Covering For Kids Isn’t Love

It wasn’t just because he was their kid. The parents were on their son’s side in the disagreement because that was the right side to be on. He was the one who was only ten percent to blame, while the other guy—an adult authority figure in his life—was ninety percent wrong.

The problem had been building between the son and the adult for a while, with both sides feeling disrespected and both claiming it was the other person’s fault. The parents were left in the middle of all this, making observations and hearing two different versions of each story.

As they talked things over and weighed the scales, however, it became more and more clear to the parents that the bulk of the blame was not their son’s. In this instance it was mostly the adult, not the child, who was causing a rift.

It was mostly the adult who was stirring things up and making trouble. It was mostly the adult who had respect issues. It was mostly the adult who needed to change.

Even though their son had played a role, he was the one who had been wronged, mostly. So there the parents were, in the middle of a classic dilemma: Do we step back and let our child handle this one, or do we step in and defend him?

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is figuring out when it’s best to let go in order to let kids grow up a little. This is a question of apron strings: When should parents intervene? And when, despite all the parents’ protective instincts, should they not intervene?

Let’s say a child gets caught cheating at school. Do the parents make them accept the consequences, or do they make excuses for them? Do they let their child face punishment and shame, or do they call the teacher and try to explain everything?

This situation occurred in my household with one of my sons when he was in elementary school. My wife had called me while I was on my way home to tell me our son was caught cheating. My first reaction was anger. How could a child of mine resort to cheating? Hadn’t we taught him better?

I remember driving the car and thinking to myself that I’m going to nail that boy when I get home. Right at that moment, a convicting thought came into my head. When I was in the same grade, I had also cheated at school.

The rest of my drive home was consumed with a conversation I had with myself about how I would talk to my child and admit that I had struggled with the very same thing and yet not let him off the hook.  When I got home, my son and I went into what we call the “wobble” room, a place where there is a little give and take. I was prepared and ready for a great conversation.

My son, however, looked sheepish and sad as he slouched against the wall with his head hung down. When he looked up at me, I found myself staring into the saddest eyes I’d ever seen. He looked like one of those hound dogs whose face looks perpetually sullen. Instinctively I wanted to comfort him and soothe his fears, but I knew he needed to feel the discomfort and to associate it with his actions. He explained to me how it happened and when he was done, I paused for a moment and then told him how I had cheated once too. It surprised him, but I think it helped to take the edge off the conversation.

I told him he needed to confess what he did to his teacher. He flinched at the idea but he really didn’t have a choice. My goal was to build his character. If I covered for him and agreed not to tell his teacher, then what good does that accomplish? Play that out into adult life, and then he begins cheating at work, stealing from his employer and he surrounds himself with friends who will condone his behavior.

I believe it was on that day in that little classroom when he had to meet his teacher and say, “I cheated,” that my son learned a valuable lesson. He understood how much his mother and I value honesty and that there will always be consequences to disobedient behavior.

Does that mean it was easy? No. Did I really feel like going to the teacher? Of course not, but it needed to happen in order for my son to grow and understand the importance of honesty.

When parents choose to cover for their kids, they often say the choice comes as a result of love. It goes something like this: “I want the best for my child, so I’m willing to be the buffer for pain in their life.”

There’s a problem with this, though, because covering for kids isn’t love. When parents consistently take the heat for their child’s mistakes, they make it impossible for them to learn from their errors.

They also stunt their children’s understanding of responsibility, and limit their maturity. They prepare them to slack off in their job someday, to point fingers in their marriage, to never ask for forgiveness, and to always blame everybody else.

But if parents will step back and let their children face the consequences of their actions, they’ll be teaching them the importance of owning their own behavior. As a result, they’ll grow to be wiser, kinder, more responsible, and better adults.

For a great example of this, we don’t have to look any farther than the family from this article’s beginning. The parents arranged a meeting between their son and the adult he disagreed with. The son, knowing what was expected from the meeting, gave a genuine apology for the disrespect he had shown. In response, the adult got angry and apologized for nothing.

A picture of that meeting would show a sad contrast, wouldn’t it? On one side a child at peace, on the other an adult sulking—and likely because somebody’s parents had covered up for them out of love.


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