"Be careful! Don't fall!" I hate when those words escape my lips. It's not that I want my child to be injured, but I want to raise strong, confident kids, and we all know words have power...to build or destroy. I clearly remember moving into our current house. The box I was carrying was huge, extremely hard to maneuver through the front door, but my struggle with it paled in comparison to what I found inside.
My heart jumped into my throat as I saw 13 month old Timmy dangling from the upstairs landing. His little body was at least 10 feet above the living room; he had one foot on the edge and one hand hanging onto the railing. He was actually waving at me with his free hand. And laughing. He wasn't even old enough to speak yet. All I could think was, "Look ma, no hands!" Despite the terror that gripped my heart, I managed my most cheerful, "Wow Timmy! Look how strong you are! You are hanging on so tightly! What big muscles you have!" And as I tore up the stairs to grab him, I silently prayed he wouldn't fall.
Last week, Tim guided a small group into the mountains of Wyoming for 10 days, to be challenged physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. That was his second time to lead a group into the wilderness to be confronted and tested, to grow, to find God when they reached the end of themselves. It's his job, his ministry. Now it's his turn to impart confidence to others, and he is very good at it. How much those words said to him, before he could even speak, affected him, I don't know. But I do know his dad and I spent the first 25 years of his life (he's 26) telling him he could do anything into which he put his heart, mind, body and soul. We tell that to all our kids. And our children's friends. We all need to encourage confidence in others.
Even though I usually manage to give life affirming words, it's not always where my heart resides. In the core of my being, I often find fear lurking. Thoughts that one of the kids will be hurt or die can all too easily strangle any vision God is trying to plant in me for that child. For years after a bridge on the New York Thruway collapsed, I would take longer routes around town to avoid driving over bridges, no matter how small, because every time I did, in my head I would think all sorts of intense thoughts like:
What would I do should the bridge collapse?
How I would get all the babies out of their car seats?
How would I get everyone out of the car?
How would I get them out of the raging waters?
It's how I'm wired. And until I was willing to trust their lives to God completely, I would envision how to undo the car seat buckles if I was underwater holding my breath and couldn't see. I'd try to figure out which older child could get which younger child and how in the world I'd get them all out of the car while it was going underwater. One day I realized I couldn't do it alone. Either angels would help us, or someone would die. That moment was both monumentally terrifying and liberating.
But that's another story...
My husband, however, isn't wired like me. While he wasn't happy to hear how the railing in our new home wasn't built to code and Timmy could slip through the rungs, he didn't worry about what could happen, at least not the way I do. He, in stark contrast to me, matter-of-factly said we would get something to cover the rungs. That evening we were in Babies 'R Us buying railing netting...who knew such stuff existed? It has worked beautifully for 25 years. He brings reason and a sensible clarity to our lives. And he encourages us to try things outside our comfort zone.
A friend of mine tells the story of hiking as a family and her husband allowing the kids to look over the edge of a steep cliff. As her children cautiously peered over the rim, she realized if she was going to let her husband handle things his way, she had to be willing to let them die. She had reached her emotional breaking point, and was completely out of her comfort zone. What is considered common sense by one person, another sees as recklessness, and this is often the difference between many moms and dads. Dads, for the most part, will push the envelope a little further (or a lot further) than most moms. Our level of acceptance is generally quite different. And it is the hardest thing in the world to keep quiet about it. While we feel like we are potentially saving our kids lives, we need to trust dad, and God in dad, to be wise. What seems reckless to us may be exactly what our kids need.
And while some kids need encouragement to try new things, even things that have inherent risk, others need to be held back and taught wise judgment. Our job, as parents, is to know the difference. Both perspectives are needed for true wisdom. Our children need to learn common sense as they learn to try things that entail differing levels of danger. We want them willing to try things that may be out of their comfort zone, simply for the experience that leads them to realize they can do things they may have never thought they could do. And while there are always exceptions, I've found the dads tend to encourage those aspects in our kids more than the moms. And the best place and time for our kids to learn safe ways to take risks is while they are still living at home and are under our guidance.
The bottom line is we need to make sure our children grow up confident to try things, and we do that by encouraging them. Our dare-devils need to be helped to see dangers and act with wisdom, while our cautious kids need to be encouraged to expand outside their comfort zone.
Article by Ruth Grunstra
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Hi I'm Ruth
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your child? My husband and I had the first of our 8 children in 1984 and our youngest in 2002. We've been married since 1980 and we are always learning new ways to engage our children. We would love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know what you have found that works and what doesn't, or ask me a question.
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