#AtoZChallenge: V is for Vague Differences Between Protecting and Sheltering

stormtrooper real fab four

I might be prone to excessive examination at times.

VEspecially when it comes to the philosophical, or soccer, or cheese. So many moments as a dad, acting in the moment and considering the impact later, at night, when I should be writing or sleeping or at least eating graham crackers.

Who am I kidding? I’m eating graham crackers anyway.

As I vacillate between the college kid soccer girl and the high school soccer girl and the budding musician/soccer girl, happy to have spots in their worlds, I think about how I parent, vague (or subtle?) differences in what we do.

When the kid is far away or introverted or extroverted, a dad has a choice: To protect, or to shelter, his girl from what the universe tosses this way.

Vague differences between protecting and sheltering a child serve only as a cheap way into the V-day in the A to Z Challenge. #sorrynotsorry. This has been on my mind all day. And I love to talk (write) about fatherhood.

Defining protect

Keep safe from harm or danger.

I pushed Elise in a carriage in a mall when she was an infant, her parents new at this game. A group of teens walked our way, boisterous but harmless, for a moment. Then one pushed his buddy toward our carriage, which he nearly fell onto.

I instinctively stepped in front and planted an elbow on his bony chest.

I like to tell the story as if I’d saved Elise from a carjacking. It fell far short of that. I merely protected her, just as any father human or giraffe would. It’s the same way I’d bundle up any of the girls on frigid days, or slap on sunscreen.

Or drive without texting or speeding when she’s beside me in the Pontiac – or even if she’s not so that I can help myself be here longer for her.

It’s in the restraint I show with lackadaisical game refs who let defenders pulverize my girls on the pitch, with hands on hips and a death glare. Make the damned call, sir. It’s also why I’ll never walk onto a field if she’s ever hurt in a match.

To protect her isn’t to build a bubble around her – but to let her grow in a safe environment, which isn’t always safe.

Defining shelter

A place giving temporary protection from bad weather or danger.

One ref in a tournament in Columbia seemed allergic to his whistle. Grace took shot after shot – not at the goal, but to her ribs, thighs, legs, and shoulders. She’d peel herself up off the grass and go again, as he hobbled on.

I considered pulling her off the field.

I saw Grace determined to play on despite the awful calls. In a moment I’m still not sure I did the right thing, I did finally send in a substitute for her after the last crushing non-foul dropped her again. Still, no whistle.

She didn’t get up, and the ref called me onto the field.

I walked close to him, teeth gritted. I’d already tossed my hat on the ground. (This is me acting out, by the way.) He met my gaze and turned away first. Grace’s teammates had already helped her up, and she scowled too.

“These refs don’t call anything,” she said, and I had to laugh a little.

She reentered the game 2 minutes later. We lost, and she got toppled a few more times. It became apparent to me that day that I could protect her all I wanted to. I couldn’t, however, justify sheltering her.

What’s the difference?

I’m glad you asked.

To protect, I’m like a spotter. I’m there if she falls. I’m there if she needs help. I’m there to clear branches out of the path or give a ref the malo ojo. (Evil eye, my white friends.) I’m looking out, as the kids say.

To shelter, I’m like bad legislation.

Sheltering looks like switching out a dead fish in the tank for an identical live one. Sheltering involves missing soccer signups the season after one kid suffers a blow to the head that knocks her cold.

If I do her homework or threaten a boy who likes her or if I ban her from eating Whoppers with cheese, I’m sheltering, sheltering, and unfairly sheltering.

It’s helping her with homework she’s supposed to finish on her own, and perhaps doing her project, start to finish. It’s tempting. You want to see your child thrive, to the extent that you’ll do anything to keep her out of the equation so she can.

Examine that excessively. Then, get out of her way.

But stay close.

The rest of the A to Z to this point:

A is for Addiction to Devices

B is for Burgers (3 Lessons I learned During a Month Without Them) Plus 3 Random Smartphone Pics

C is for Interview with a Cat

D is for Do What I Do and Eat What I Eat

E is for Eight Things I’ve Left Behind

F is for  Foods That Bring Me Comfort

G is for #GirlsRock: An Interview Mental Health Care Advocate Kitt O’Malley

H is for Halfway There

I is for Ice Cream

J is for Justification for the Blog Life

K is for 7 Women I’d Sing Karaoke With

L is for Last 3 Blogs I Read (and Why You Should, Too)

M is for Men I Forgot to Be

N is for the New Plan

O is for One Day From Payday Spicy Chicken Skillet

P is for Too Many Projects, Not Enough Time (a Guest Post from Kathy of The Second Half of My Life)

Q is for Quote Challenge

R is for Blogger Recognition

S is for Six Words

T is for Teenagers

U is for Unconventional Loves

vagueness quote


  1. Great V. I’ll have to come back to catch up. Love hearing life from a dad’s perspective. Especially with girls.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks, Lynn! I can’t believe we’ve almost finished the alphabet. Being dad of girls has been an incredible ride.

  2. Lyn says:

    helping her with homework she’s supposed to finish on her own, and perhaps doing her project, start to finish It is tempting isn’t it 🙂 The most I’ve done is sat up till 2am with my oldest daughter and read her hand-written notes while she finished typing it into the computer. The project was due the next day :/

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It is tempting, Lyn, you just want to step in and take care of it. But when you see how much she wants to make it her own, even adding things and doing things you wouldn’t advise, well, it’s her project, and you should be proud.

      Elise had both parents drawing a University of Hawaii logo in the wee hours for a project – and coloring it in, too. Ever seen that logo? It isn’t basic.

      At crunch time, the rules are a little more lax, I think.

  3. Mary Lou says:

    Beautiful post, Eli. My ‘boys’ are grown men and my heart still wants to protect. I love graham crackers, too! ❤

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks, Mary Lou. It never ends, I think. And graham crackers just make all of it better. Good and bad.

  4. hilarymb says:

    Hi Eli – I can understand the protecting and sheltering aspects … and not having kids – I’m not sure how much homework I’d have helped with .. not a lot – the syllabus is a wee bit tricky now – well it’s that different approach … I hope I could actually manage it?! cheers Hilary


    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Help is one thing, Hilary – I want to help, 24/7. I just don’t want to get to heavy-handed. You just manage it one crisis at a time!

  5. Kathy G says:

    Years ago a friend gave me a guideline to help me decide if I would be offering genuine assistance to my children or enabling them by doing something they should do by themselves–would I do it for someone else’s kid? Usually the answer was ‘no’, which meant I should back off.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      That’s an airtight guideline, Kath. I like that a lot.

  6. Song A Day says:

    Very solid post, it’s a really thin line to have to dance around that not too many people manage to see in the moment. Loved the great examples, even though I don’t have kids it made it super relatable.
    Good luck on the last week of the A to Z!
    Song a Day
    V is for Venom

  7. What a fine line to walk. I am glad I manage to restrain myself from helicoptering most of the times. Meaning I want to slap the kids who bully my son, but I don’t. I want to remove obstacles that make things hard for him, but I don’t.
    You know what, though? Sometimes I wish somebody would do those things for me!! 😂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Right-o, Tamara. I’ve learned to stay at arms length. I have been fortunate that the bullying my girls encounter has been minimal – and they take matters into their own hands.

  8. John Holton says:

    Protecting, you’re being a parent. Sheltering, you’re being a helicopter parent. Big difference.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      You summed it up in 11 words, John.

  9. Excellent distinction! And really, sometimes we NEED to be sheltered. But mostly, we only need to be protected. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth. Shelter’s important when we cannot protect ourselves, I think. Protection is optimal. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Rebecca Douglass says:

    I think you have a good grip on healthy parenting! I gave a group of my son’s friends (mostly girls, which is unknown territory to me) some food for thought when I said that G. has freedom because I largely give it to him until he shows he can’t use it well. They were envious, though I’m not sure they were listening to the part where I noted that if he screwed up, freedoms would start to vanish!

    The Ninja Librarian’s Favorite Characters

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks, Rebecca. I think that benefit of the doubt you gave G goes along with what we can all expect in life – a freedom until we prove we don’t deserve it.

      At least it introduces the idea that our behavior dictates our freedom, right?

  11. messymimi says:

    Quite the balancing act, isn’t it? No one is sure they got it right, either.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Just when we think we’re right, circumstance turns it all over anyway.

  12. Mandy says:

    Great post! It sounds like you are a wonderful parent who knows when to help and when to step back! 🙂

    With Love,

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks, Mandy! I’ve no real grip on parenthood, but I know that, and that’s half the battle.

  13. ksbeth says:

    a great distinction and very hard to not cross over the line at times. we do the best we can i think ,sometimes falling on the wrong side, but with the best of intentions. i now see my girts try out this balancing act with their own young children.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      You can’t even see the line at times, Beth. I’d rather err this way than to err by absence. how are your girls doing?

      1. ksbeth says:

        So true – all well for now)

  14. I’m learning a lot from you about parenting, Eli! (•́⌄•́๑)૭✧

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Remember I’m not FDA or UE approved, Pat. Proceed with caution.

      1. Got it, Eli! ヘ(=^・ω・^= )ノ

      2. Eli Pacheco says:

        Also, some assembly required. Offer not valid in all areas.

      3. Noted, CD! └(=^‥^=)┘

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