I’ve often wondered if having a parent in law enforcement makes a difference in the way someone parents. I’ve come to the conclusion that in some ways it does. Recently reading a Facebook post from a fellow police parent, I realized the experiences we have at work definitely affect the way that we view our world.
Some police parents can be underprotective of their children especially when they are going through the rough adolescent period. This manifests itself as a type of ostrich syndrome. We don’t want to believe that our child is experimenting with marijuana or committing acts of juvenile delinquency. After all, we have raised them well and there is no way that they would make choices like that. Why would they want to defy us especially when they know what we do for a living?
Although this is more uncommon than a police parent being overprotective, it is just as harmful. As parents, we must be realistic about our children and the choices they are faced with. We need to approach parenting with the understanding that each child is different and has the ability to make good and bad decisions. What we can give them are the tools to weigh different scenarios and an open line of communication with us when they don’t know what the right answer is. It doesn’t benefit either them or us if we parent under the mistaken belief our children cannot or will not make a bad choice.
There is no doubt that because police see the worst in society it colors the way they view everything around them. Even if we don’t see stabbings, shootings, kidnappings, sexual assaults and vicious child abuse every shift, we hear about them in the stories fellow officers tell, trainings and in what we read. Violent people and horrendous situations occur all around us and it’s hard not to get overprotective of our children.
When my sons were young, my husband and I would take them to the local park. As I watched our youngest playing on the grass by my feet, I would glance up every once in a while to see our oldest going down the slide or swinging. I’d look over at my police officer husband and he would be surveying the same scene but for difference reasons and with different eyes. I was looking for the glee in our son. He was looking for lurking child molesters.
The overprotective side of police parenting breaks down into two sections: No faith in the outside world and No faith in your child.
No Faith in the Outside World aka They’re all Bad Guys and we must keep the Bad Guys Out
In her book, I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D. reminds us, “Because cops do so much catastrophizing—expecting the worst possible outcome at all times—they are apt to overreact…” When my children were at the age where they began exploring a bit more of the world including going over to friends’ houses for play dates, I remember the agonizing I would do before they would go. Like a good parent, I made sure I knew the family, had visited the home and was comfortable that the environment was healthy. But, my thought processes didn’t stop here. In my mind, I would be running through horrible scenarios about what could happen to my child if he were out of my sight. Many times, I almost canceled an outing because of all the possible harms that could come to my child if I let him go. All of these scenarios grew from my work in dispatch and all the calls I had listened to over the years. I cannot begin to imagine the horrible scenarios that went through my police officer husband’s head. The world can be a very ugly place and the thought of releasing a child into it is frightening.
No Faith in your Child aka My Child is an Innocent Victim and We must keep the Good Guys In
On the other side of overprotection is the belief that our children cannot make good choices and we must keep them from ever leaving our sight. Our oldest son is in the driving age group now. Recently we had a discussion about how he was going to get to prom. He does not yet have his driver’s license and his girlfriend just received hers. He asked if he could ride with her. I said no. Not only is it illegal for those with a provisional permit (under 18) to have non-siblings in the car with them, all I could think about was my son’s mangled body trapped under a roll-over. The vision was so real I wouldn’t even consider the option of him riding in any car with other teens. Naturally, he is upset at me (I received the whole, “You’re ruining my life and are so unreasonable and I’m never going to get to do anything” argument” and he believes that I’m unrealistic because of my work with the police and now in the fire service. I do realize that I cannot control what happens to my son out in the world and all I can do is give him all the wisdom and, in this case, driving advice I can prior to him going out on his own. Ideally, if we have parented well, our children will be better prepared to deal with the good and bad of the world then children with less aware parents.
As a parent, our most important job is to raise our children to be able to live in this world on their own, make good decisions and follow a set of values and morals that will make society a better place. To do this, we must parent with balance. We must try to stay in the middle—to have an awareness but also a leash. We need to have age appropriate discussions with our children neither sheltering them too much nor giving graphic details of the world we know exists. We need to avoid fear tactics and kid gloves. Utilize your partner to help you parent. Ask each other, “Am I being unrealistic about the world or our child?” Don’t assume you know best or the most because our experiences are based on the worst in society. Be diligent as a parent, but let others do so as well. We have a lot of allies in raising our children, such as teachers, ministers and group leaders. Try not to assume the worst of your child but also do not refuse to see the truth. Police work definitely colors the way we parent. We want to protect our children from the evils of the world but we need to be realistic. If we raise our children with respect, a firm but friendly approach and impart our values, beliefs and love onto them, they will grow up into healthy, productive adults. That is the goal of every parent including those who chose police work as an occupation.
- The Writing Hand
- Breakthrough Series Collaborate at the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform
- More information on Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D.
About The Author:
Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. Her credits include Law Enforcement Technology, Police, Law and Order, Police Times, Beyond the Badge, Michigan State Trooper, Michigan Snowmobiler Magazine and Chief of Police. She writes two columns a month for Officer.com. Michelle worked for the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department for almost eight years. In December 2010, she earned her Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University. Currently, Michelle works as the Administrative Coordinator at Jasper Mountain a residential psychiatric facility for children. In her spare time, she enjoys being the fundraising coordinator for the Lane Area Ferret Shelter & Rescue, playing her bass, working on her young adult novel Desert Ice and raising her two sons in a small town in Oregon.