As a parent, the tendency is to want to hold on tight, keep your children safe, and to help them every step of the way. But knowing when to let go and let them figure it out on their own is equally important. But far more difficult.
I experienced this combination of terror and trust as I watched my little munchkin tackle the stairs all by herself yesterday. What was different this time around was that she wanted to go up all by herself then down all by herself facing forward. Without me within arms reach.
She’s been going up the stairs (using various methods) since she began crawling about 10 months ago. I would say that generally speaking, she is extremely competent at ascension. This week we’ve allowed her to climb the stairs by herself with neither my husband or I in the near vicinity.
We trust that although she may not know everything she knows enough.
Going down, however, is a different story.
She is capable of going down the stairs on her own. However, she’s been getting more and more afraid. With each passing week, her fear at the top of the stairs has been increasing.
With her fear brings irrational behaviour. I say this lovingly because so often our fear can actually bring greater harm to us. It makes us react in weird ways.
When I was a young gymnast, I was afraid of the vault. The idea of running full force before jumping over a hurdle was a massive mental block for me. To this day I’m not sure what I was afraid of. However, the fear caused me to repeatedly chicken out at the very last second making me slam into the vault itself. Rather than taking my chances of jumping over and falling onto a cushiony mat, I would run full force into a stationary object repeatedly hurting myself.
I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve watched Hailey stand in fear at the top of the stairs. Her fear causes her to back away from the edge then lean to grab the railing despite it being far safer to walk to the edge and grab the railing when its within easy reach.
Watching her fearful behaviour has increased my anxiety around her attempts to go down the stairs.
She has also stopped wanting to grab the railing, insisting that my hands are the best source of stability and safety.
Imagine my surprise yesterday when she went upstairs only to turn around and want to come back down on her own. She walked right up to the edge and grabbed the railing.
Every instinct in me wanted to run up the stairs and spot her. Instead, I stood at the bottom and praised her courage and success with each step. And prayed to God she wouldn’t fall.
She successfully made it to the bottom without a stumble.
I thought to myself, this is just the beginning. This is a preview of the feelings that will likely accompany me as she ventures around the block out of sight the first time, as she flies down the ski hill faster than I’d ever dare go, as she goes on her first vacation without me, and so on and so on.
It’s the letting go that needs to happen. It’s the trusting in her abilities. It’s trusting that she knows what she’s doing. It’s trusting that she knows enough. Not that she knows everything. But that she knows enough.