From "God Knows Parenting Is a Wild Ride." Used with permission.

We wish we could weave for our children a protective cape. In fairy tales, the magic cape was often knitted from red wool, made with a generous hood. Sometimes it was silvery or invisible, guarded in a pocket against the moment of necessity. Always, it saved the beloved child from danger. Even to touch it gave the hero a sense of invincibility. "Bring on the worst!" the wearer of the cape could say. "Nothing can defeat me!"

How touchingly simple, we think. At the same time, we long for just such a solution. "If I could give my child an unfailing protection, I would. If I could create for him or her a bullet-proof vest that would ward off all life's dangers, I'd do it in a minute."

Perhaps we can. Perhaps the invisible shield we hang over our children is made up of the values we instill in them, our desperate caring, our prayer for their safety. So we turn to prayer-for our children and maybe just as much for ourselves. We join our concern with God's-the divine parent who loves them even more than we do.

We do not pray for our children in some wishful way, superstitiously trying to prevent all harm. Instead we take an active stance that recognizes our human limitations at the same time it bows before God's power. "I will do everything I can to keep them safe," we say. "But I'm imperfect. I call on you, great God and loving parent, to protect them when I cannot."

This prayer also recognizes the difference between God's ways and our ways. How often we label something "disaster" that instead brings blessing. Ironically, Roberto Benigni, receiving the Academy Award for Life Is Beautiful thanked his parents for giving him "the greatest gift of all: poverty."

The Chinese tell the story of a farmer who owned one horse. When it escaped the corral, the neighbors said, "Bad luck."

The man replied, "Who knows?"

When the lost horse returned, leading a herd of wild horses, everyone in the village rejoiced at such good luck. Said the farmer, "Who knows?"

When the farmer's son broke his leg, the neighbors again commiserated. But when the emperor conscripted every young man for the army, the son was rejected as a cripple. Again came the farmer's refrain: "Good event. Bad event. Who knows?"

We may think we can set the perfect course for our own or our children's lives-but God often has something better in mind. That "something better" sometimes involves a loss, a detour, a plot twist that we'd rather avoid. And yet-in that other way lies unguessed grace.

Great gifts sometimes come disguised as disappointments. For example, a parent's worst nightmare might be an injury so serious it leaves a child without an arm or leg. Yet, we watch in awe as single and double amputees, paraplegics, and quadraplegics compete in the Paralympics that follow the Olympics every four years. Interviews with the athletes reveal that sometimes after devastating loss, great strength of character can emerge. Paralympians do the same feats Olympic athletes do, but they make their achievements in pain. Recognizing this, the Olympic athletes gave the Paralympians a standing ovation when both groups visited the White House after their competition in the Sydney 2000 Games.

So our prayer for our children is modified by the knowledge that we don't always know what's best for them. God does. Thus we join our fondest hopes to a divine plan that is certain and sure. We ask for an avalanche of blessings, all the best God has in store for them.

On The West Wing television series, Martin Sheen, playing the President of the United States, makes a comment to which every parent can relate. His daughter, now in medical school, lashes out, "I could never make you happy." Some time later, when he has thought out a reply, he answers her: "All you ever had to do to make me happy was just come home at the end of the day." For parents, that is both the hope we cherish and the prayer we speak.

Protect Your Children, Even as You Encourage Them

  • Discuss with a friend or spouse, or journal about these questions: As you look back over your own life, which apparent disasters turned out to be good in the long run? How does knowing this difference help you see disappointments in your child's life?
  • As you are falling asleep, repeat your child's or children's names slowly and reflectively. Ask that the child might be protected and become all he or she was created to be.
  • Interview an older person about child-rearing, focusing especially on the question: How did you try to protect your children? What qualities of freedom did you try to help them develop?
  • Draw or imagine the protective cape you would like to give your child or children. If they are old enough, tell them about it or show them the drawing.
  • Think back over your own childhood. What reassured you? What scared you? Then ask your child the same questions. How are the answers different? similar?
  • If your child is the right age for it, read together a book about a parent protecting a child, for instance, A Father Like That by Charlotte Zolotow or Hazel's Amazing Mother by Rosemary Wells.
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