How close should we hold our young children? How much should we protect them from danger and keep them safe in our arms instead?
Mama instinct often directs us to do these things, but is a little bit of danger a good thing?
Yesterday my 7 year old, Charlie, described his time at the beach as the “scariest moment of his life”.
And I was glad for it.
I was standing on the sand, letting the ripples of water hit my feet while he swam in the shallows. I watched as he grew bolder and bolder, venturing out further into the waist high waves.
As the waves grew bigger and stronger crashing across the reef, my mama heart wanted to call out for him to be careful. But I closed my lips and kept those words to myself. He was learning to test his own boundaries and capabilities, carefully, bit by bit.
I watched as he went past the point I felt was safe, but he was moving carefully out a small bit at a time. He was judging, testing and progressing as much as he felt was safe.
Then a bigger wave loomed and suddenly the pull of the water drew him deeper and closer to the reef and he lost his footing (in waist deep water mind you) and he struggled for a moment.
I could see a look of concern on his face as he was pulled towards the sharp rock of the reef.
He looked and reached out to me for a second, but then decided to take control himself and started to swim against the water’s pull and head back to shore.
He came out dripping water and an odd mix of fear and happiness, proud of having thwarted the danger of being “smashed” against the reef.
I learned that it’s not always right to save our children from bad experiences (both physically and metaphorically).
Obviously in this case, I was close to hand if I really needed to step in, it was waist deep water in a cove protected from the deep by a reef.
Within those parameters I let him test his boundaries and capabilities, let him have chance to figure out what to do and to save himself if he needed to. To let him have the story to proudly tell how he had the scariest moment of his life but he had saved himself from danger.
He was his own real life hero.
If I had stopped him testing his boundaries in that moment, nagged him to be careful or to not go too far, then I would have denied him that opportunity.