Monday, August 13, 2012

weekend experiment

I read two essays with a similar theme last week. One was this blog post by the illustrious Bionic; the other was this opinion piece from the NY Times. Both discuss the merits of allowing your children to explore the world on their own terms (within reason), even if some of their decisions end in tears. (And you really should read both pieces yourself because my gross over-simplification does not begin to do either one justice.)

I am, admittedly, a bit of a helicopter mom. It is the only thing that makes sense to me on a basic, instinctual level. I am the parent of an exuberant 3-year-old without a fully-formed prefrontal cortex. I made him from scratch and I want the best for him. If I could wrap him in bubble wrap until his 18th 21st 99th birthday, you'd better believe I would do it. I love him to the ends of the earth and the world is a scary, scary place. To have both essays come across my computer screen within days of each other felt like a message from the universe, so I did a little experimentation this weekend to see what would happen if I stopped myself from offering the help I give so reflexively and let E sort some things out on his own.

On Saturday, we went to a playground we've never been to before. I did a quick survey of the equipment - safe, well-enclosed, soft rubber underneath - and then let E go. He was hesitant at first, asking me to follow him up the stairs and across the ramps as M or I typically do, but I encouraged him to explore on his own and before long, he was flying around the equipment so quickly it was all I could do to keep him in sight. It was one of those multi-level things where there are a dozen different ladder-esque climbing pieces up onto a series of connected platforms. On a couple of occassions, he tried climbing pieces where the gap from the top of the "ladder" to the platform was far too wide for him to safely step across. In the past, I would be right beside him to keep one hand on the waist of his shorts during his climb and physically lift him across the gap to the platform, but this time, I stood a good distance away. I watched as he carefully selected hand and footholds to scale the apparatus and then, upon reaching the top and realizing he could safely go no further, I watched him take equal care in finding his way back down before scampering off to find another way up. He wasn't hurt. He wasn't disappointed or frustrated. He solved his own problem with no help needed from me and, maybe it was in my head, but he seemed to have a little more fun doing it that way, too.

On Sunday, we went to a nearby farm to pick apples (Side note: Apple season already? Scary.) and E befriended a girl he met in the kids' play area. They ran all over the place until they were both pink-cheeked, then picked a spot near where I sat nursing a baby to chat and build "castles" out of rocks. They were close enough for me to hear their conversation but not so close I could easily intervene if needed. Normally, I would have scooted closer in case I was needed to translate something from his still-developing vocabulary or mediate a disagreement, but this time, I stayed put. The girl asked E his name and his age and chatted about her recent 5th birthday party. I was surprised by and proud of how well he was able to hold his own, conversationally, with this older child. He answered all of her questions and asked some of his own. When she asked if he had a daddy, my body tensed. I know that E understands his family structure is different than most of his friends', but we've never prepped him on how to explain or defend it. Honestly, we've barely talked about it at all. I guess I thought we had more time. He paused for a millisecond before responding, "No, I just have two mommies," with a quick gesture my way as if to illustrate his point. And that was it. They were on to something else and he was completely unaffected by the exchange.

The lesson for me was this: E deserves more of my trust. He is more equipped to care for his inside and his outside than I ever imagined. It is still my job to protect him from the Big Hurts, but I've discovered some new jobs as well: It's my job to NOT do things for him that he is capable or almost-capable of doing himself. It's my job to let him take risks and make decisions that encourage his growth. It's my job to let him experience the consequences when things don't go as he hoped. It's my job to manage my own discomfort while he does all these things. These are all important jobs because I made him from scratch and I want the best for him.

9 comments:

Strawberry said...

Great post! I love that you made yourself "let go" a bit, only to find out how much more awesome E is :) Good for you!

twohotmamas said...

Really, really great post. ♥

anofferingoflove said...

love the post. letting go is such a hard thing for me too, it's totally counter-intuitive (i'd adopt your bubble wrap idea if i could!!) ;)

it is great to hear how well E did with a little extra freedom; i need to give that a try...

jessie said...

So true. It's hard and I definitely need to be better.

Allison said...

Well done, you! I think we do a fairly good job of letting our son explore independently, but I still let out a huge gasp every time he falls or I think he's going to hurt himself. It's hard not to worry and/or try to protect them, but I do believe it is best for them. They need to learn what they are capable of and feel comfortable taking (reasonable) risks. They need to know that we trust them and also trust themselves.

Lex said...

Great post, and good for you!

reproducinggenius said...

What a fabulous post. Thank you for this. I've been conducting similar experiments, and it really is so amazing to see how independent they are becoming at this age. I am surprised to find that I really love it!

Emily @ablanket2keep said...

Great post! You have done a great job!

gem29 said...

Great job, mommy. Our kids really do need the chance to fall, so they can stand back up to try again... and then succeed. That's how persistence and true master happens...... right? (I keep telling myself that) :)