I feel a twinge of fear whenever Penny uses a sharp knife in the kitchen. I could pretend my fear is simply a product of her disability. But I feel something similar when her siblings enter situations where they might get hurt. I felt it when Marilee showed up at summer camp and we discovered that she would be sleeping on the top bunk of a tiny canvas tent and it was going to rain for days on end. I felt it when William was taking geometry and didn’t feel prepared for his exam. I want to rush in and take away all their discomfort. I want to keep them safe.
On the one hand, all the parenting literature I read tells me to help our kids develop intrinsic motivation. I’m advised to equip them with an internal locus of control, an ability to recognize and exercise their own agency and responsibility, whether that be with the task of tying their shoes or packing up school lunches or emailing a teacher when they know they will be late with an assignment. I’m also encouraged to let them experience the consequences of oversleeping their alarm or watching YouTube instead of studying for a quiz or leaving the candy wrappers next to the couch.
As much as we are advised to give our kids agency, we are also offered the imperative to make sure our kids are safe. Safe from predators. Safe from triggering ideas. Safe from bullies. Safe from fire and injury and illness and gossip and depression and anxiety and substance abuse.
In wanting to keep our kids safe, I wonder if I have prevented them from taking healthy risks, developing healthy ambition, and experiencing healthy stress. The truth is that I can’t do much to make our kids safer than they already are. But I can back off. I can model what it looks like to be healthy. I can let them be uncomfortable.
Penny, by the way, is learning how to use a knife. Marilee had a great time at camp. And William passed his geometry exam. It won’t always work out so smoothly (and wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share here the times when it doesn’t work out for them), but I’m starting to believe even the bumps and bruises are part of healthy growth as a human.
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