When it comes to helping others, I think most people believe in safety nets. The disagreements involve how the safety nets work. I’m not just talking about government safety nets, but those we have in our families. While all people are created equal, we know that equality starts to deviate with abilities, circumstances, desire, luck—you name it.
The Truths about Safety Nets
There are two truths involving safety nets. One, they are absolutely necessary and humane for many situations. We must help those that are disadvantaged, mostly by mental and physical health, sometimes for various other issues. The second truth is that there are those who will take advantage of the humaneness of others and use safety nets for personal gain. But I submit that there is a third truth! There are those that get help too early, unintentionally allowing them to get tangled in the safety net, unable to get out. I think the third truth is more often accurate regarding our children.
How a Safety Net Should be Constructed
How I imagine a safety net should be constructed can be explained best by thinking of an actual safety net. Safety nets are intended to prevent harm. Those in place for high wire acts are obvious examples. What is not so obvious is the fact that those who fall into the net climb out to try again, and to get better, to the point where the net is rarely necessary—their true purpose!
My imaginary safety net would be made of rubber bands, catching the victims in their fall, but slinging them back into the fray with some momentum. This can be done with training, encouragement, and mentoring. On the other hand, if the safety net is strung with the help of shock-absorbers, the victim will sag gently into the net and it will difficult to escape. This happens in government when the assistance is in proportion to the need. More need can mean more assistance and therefore, more need is created by those with who would take advantage of the system. Similarly, this can happen in families when children are overly protected.
For example, allowing adult children to live at home can entangle them if they aren’t working to get out on their own. Paying for older children’s casual expenses instead of them earning their own spending money can be a trap. Not coaxing younger children to face their fears (water, people, heights, etc.) by shielding them from those fears is certainly a form of protection that does not serve well.
Devise Smart Family Safety Nets
In families, you must construct a safety net, designed to benefit your children the best way you know how. When you do, think about their growth and what you want to accomplish to prepare them for their future. When your children fall into your safety net, think about rubber bands and avoid shock absorbers. For example, if they are overly shy, put them in situations where they can learn confidence finding, then building upon skills. That’s a safety net made of rubber bands. If, instead, you sympathize too much or protect them from their fears, your safety net is cushioned to the point that it is too comfortable—and they will return too often to that comfortable place. That is the third truth of safety nets.
Family safety nets are weak when it is a one-parent household--if there is a safety net at all. In one-parent households there is only parental hand that a child can hold, only one set of ideas to approach problems, only one person to earn, protect, and provide daily care. Real damage can occur and can be irreversible when the family safety net fails. When it does, the government safety net takes over valiantly, yet often without the ability to keep victims from returning. Government safety nets, like food stamps and Section 8 housing, are notorious shock-absorbers. These programs are one size fits all, with no ability to consider individual talents or issues. Because of this, a cycle of need can continue into the next generation.
Avoid using or even allowing safety nets whenever possible. It’s amazing what one can do when there is no alternative. In the U.S. Air Force, I was required to attend survival and POW training to become a combat ready pilot. There was no safety net other than quitting and ruining my career. I didn’t want to do that so I pushed through an experience for which I was really not prepared. I may not have completed this training if it was optional. However, I would have prevailed even if optional because I did have a personal safety net--pride and determination. There was no way I would not complete something that I knew I could complete with a little grit.
The Three Levels of Safety Nets
Safety nets are meant to help, not hinder. I've discussed three levels of safety nets.--use them smartly! The first level starts with your personal safety net of determination. Determination is a safety net of rubber bands, throwing you back to the task at hand. Determination is a safety net that protects you from failure. If that safety net fails, then the family safety net may help--if properly devised to encourage and support improvement. Lastly is the safety net that one should never want to use, although many seek it, and that is the government safety net.
Look at your family situation in terms of the safety nets you may not have even realized were there. Are your safety nets too comfortable? Or do they help those that fall into it--to rebound? Look at yourself as a parent. Do you have a safety net of determination for yourself to raise self-reliant children? Remember how high wire acts use safety nets as tools to help them become more skilled!
Safety nets can be wonderfully effective. They can also be tragically misused. The best safety net is one’s own personal safety net of determination and self-respect. Less effective, but potentially very valuable, is a smartly devised family safety net. The most ineffective and inefficient safety nets are the government safety nets. With a strong two-parent family there are few reasons, outside of health issues, to ever become dependent on government safety nets--unless personal and family safety nets fail first. If 'constructed' properly, that will not likely happen.
Thank you for reading!