There have been many defining moments in my motherhood journey so far, but one stands out in particular because of what another mother taught me not to do.
Several years ago, I was at the park with my eldest daughter who at the time was only about nine or ten months. Frankly, it was kind of a silly trip because she wasn't walking yet, and there is not a lot to do at a park when you're not very mobile. But, this park is right across the street from our house, and we needed something to do on one of those days that was just hinting at getting warm.
Another mother was already there with an infant and a toddler. If I recall correctly, the mom was wearing one of those soft-sided carriers that are essential with kid #2 while watching her older child, who seemed about three or four. This little girl was having the time of her life, running back and forth on the play structure my girls have since dubbed "the castle."
Still new at this mom thing, I kept one eye (and one hand) on my daughter while watching this other mother. I could barely handle my one and was impressed by this woman calmly taking care of twice as many.
I noticed right away that while she was interacting with her daughter, she was not hovering. I was still in babyland and longed for the day when my child could play at a park independently, so I appreciated that this mom was already there with one of her children.
And then it happened.
The little girl fell off the play structure.
The ground below was covered with that rubbery playground material, but I can imagine that a fall of five to six feet still hurt. I'm pretty sure that I audibly gasped and at the very least, my jaw dropped. But here is what I will always remember.
The little girl's mother did nothing.
The little girl, who was made out of rubber herself, lay stunned for a moment before slowing sitting up. It was only then that her mother casually strolled over and said something along the lines of, "That looked like it hurt. Are you okay?"
And you know what? Of course she was okay. The little girl brushed herself off and resumed playing.
I never officially met this mother, and I don't think I ever saw her again, but I learned an incredibly important lesson that day.
This mother might be the most chill, laid-back person on the planet, but I'm guessing that her heart was pounding just a little bit as she watched her child fall. However, she was wise enough to give her daughter the time and space to take a risk and to independently recognize if she was indeed hurt. I'm also guessing that the little girl remembered that fall for a while and was much more careful in the future than she would have been if her mom had repeatedly told her to stay back from the edge.
Have you ever noticed that you learn more from mistakes that you personally make, not just things that people tell you?
And have you ever seen a kid fall or get hurt and have the parent/caregiver rush over and smother said child with hugs, kisses, tears? Usually, it is only then that the child bursts out crying. Are they really hurt or just hurt because Mom/Dad/Grandma thinks they should be?
You might be one of those moms who swoops in any time your child is in danger or gets injured. I know that I have been guilty of that tendency many times. But I really do make an effort to hold back.
If my goal is to raise independent young adults, then that starts now. If my kids don't have the opportunity to take risks in a safe space, how are they going to navigate the "real world" (whatever that is) when they are out on their own?
During my sophomore year of college, I took a very difficult Spanish class. The profesor made it no secret that she was trying to weed out those who were not serious, so her assessments were particularly challenging. On the first test, I received a 68%...which was devastating for an over-achieving, perfectionist student.
I still remember talking on the phone to my parents shortly after the bad grade, finding it difficult to hold back tears. Ever supportive, my parents listened to my woes. And that was it.
If this had occurred during today's era of lawnmower and other machine parenting, then maybe my parents would have contacted my professor, demanding that I get to re-take the exam or something equally ridiculous. But they never would have dreamed of doing something like that. (Nearly) failing a test was my problem.
Like the little girl at the park, of course I was just fine. I learned from that test that I would have to study extra hard, and I eventually survived the course, even pulling my average up to a B.
I realize that getting a bad grade pales in comparison to actual problems that we've all encountered in adulthood. But handling that setback without parental intervention helped me practice how to deal with increasingly difficult scenarios on my own.