Pushing vs. supporting toward new and great heights

Posted By | September 6, 2019 9:29 am

By Topher Wiles – Central Church of Christ

Our hearts were pounding so hard, we could both hear them in our ears.  In spite of my nerves, my heart was welling up with joy. Could my smile get any bigger in this moment ?  Ethan beamed at me, and I grinned right back at him as our eyes locked about 10 feet apart with nothing in between us but sunshine-filled air.

At one point, I had wondered if this moment was ever going to come.  You need to know that I don’t have a lot of fear when it comes to heights.  Growing up in Middle Tennessee, I had plenty of tall maple trees to climb, lots of cliffs to jump off of into the water below, and many rock climbing opportunities to ascend and rappel.  Since my kids have joined me on adventures since they were little, one would think they would love to climb the highest heights as well.

When our boys were young, I took them rock climbing with our church youth group at Black Mountain, a quaint little spot east of Crossville, Tennessee.  To my surprise, the boys didn’t want to go over three feet off the ground. “No big deal. They’ll conquer their fear of heights soon enough,” or so I thought.  Time continued, and they never did go high in trees nor did Gabriel and Ethan ever enjoy helping me work on the roof of the house. Earlier this year, I was disappointed when 10-year- old Ethan and I traveled to the Nasa Space Museum, in Huntsville, and he was overcome with fear about 15 feet up the indoor Mars Wall.  He was so scared that he was shaking as he clung for dear life to the wall. I wondered if my two oldest boys would ever join me in my love of climbing and rappelling.

As a dad, I want my boys to be everything I am and more.  I desire for them to be as brave as me and braver, strong as me and stronger, adventurous as me and… you get the point.  We all want our kids to be better than us. We want it so bad that we often push our kids too hard, too far, too fast. Psychology Today says that researchers have realized pushing kids too hard comes at a high price.  Premature burnout, unrealistic fear, and feeling like a failure are often the results of this parental pushing style.  Dr. Kyle Pruett describes the cultural shift this way, “Waiting for a developmental skill to emerge in its own time seems just too passive in the 21st century. It leaves many parents today to conclude that pushing will work better than supporting. They wonder only how hard to push, not whether to push at all.”  Bob Cook, a youth sports writer for Forbes.com describes a remedy this way, “But there are also times that we need to back off for our children’s physical and mental health. That can be hard to do, but a little rest can go a long way. And if you’re pushing that hard, maybe you should think about whether your child is really interested in whatever you’re pushing.”

I’ve always struggled with the balance between pushing and supporting.  I’m not alone as a parent. Remembering my own well-intentioned parents takes me back to 1990, when I scored a 95 percent on my report card in sixth grade math (in those days a 95 percent was only good enough for an A-).  That A- was the lowest grade on my report card that year, and my mom seemed furious that I would score so low.  There were some hurtful words said, and I recall slinking to my room to study with my tail between my legs. Here I am nearly 30 years later still remembering those negative emotions as I felt like the biggest disappointment on the planet for the woman that I wanted so desperately to be proud of me.  In that moment, I think mom made the mistake of pushing too hard rather than supporting me toward higher success. I bet some of you parents reading this article have struggled with the same balance my parents years ago and I am working through today.

That’s why the smile Ethan gave me last week on the 40-foot rock wall of Black Mountain was so sweet.  All these years, I’ve chosen not to push the kids into rock climbing or heights. I’ve only offered them opportunities and encouragement along the way.  My own emotions and words have been carefully measured out so that I didn’t make them feel like a disappointment for not learning this non-essential skill.  All the encouragement and offerings paid off as both Gabriel and Ethan “topped-out” on that special day. There were no harsh words, guilt trips, and disappointing feelings.  Both my boys finally succeeded at what most people never achieve. They reached new heights because they desired to and because they were ready.

A few minutes later, when Micah (5 years old) and Clara (3 years old) put on the climbing harness and only reached a height of five feet off the ground, Ashley and I praised and supported them for these small steps in conquering fear.  One day, whenever they are ready, they’ll have that chance to reach for the sky, too.

“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” – Colossians 3:21

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

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