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Every parent wants his or her child to grow into an independent, self-sufficient, and wise adult. This desire is counterbalanced by the need to protect our children from life’s many dangers. We worry that we are protecting them to the point of stifling them or that we are letting them freely roam to the point of neglect. We see a parent who lets his child run to the store alone and we ask, “Am I overprotective?” Another parent attends all of her son’s lessons and practices with him, and we think, “Maybe I’m not cautious enough.”

And we wonder: How do we teach our children to be independent without endangering them in the process? How do we know when they are ready to take the small steps away from our side which will ultimately lead them to a life of their own? In this world of dangers, how can we teach them to be free without putting them in peril?

First of all, we need to realize that no matter what precautions we take, there will always be danger. We cannot and should not live in fear and worry. We must relinquish our worries to the Lord, pray, and trust Him to give us and our children protection and good sense. I recently read an article on eagles. I was truly struck by the section detailing the training of the eaglets to fly.

“The mother eagle throws the eaglets out of the nest and because they are scared, they jump into the nest again. Next, she throws them out and then takes off the soft layers of the nest, leaving the thorns bare. When the scared eaglets jump into the nest again, they are pricked by thorns. Shrieking and bleeding they jump out again.” (Dr. Myles Monroe, 7 Principles of an Eagle)

Several years ago a pair of mourning doves built their nest in one of the hanging baskets directly outside our dining room window. We had fun peeking at the two eggs and then at the fluffy babies. (I’m sure our house looked odd from the street, with three lush hanging baskets and a fourth that was dry as a stick with an assortment of children peering into it on a regular basis.)

One day, we noticed an unusual amount of activity coming from the nest. I called for the kids, and we watched in wonder as the two little birds were taught to fly. The mother and father flew from the nest, closely flanking one baby bird. The baby teetered at the edge of the nest for just a moment before trusting his parents and flinging himself out into the air beside them. The three flew in a small circle and soon returned the baby to the nest. They repeated this exercise several times, going farther afield, always staying one on either side of their baby, watching and guiding. By the next day the babies were leaving the nest for short periods on their own.

These birds serve as a graphic illustration of how our parenting can be. I don’t want to be the eagle, throwing the eaglet from the nest when I think the time is right. Like the mourning dove, I want to guide my children to increasing independence so that one day I can wait in the nest as they make that first solo flight, and I will know that they are prepared for it and will do it well.

A great deal is currently being said against overprotective parenting. People say to let kids go, remove the boundaries, allow them to take risks. A member of our local homeschooling group forwarded on an article regarding this topic. The author told how she had allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway and bus alone. She took him into town, gave him some maps and money, and went home to wait for him. I am truly glad that her 9-year-old made it home safe and whole. I also think that her action was a bit like throwing the eaglet from the nest.