You and Mama spent about an hour in the park today. Let me preface by saying: you’re 17 months old and you’ve been walking since you were 9 months old. So, you’re pretty darn good at it. You’re physical, agile, coordinated. You have been since very early on. However, the park is uneven. There’s lots of sand. Garbage. There could be glass!!! There are things to climb on and things to fall off of. All kinds of scary monsters that you need protecting against. But, you’re 17 months old. And as far as you’re concerned, the days of needing your Mama are pretty well over. We’re in the “me do” phase. The indignant look on your face when I try to- oh, I don’t know- hold on to your finger while you speed down the stairs….well….it about says it all. You believe that you can do anything and I am not interested in being the one who makes you feel otherwise. So, as you always do, you got me thinking!
While watching you gleefully run around, I couldn’t help but think about how important it is to be conscious about support- how we support someone, the level of support that they and you need, the delicate balance between knowing when to provide someone the opportunity to learn something for themselves and wanting to warn them of the cliff they are about to fall off of, doing your job as a parent by supporting and encouraging self confidence and doing your job as a parent by protecting your child from harm.
So, as I gingerly followed you around the park, arms wide open, behind you, waiting to save you from yourself and those monsters I referred to earlier, I learned a few things about support.
(1) It’s not fair to determine the kind and level of support that someone needs based on who they used to be or more importantly, what they used to need. In my heart, you will always be my baby. And I will probably always see you as months or years younger than you actually are. I think it’s probably some Mama mechanism to allow us to be ok with our babies growing up. We kinda always see you as a few months younger than you actually are. We hold on to it for as long as we humanely can. There’s comfort in it. There’s denial in it. And even though it helps our heart to adapt to your growing, it does us a disservice in how we support and encourage you. I want to think of you as 6 months old. But you are 17 months old. If I offer you the same level and kind of support that you needed when you were 6 months old, I do wrong by you. The same applies to us as adults. If I allow my previous experience and history with someone to unquestionably guide the level and kind of support that I offer them with today’s situation, I do wrong by them. We must not treat people as they used to be and continue to offer them the support that they used to need, but see them as they are in that very moment and adjust our support accordingly. If we interact with people based solely on our desire to see them from the perspective of a previous moment in time, we stunt their opportunity for growth, we interfere unnecessarily, and we run the risk of negatively impacting their self esteem. You are 17 months old and not 6 months old. I will do my best to treat you accordingly.
(2) Sometimes, I’m gonna have to let you go. No holding Mama’s hand. No running interference. No support. And let me be clear: I don’t like it. It makes me cringe. And I fear the worst case scenario. Our park has these little rocking horses. They are very low to the ground so that you are able to get on and off of them by yourself. The top of the horse, however, is right at your mouth level. In the split second that it took you to get on it, I had visions. Visions of you rocking so enthusiastically back and forth. Visions of joy, and excitement quickly followed by blood and screaming. I could see it as clear as day. I knew that this would inevitably happen if I didn’t hover over you and put my hands over yours and somehow control the speed with which you would rock this horse. So, I came over and put my hands over yours. You, of course, were immediately annoyed with me. You kept throwing my hands off. Mama, you’re ruining my moment. My fun. My pride. So, I let go. Figuratively and literally. And you began to rock, enthusiastically back and forth. There was joy and excitement quickly followed by….well, followed by you stepping off of the horse to move on to the next thing. Sometimes, we have to give people a little rope. And the best way that we can support them, is by backing off.
(3) Sometimes, I’m gonna let you do parts, while I insist on doing parts. That’s how you and I negotiated the slide. Normally, Dada’s with us and one of us walks up the stairs to the top of the slide with you, while the other one waits at the bottom of the slide to catch you. But it was just you and me. So, we had to do a little negotiating. I allowed you to walk up the stairs without hovering over you but once we got to the top of the slide, I picked you up and we went down the slide together. You were so obviously not as full of joy as you normally are once you reach the bottom of the slide on your own that it really struck me. Again, what we take away from someone when we do for them what they really want to do for themselves. How, when you had multiple sources of support (both Dada and I), you were able to accomplish your goal better than when there was just me. How sometimes, no matter how badly someone wants to do something on their own, it’s necessary to step in and take on some of the burden.
(4) Sometimes, I’m gonna just do it for you. There won’t be any negotiation and I’ll have no problem knowing that I may be risking hurting your pride because my accountability as a Mama will override your feelings. The swing was where I drew the line. As you grabbed the hole where your leg would go and like a gymnast about to swing himself around the rings, tried to somehow launch yourself up into the swing, I was surprised by your confidence and commitment. You are not anywhere near capable of getting yourself into a baby swing. I don’t care how much you believe that you are and I don’t care that your feelings will be hurt when I make it clear that you are not. I’m not going to share this responsibility with you. I won’t let you own any of it. I picked you up and plunked you in the swing.
Thanks for the lessons today little one. You are so incredibly sure of yourself….I am jealous. I will do my best to encourage your confidence and only offer support as you and I both need…..But take it from someone who’s had to learn this the hard way…..There’s no shame in asking for help….And when you need it, I will be here.