Monday, September 25, 2006

How Much Involvement In My Child’s Education Is “Healthy?”

School is now in full swing and like so many areas of a father’s life it may not be clear what is too much involvement (“Let’s do OUR math homework now!”) and how much is too little involvement (“What grade did you say you were in this year?”) For some of us, our dads were “missing from action” when it came to our school life. For others, our fathers may have had the opposite problem, over-involvement in our school life. It is clear that we can drift into either of these two unhealthy extremes, one being what psychologists call “enmeshment,” where we try to re-live our own childhood through our children, OR the other extreme, “detachment” where we leave our kids to fend for themselves in their educational experience.

Both of these extremes come from self-centeredness and not a healthy love for our child. In the first situation, becoming overly involved, we see his or her success as our success, smother our child, deny his or her unique individuality and stifle the development of their initiative. On the other end of the spectrum, we are also being selfish. When we don’t care enough to engage in the most significant part of our young child’s life, we fail to enter his or her world and understand it. We let our preoccupation with our own priorities consume our attention and our child suffers in the process.

As Christ-following fathers, you and I enjoy a relationship with the Heavenly Father who neither enmeshes with us nor detaches from us, His beloved children. He is intimately involved in and aware of the details of our lives without oppressing or “micro-managing.” And the Holy Spirit leads all believers into all truth (John 16:33). As one of my pastors used to say, that since this is true, then in some area of my life I will always be in “untruth.” His responsibility is to lead us in the direction we need to go to become more like our Heavenly Father. But how do we make this happen?

Here’s a hint. How did your father treat your education? If he was obsessively concerned about your grades and your school performance you may have moved to the opposite extreme and become detached for fear of being like him. However, most likely you will have the same tendency towards over-involvement. On the other hand, if he was uninvolved, you may be over-reacting by micromanaging your kids’ school life out of fear of being like him. But again, most likely, you will struggle with that same tendency toward under-involvement.

In either case, it is helpful to identify your natural tendency and then move in the desired direction in dependence upon Christ, towards “healthy” school involvement. For some of us, this may mean we need to consciously engage more; for others this will mean we need to back off and lighten up. I myself am struggling to stay healthily engaged with my kids’ school now that they are in high school. With my son who is a gifted athlete, I find myself asking him more about his sports than his schoolwork. And with my youngest daughter, who is a gifted student, I have made the mistake of taking her excellent academic work for granted, and in so doing, not demonstrating to her enough concern about her schoolwork. I realize that both of these are un-“healthy” responses.

I know the adjustments the Heavenly Father is calling me to make. How about you, Dad?


Anonymous said...

I can relate to Jamie's struggle. It was so much easier for me to be connected to my kid's school when they were younger. I need to be more proactive about it! More interest and involvement is the direction I need to move as well as I see that I have become increasingly detached from their school life.

Stephen M said...

Wonderful wisdom. The same balance between the extremes crosses over in many areas of parenting. One area I've discovered more flexibility is that of discipline. I've learned that not each child responds to the same discipline equally. Each child has a unique motivation and growth point. Effective discipline, as well as encouragement, engages the child as a unique and whole person--not a one size fits all. The same idea you shared in this piece about education. Very well done. Thank you.