On Monday, I led our church’s Mom-to-Mom group through a Bible study on the helicopter mom of the Bible. Guess who?
No, not Rebekah, the mother of Esau and Jacob—she sure helicoptered, but she also was so dysfunctional with her strong preference for one son and scheming against the other that I didn’t think she was very helpful.
IMHO, the helicopter mom of the Bible is (drum roll please. . .) Salome, the mother of the disciples James and John, the wife of a prosperous fisherman, Zebedee, and (some think) the sister of Mary, Jesus’s mom.
Salome, with 2 strapping fishers-of-men by her side, strides to Jesus, kneels down and asks him a favor.
Jesus asks, “What is it you want?”
“When you come into your glory, would you please put one of my boys at your right and the other at your left hand side?”
When I go before Jesus on behalf of my kids and he asks, “What is it you want?” how do I answer?
Right now I want one child to respectfully ask me to help obtain “Annie Get Your Gun” costumes and props rather than handing me a piece of paper and saying, “Here’s your list.”
I want another child to break through shyness, make deep friendships and overcome math and a math teacher who doesn’t seem to teach.
And I want yet another child to obsess less about make-up, clothes and thinking she’ll have the perfect life if she gets into HYP (Harvard-Yale-Princeton as she calls it).
I want all 3 to flourish, to discover and use their gifts on behalf of a broken world, to love and be loved.
But most of all, I don’t want them to suffer. And that’s what I think is at the heart of the hovering helicopter parenting style.
Fear that our children will suffer.
We fear that if we don’t:
- Follow Sears, Brazelton, Ezzo, or whoever the latest parenting guru’s advice to the nth degree our kids won’t attach, have healthy self-esteem, or grow up God’s way.
- Set up the right playdates, or socialize with the right moms, or get our kids in the right social groups our kids won’t find the right friends and will end up bullied or ostracized
- Get our kids into the right schools or activities, they won’t get into the right college, where they won’t meet their right spouse, or get prepared for the right job, where they can’t afford to live in the right suburb which will lead to the right pain-free life.
Jesus says to Salome’s request, “You don’t know what you’re asking—can you drink from the cup I’m going to drink?”
“We can!” all 3 reply.
Jesus looks at them with sadness, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
The cup Jesus talks about is the cup of suffering. The same cup Jesus begs God three times to take away in the garden of Gethsemene before he goes to the cross.
He knows Salome, James and John will all drink from that cup of suffering. In the gospels, Salome shows up again at the foot of the cross watching Jesus die, and then at the tomb bringing spices to anoint Jesus’s body. James will be the first disciple to be martyred. John will be the last disciple to die after seeing all his friends martyred first.
Jesus came into his glory and kingdom while hanging on the cross. And 2 nameless thieves hung on his right and left side.
Isn’t that a bummer? When we go to Jesus on behalf of our children, ultimately asking that they won’t suffer, his answer is NO. They’re going to suffer and there’s nothing we can do to prevent that. It’s a dangerous world out there, and all the hovering I do won’t keep my kids safe.
Yet ironically, our kids are safest by Jesus’s side. So somehow teaching our kids how to suffer well, how to transform their pain rather than transmit it, how to forgive or turn the other cheek may actually be one of the most central tasks of our parenting.
There are a couple things Salome did well.
- She followed Jesus herself
- She released her kids to follow him also
She released her kids to leave the family business to follow Jesus. She released them to a whole new mission in life. She released them to suffering and death, but through their suffering the world was never the same again.
What do you say if God asks you, “What do you want?”
What do you fear?
How do you release your kids to the future they’re called to?