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Caretaking VS. Caring: A Subtle Difference!

November 15, 2014

Before you were conceived I wanted you
Before you were born I loved you
Before you were here an hour I would have died for you
Such is the miracle of love!

There is no doubt that you love your children. You would happily lay down your life to save theirs. You want the best for them and you work hard to provide it both financially and emotionally. You sacrifice luxuries to buy for them. You lose sleep worrying about them. You work, often exhausted, night and day, to make sure they are safe and happy.

But let’s not lose sight of a historic perspective. My great grandmother gave birth to thirteen children but three died in childhood. My husband’s grandmother lost two children, an eight year old and a five year old, on the same day, to diphtheria. Both these women were forever changed but had no choice but to move on and continue caring for the children that remained.

Which brings us to the good word: caring. Caring for your children implies a healthy, well­ balanced outlook on parenting. While you do all that is in your power to raise them and protect them you do not lose sight of the fact that some things are beyond your power.

For most of us those things are relatively minor: a few scraped knees, a friend who has hurt their feelings? The death of a pet, and other incidents of childhood. A caring parent rolls with the punches never forgetting that as painful as some of these experiences may seem most are learning opportunities that can actually enrich your child’s appreciation for what’s really important and precious in life.

A caring parent will offer sympathy, understanding, support, and usually a new toy at times like these. A caring parent will not rush out at ten o’clock at night to find a new goldfish that looks just like the old goldfish so his or her child doesn’t have to feel the pain of knowing that “Goldy” has passed on!

That parent is busy caretaking. This is a completely different style of parenting! Caretaking is not a healthy, well-balanced outlook. It implies that you will protect your child from life itself, keeping him or her in a protective bubble where he or she will always be happy and you will go to any length to keep this fantasy world running smoothly.

A parent who is caretaking acts as if every incident is an affront to him or her. They have thoughts such as, “This is someone’s fault and I won’t stand for it!” This parent is the one who is embarrassed when the child cries in public so the toy that’s being demanded is always bought, the pain of a friend’s unkind words must always be assuaged with an ice cream cone, and the “bored” child must always be entertained.

Please realize that your children are blackmailing you and holding you hostage!

Sooner or later your child is going to have a real problem in life and, since it will be later (because you will solve all the sooner problems) he or she will, most likely, be away at college and has absolutely no coping skills! He or she will be completely powerless because you have never given him or her opportunities to find a solution. This child, nearly an adult, is left hopelessly alone with the problem.

Fortunately, for the caretaking parent, there is a solution! You can fly or drive to the campus to hold your child’s hand! You can fire off a nasty letter to the registrar’s office! You can wire money! And your child can remain forever a child, dependent on you to make life go away.
Earlier generations knew what they were doing. They knew that despite the best of plans unhappiness happens and children need to know how to deal with it.

We are extremely fortunate to live in a time when diphtheria, smallpox, and other dreaded diseases no longer take our children from us. Even a serious infection like streppe throat can be cured in a few days. This blessing has given us a false sense of security. We can’t protect them from life! Even if we could we probably shouldn’t.

Please do not misunderstand. I never want to see any child hurt but which does the greater damage – an occasional bruise, or even a broken arm, or the annihilation of a child’s spirit and joy in life -• because we are determined to protect them from life?

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