since the Penn State scandal. I've even offered to coach my son's sports so that I'm with him at all times, but she's afraid an assistant coach will do something while I'm not watching.
This is unhealthy for her and my children. She refuses to go to therapy, saying there's nothing wrong with protecting your children. She says her mom and friends think she's doing the right thing. I don't agree.
Carolyn: You need to go to therapy since she won't, to explore ways to create a healthy environment given your wife's extremely unhealthy approach to her fears.
All parents have to reckon with the possibility of harm. Yet, only a small fraction of them keep their kids so close that they never lose sight of them — I should say, try to keep them that close, since kids eventually reach an age where it's just not possible without imprisoning them (and that comes before they reach the age when they can fully defend themselves against predators).
Some parents are reckless, sure, and don't pay enough attention to the people around their kids — but does your wife really believe that all the parents whose kids attend schools are reckless? That all parents of Little Leaguers are reckless? The anticipated enrollment in public kindergarten in 2012: 3.8 million. Yet she won't even admit she's an outlier.
Fear is normal; building your kids' lives around it is not. Please find a skilled therapist and get to work on this, as soon as possible.
Re: Parenting by fear:
Anonymous: Sadly, the wife of one of my very good friends was this way with her kid. Poor kid. My friend, her husband, fought it lovingly but vigorously, went through therapy, both alone and jointly, but Mom never swayed.
They are now going through a terrible divorce and custody fight over the issue, with this poor kid in the middle. She won't let him play in the yard, or throw a baseball, but it's okay to tear his poor little heart out with court dates, and spend his college fund on lawyers. It's tearing my friend apart.
Control is an illusion, a harmful one at that.
Carolyn: Yes, on so many levels. It's an illusion: that such control is possible (it's not); that it's about protecting the kids (it's not — it's about parents protecting themselves from potential guilt and grief); that abuse is the primary danger to kids (when sheltering them stunts their emotional growth and denies them a chance to gain confidence and coping skills); that there's a predator behind every pitching machine (any number of abuse victims is too high, but the vast majority of kids go through a village-assisted childhood without incident).
But, this boy has his dad, at least. A child's life experience will tend to validate a balanced parent; not a guarantee, just a thread of hope.