“Don’t prepare the road ahead for your kids, prepare your kids for the road ahead.”
I was sitting on the porch at my in-laws lake house in the middle of Missouri when the e-mail came in. Our friends who were house/dog sitting for us were reporting in that Jarvis (the newest Yerton family member) had been bitten by something and they were on their way to the emergency vet.
Three questions raced through my mind: Is he going to be okay? What do we tell the kids? And how much is this going to cost? Not necessarily in that order.
Over the next few days, we learned that the dog had, in fact, been bitten by a snake, probably a copperhead. Fortunately for all of us (our friends were a wreck as well), the snake didn’t inject any venom, and Jarvis would be fine. He just had to deal with local swelling and pain…and the indignity of having his leg shaved for the IV. But for those 24-36 hours, awaiting the results of blood work and multiple phone calls to the vet, it was a little traumatic.
One of the bigger issues in all this was how to tell the kids. I mean, do you tell them at all, especially since we knew the dog would most likely be okay? Do we protect them from having to worry about something they have no control over, or do we dive in and keep them up-to-date as we find out more?
This is one of the issues we face as parents. Like the quote above, do we try and prepare the road ahead, smoothing out the rough spots to protect our kids? Or do we prepare our kids for the road ahead, teaching them to navigate the circumstances and emotions that life will throw at them? If we’re honest, we know the answer is the latter…but, in reality, it’s very tempting to get caught up in protective instincts and parental reactions. We become helicopter parents almost by default, hovering around our kids and desperately trying to smooth out the road ahead.
I read an article recently that talked about the current generation entering the job market. The article told of applicants who were being considered for a job, only to have a parent call the prospective employer with questions and demands for their child. It sounds ridiculous (because it is!), but the writer found countless examples from HR departments around the country experiencing the same trend: parents so invested in smoothing out the road ahead for their kids, that they couldn’t stop doing it even into adulthood.
It’s an interesting contrast when you hold that model up against what Jesus taught. Jesus promised His disciples that their world would be filled with trouble. He reminded them that life comes with an enemy. He told them that things like grief and being humbled and having their faith tested would be the norm, ever-present rough spots in the road. He said some of those things would even be for their benefit, and that He could redeem all of them. Yet even for us as adults, how many of us expect the road ahead to be fairly smooth? We might acknowledge that rough spots are bound to happen…but when they do, we’re always caught off guard, unprepared to navigate the circumstances and emotions that come with them.
Maybe that’s why we work so hard to try to make it that way for our kids.
It might seem like a small thing, but all this was going through my head as Jen and I talked about when and how to tell the kids about the dog. Do we protect them and just not share? Especially as it looked like he was going to be ok. But Jen remembered this quote, and it seemed like the perfect time to practice helping them navigate the road ahead. So we called a family meeting and broke the news. Initially, they handled it okay. Then, the tears came. Mostly for Lucas. Jarvis is his dog more than anyone else’s, and it broke his little heart to know his dog was hurting. It was hard to watch, but there was also something inescapably right about it.
The next day, we were driving down the road, and I asked Lucas how he was doing. It was a funny conversation. He was okay, he said, but insisted that he’d rather have gotten bitten by the snake. “You know, because, I’m seven and big, and Jarvis is only a puppy.” “True,” I said. Then, we talked about how when you love someone, you’d rather hurt than watch them hurt. And I told him that’s exactly how Mommy and I feel about him and Tessa. We love them that much. And then we talked about how Jesus must feel the same way about all of us.
The coolest thing is that conversation happened because we were in a small way taking that step of faith and preparing our kids for the road ahead. Through grief and more than a few tears, God seemed to open a doorway for our kids to understand a little more of the Gospel. And even though it caused us a little vacation stress, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m pretty sure Jarvis feels differently.