Caring…or Coddling?

I’ve been running into them a lot lately… folks trying desperately to communicate the message, “I love you,” by over-indulging the whims of their loved one. Of course they wouldn’t say they are overindulgent. They wouldn’t want to use the words “coddle” or “enable.” But that is what they are doing.

These are the husbands or wives who cave in to their spouse’s selfish demands and wilt when they throw a pity party. Consequently the person becomes more and more needy. Often these spouses have legitimate struggles, but pampering is rarely what will help them make the most progress. So, should the husband or wife of such a spouse take a tough, “Suck-it-up-and-deal-with-it” stand? Should they convey a cold, “this-is-your-problem-not-mine” attitude?

Definitely not. Scripture tells us to “weep with those who weep” and “mourn with those who mourn.” It tells us to “comfort the afflicted.” It is always a good idea to give assurance to a troubled partner… “I love you Sweetheart. I really care that you are going through this hard time. Do you have a suggestion as to what I could do to best help you?” This moves the person from replaying the problem to actually formulating a possible solution. Maybe they just need an opportunity to verbalize their feelings (although throwing blame on other people for how he/she feels must be off limits). Maybe they just need a little break to take a nap, or go for a walk outside. If their solution is reasonable and doable, this is a practical way their husband or wife can help. And it is always good to bring God’s truth into the situation… not in a preachy, condescending way, but in an encouraging, uplifting way. “We’re going to make it through this… the Lord has promised to be our Helper and Deliverer… His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Let’s trust Him together.” Then a sincere prayer for help along with a big hug can make a huge difference.

The same principles can apply between parents and their children. Unfortunately, we have raised a generation of “entitled” individuals. Many of these young people have grown up depending on Dad or Mom for everything… chauffeuring, financial support, food, shelter, clothing, help with school work, participation in all of their activities. They have reached adulthood barely able to make their own decisions, yet becoming angry and/or petulant when their parents don’t give in to their demands.

Of course, the real solution for this is to not even begin to coddle children… but to teach them from an early age to be responsible, independent people. A good principle to follow is “never do for your child what your child is capable of doing for himself.” And most children are capable of doing a lot more than we give them credit for. We don’t have to look back very far in history, to recognize that children a generation or two ago carried much more responsibility, at much earlier ages than most young people do today. Certainly parents should communicate bushels of love and care for their children. They can do this by encouraging their children, be interested in their pursuits, being quick to comfort, advise and support them, by hugging them, laughing with them, playing with them. But children thrive best when given the opportunity to bless others, rather than always being the center of attention.

I am forever grateful to my own father, who although he communicated tons of love and interest in me, clearly expected me to shoulder responsibility for myself. Unlike many parents today, he chose to invite me into his world, rather than feeling obligated to revolve around me. And he didn’t protect me from adversity, but helped me learn in the midst of it. It is interesting to me that as I look back over my life, some of the greatest lessons I learned, were learned through tough times. And it was in the struggles of life that I learned to go to the Lord and seek His help. What a loss if I had been protected from these struggles.

The beautiful butterfly must work its own way to freedom. The well-meaning observer, who splits the cocoon, actually ends up ruining the insect’s chances for flight. I fear that by coddling many of our loved ones, we’ve robbed them of their greatest potential.

Jesus definitely displayed the perfect balance. No doubt He cared deeply for all human beings… so much so that He laid down His life for them. Yet He didn’t trot along behind His disciples. On the contrary, He set the course each day… He took the lead and called others to follow Him. He sent them out on their own and allowed them to fail. He showed tender compassion on those who were suffering. He was boldly tough on the arrogant and the self-centered. He cared… but He didn’t coddle… and His followers ended up changing the world. Perhaps when it comes to truly caring, we could all take a lesson from Jesus 🙂