These are two words we don't often use as youth pastors, but as parents, I think we do even though we may not know we are. As a parent of two young children, I am learning a lot about this idea of enabling or empowering my children. Neither of my kids particularly enjoy going to their children's classes at church. We've had struggles off and on with each of them as we try to encourage them to experience things without mommy & daddy right beside them every single step of the way. This last week, my daughter Saydie had a particularly difficult time in her class. I was asked to sit in with her a little bit in order to calm her down. Saydie showed me around her classroom, talked with me a little bit, we shared craft time together and then I slipped out of the room during the story portion of her experience. I found my wife Bonny and chatted with her about my decision to leave the classroom and together we reached the conclusion that it was a decision based on wanting to empower our kids rather than enable them.
When I think of enabling kids, I think of a mother kangaroo. A mother kangaroo keeps its' baby (a joey) safe in her poach for a minimum of 9 months and up to 18 months. In a mother's poach, the joey is safe and secluded from the world and allowed to grow and mature over time. Did you know that mother kangaroos can actually stop the development process of their babies? They are able to control the rate at which their child develops and at times they do choose to slow down the growth rate of their kids for one reason or another. Sometimes as humans, we do this very same thing even though we may not have intended to do so. When we enable our kids, when we prevent them from experiencing both success and failure, we stunt their growth.
When a child is first learning to walk it's easy for mom and dad to hang onto to them every step of their journey. But over time, we must be willing to let go in order to allow them to experience success (taking steps on their own) and failure (falling down) so that they can grow and mature in their ability to walk and eventually even to run. When we let go of our kids, we are empowering them, but when we hang on to them, we are enabling them. Enabling another person robs them of the confidence they need to succeed in life. As my kids go to sleep I utter a blessing over them, but I also remind them that they have what it takes to succeed in life. It might seem silly to share these things with a 2 year old and a 1 year old, but I believe you are never to young to be affirmed and encouraged to grow.
On the other end of the animal kingdom is another animal known as the sea turtle, who's parenting style is drastically different than that of the kangaroo. A sea turtle swims to shore to lay its' eggs in the sand. It then buries them and swims back out to sea. The eggs hatch without a parent present, and the newborn baby turtles are left to figure out how to survive on their own. This is a parenting style that is all too familiar in our world today. When we as parents desire to be a friend to our children instead of a parent, we operate under this same sea turtle type parenting premise. Instead of helping our children find success, we leave them to flounder on their own without lending a hand for guidance and direction.
There is a third animal, the bald eagle, which employs a balanced approach to parenting that I believe we have much to learn from. When teaching its' children to fly, the mother bald eagle glides up into the sky on the wind currents with her kids on her back. At the appropriate altitude, she turns over allowing both gravity and the wind to take over. She then swoops down underneath her children and catches them on her back once again before repeating this process over and over as her kids learn to fly.
As parents and youth workers, our approach to youth should reflect the balanced enabling and empowering approach shown by the bald eagle. When we connect with youth, are we enabling them or empowering them to succeed? When we teach kids, do we allow them to find their own answers to the questions they have while giving them a set of boundaries and guidelines to help in this process, or do we dismiss the learning journey altogether and simply expose them to a verbal barrage of truth that we hope may stick to the walls of their hearts?
Do we enable or do we empower? I hope I have the courage to empower my kids and strength to refrain from enabling them to simply become consumers instead of creators.