Penny stands at a kitchen and slices tomatoes

The Dignity of Risk

She might cut herself.

She might burn herself. 

She might feel lonely, sad, scared, abandoned.

I have read all about the dangers of helicopter parenting, and about the importance of letting our kids make mistakes and experience discomfort and failure. I still desperately want to make it all work out for them. 

No bruises or scrapes or burns along the way. Not of the body or of the soul. Especially for my child who seems the most vulnerable, my child with a disability.

Penny has more physical, emotional, and social limitations than her peers and her siblings. I am tempted, daily, to intervene either to make things safer or more efficient. 

I worry when she crosses a street on her own. I worry when she cooks a quesadilla on her own. I worry when she walks through the school doors in the morning. I worry when she stays home alone at night. 

But she deserves the opportunity to make mistakes. She deserves the learning that comes from conflict with a friend, a bad grade on a test, the pain of a bruise. She deserves the joy of accomplishing something that seemed out of reach, the experience of taking responsibility for her own care and well-being. 

I learned recently about a concept called “the dignity of risk.” It underscores what I vaguely understand already. That to jump in and smooth the path and eliminate the barriers is not only to decrease the risk she faces but to decrease the dignity I afford her. 

So we buy the lightweight kitchen knives that fit in her small hands. 

And we let her decide whether she wants to participate in the school talent show.

And we force her to problem solve opening a banana when it would be easier to intervene. 

And we sign her up for learning how to ride a bike as a teenager so that she has a means of mobility that doesn’t depend upon us. 

She will always be vulnerable. She will always need help. She will also always deserve opportunities to be herself and grow. 

And each time I let go of my attempt to control and protect, and instead allow her to take risks and grow, I surrender us both to love.

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