“Those kids are so sheltered.” “At least I wasn’t sheltered.” “I would never shelter my kids.”
Wait!!! When did being sheltered become such a bad thing? When did it become socially unacceptable to shelter our children? When did we start being grateful that we came from a back ground without shelter?
Yes, I know that our conditioned and emotional response to those statements conjures images such as a teenage boy so socially awkward he isn’t sure if he should enter the store via the enter or the exit because his parents never let him go in a store. Naturally he has large baggy jeans and huge glasses that hide half his face. We imagine a pregnant woman with wild fuzzy hair wearing a jean jumper trailed by eleven frumpy kids hiding behind her skirt sporting wide buggy eyes staring at the dangerous world they know they should never engage or encounter because “it’s bad.” To be honest I have never seen this in real life but for some reason that’s what comes to mind when we hear the term sheltered.
Let’s examine the meaning of shelter. First it is considered one of the three basic human physical needs to which every person because of their inherent human dignity has a right, a right that any just society is morally obligated to defend and provide. The other two needs are food and clothing. The specific obligation to provide these needs to children rests with the parents. When a parent fails to fulfill this obligation we call it neglect and abuse while dialing child protective services. To the same extent we acknowledge that children have other needs that parents must meet. Children require to be fed, clothed and yes even sheltered spiritually and emotionally. Children are fed and clothed spiritually and emotionally when they are given wisdom, education, logic, faith and training in skills.
Despite what Hollywood and the Disney channel portray, parents are wiser than their children, even their teenage children. This is why parents feed their children meat and vegetables when their children want candy and sweets. We know that children do not have the knowledge and often the maturity to choose the best option so we rely on parents to choose it for them. Likewise children often want to play out in the cold longer than is good for them forcing parents to call them in to come get warm before their toes fall off. What kind of a mother between the months of October and May doesn’t ask if her child has hat, mittens, and coat in the car before she lets them drive away. As much as 17 year old Billy rolls his eyes, when the car breaks down he’s grateful he listened to mom. Besides directing what it is the children eat or when they come in from the cold, parents provide these goods. It is their worry and their work that buys the food, pays the heating bill and supplies the mortgage. Children simply cannot manage these tasks so they rely on their parents to provide good food, appropriate clothing and a warm home.
In much the same way, it is a parent’s obligation and responsibility to provide emotional and spiritual shelter for their children. Like dietary choices parents have the life experience and the knowledge to know what is toxic and what will hurt their children. They understand what is too much of a good thing like sweets or TV and when more of something else in needed like vegetables or prayer and family time. They must ensure that their children are not exposed to evils they are too immature or young or naive to handle. Here I think more of a plant in a greenhouse. When the plant is too young and weak it needs to be in a warm, secure and controlled environment (aka sheltered) till it is strong and firm. Once it has been given this chance to grow strong it will be able to stand firm during winter months outdoors and bloom again each spring, but if such a plant is placed outdoors too early it will be destroyed immediately. Just like that plant my parents sheltered me. They used their wisdom to see that much of the media, that certain friends, that certain activities or groups were toxic and would hurt me. They raised me in a safe home where I knew I was loved, where I was allowed to believe in truth and beauty, and where I need not be afraid. They filled me with faith in God and made it the air of our home. So many young people are torn down, hurt, rejected, mocked and scorned in their places of formation and it wounds them deeply. I know this from listening to and sharing with these people.
As my maturity and wisdom would grow, my parents allowed me more freedom to make decisions often even letting me make decisions they knew were not the best so that I would learn from them. They often let me fall, but guess who picked me up. Because of this, I have learned trust. I don’t fear that I will be abandoned. I never felt that I was unable to question or challenge, but because of my trust in them I came to them with those questions and challenges. Now I look at the world and I see a place of good and evil. I know there are things in this world that I never wish to experience and because of the lessons I learned I choose to avoid them. Now that I have the maturity to face hurt and rejection it does not destroy me because I know I am loved and I trust those who love me. I have faith in the Lord and wisdom to trust His Church. I, like a little sapling, was sheltered while I was too weak to face the stormy blast on my own. Now I am able I stand like a tree in the middle of a field and sway but do not break as the storm winds blow.
The truth of the matter is that rather than the awkward picture we conjure, sheltered children are becoming well adjusted and psychologically healthy young adults. We are fast becoming leaders in our communities because we are not broken, because our foundation is strong.
My answer: “What’s so wrong with being sheltered?”
Katie Ohnimus is grateful to have studied at home for twelve wonderful years with the best teacher in the world. She graduated in nursing from Franciscan University and currently works as a cardiac renal nurse. She lives in Grand Rapids with her dear husband Christian.