Neighbors, ideologies, governments, social norms and other institutions and beliefs work to create a sense of duty and loyalty in individuals from the day they are born.  Even if some of these institutions and ideas turn out to be good, early fealty to them is often based on guilt for who a person is, shame at what they do, fear of retribution, or ignorance of alternatives.  One of the jobs of a parent is to act as a barrier between these pressures and their kids.

When people call a child “sheltered”, it’s usually meant derogatorily.  But a good shelter is what all kids need.  Not walls that keep them in, but walls that keep some of the strongest forces that seek to mold them at bay.  A seedling needs a protected area in which to gain strength and deep roots before it can weather the strongest winds and weeds.

It’s crucial that this safe space we create for our kids be full of windows and doors – opportunities to explore the very forces that we want to provide a buffer for.  Kids are curious, and the more they have access to information and ideas in a context without coercion, fear, ignorance, guilt or shame, the better conclusions they will draw about them, and the more equipped they will be for the world.

It’s harder than it may seem to create this space.  I think of the times when, far from protecting, I act as an amplifier of the forces of the world.  When your child loudly asks a question considered embarrassing by the mores of the day, it’s very easy to shut them down or project your own embarrassment on them.  It’s not easy to take all the social heat yourself, shield it from your kid, and respond generously.  When kids naively explore the world, we should let them, rather than cajole them into the conventional conclusions and behaviors.

Kids will run into the norms of the world, no doubt about it, but at least parents can ensure they don’t get smacked with it in the sanctuary of their own homes.  Don’t let the walls of your house be those coming in on them, before they have strength to resist.  Let your kids be expansive and boundless!  That’s how they’ll gain strength and identity and an ability to respond to the world around them with ease and freedom.