Watching your child take their first steps is an experience unlike any other. Carefully they lift their foot, wobbling just a little, but keeping their balance just enough to take the first step. Without realizing it, they throw caution to the wind and go for it. They have no fear of the unknown, even though it is all unknown at this point for them. They push aside any small bit of fear they might have and go for it. First one foot, then the other, the momentum starts to build and usually after a few steps they tumble into the waiting arms of a cheering adult. It is only at that point, when they are safely in your arms, that the wide smile of pride and accomplishment spreads across their face. Everyone is cheering, happy and excited. Moments later the parents realize their lives will never be the same again.
I read an article that said if adults had to learn to walk, most of them would quit because they would not be able to endure the amount of failure needed to succeed. Babies must first learn to sit up without tipping over. Once they master that skill, they try their hand at crawling, which not all babies are able to master. Next comes pulling themselves up to a standing position. They use their legs for the first time to support their weight. They fall over a lot but we stand by clapping and encouraging them. We pick them right back up when the fall and encourage them to keep going. A child has an innate ability to keep trying over and over again. Each time they get a little stronger. They are resilient and undeterred.
After they start to walk, something happens and as parents we suddenly get more protective. Now that they are more mobile, there are more opportunities for them to get hurt. Parents start to hover over the child in the name of safety, inadvertently restricting the same daring instincts that helped them to start walking. As a parent nothing pulls at your heart like seeing your child in pain, so we try to control their surroundings. It may start with physically protecting them while they learn to walk, but then it extends to the playground and play dates with friends. Our parental instinct tries to protect our child from feeling pain and shielding them from disappointment. It’s easy to let that instinct go too far.
We also know that it is unrealistic to protect them from everything. Eventually they are going to have to face setbacks, failure and disappointment. We can’t prepare them for those times if we shield them or stifle their experiences or handle things for them. In her book “Rising Strong”, Brene Brown says:
“… embracing failure without acknowledging the real hurt and fear that it can cause, or the complex journey that underlies rising strong, is gold-plating grit. To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important – toughness, doggedness and perseverance.”
Our children are going to experience hard times. As much as we may want to breeze right over it, our job is to help our children navigate the path, feel the feelings and offer them unconditional love along the way. We need to support them as they face the challenge head on and figure out their own way to move through it. There will be a lot of “first steps” in your child’s life. We need to remember all the events, the stumbles and the falls that lead up to taking that next “first step” Just as it was when they were a baby trying to maintain their balance, we need to continue to support them all the same, offering our hand to pick them up, drying their tears when they fall and waiting with open arms to celebrate their success.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.