I always loved this story about a young boy who is delighting in riding his two-wheeler with no hands. He shouts to his mom, ” Look, Mom, no hands!”
The writer considers the dichotomy of this situation. Here’s a boy’s exultant call to his mom, full of liberation, of freedom, of mastery as well as a poignant reminder of the ever-present need to still be noticed by his parent.
So as parents, how do we know when to let go and when to welcome back and acknowledge?
By paying attention to what’s going on and being prepared to notice.
I observed a family group walking ahead of me in the mall. The mom was pushing the baby in a stroller, there were various other adults part of the group, all walking along, conversing. Part of this clan was a little girl about three years old who was mosying along yet keeping up, enjoying being free yet included.
I noticed her and smiled to myself as I felt her pride.
Her dad, on the other hand, made the decision that she should hold his hand – not because she was running off (she wasn’t), not because she was lagging behind (she wasn’t). I tried to figure out why. I think he noticed her independent stride and it occurred to him, perhaps, that as a “good dad” in a busy mall, he should be holding his daughter’s hand. Or perhaps, his own need, in seeing her so “grown-up” was to recapture the time when she wanted to hold his hand. So he proceeded to do so, and the drama began.
The little girl was insulted, outraged, definitely non-compliant and so, until I wandered off in another direction, this drama continued – the dad towing his young daughter along as she screamed, pulled and tugged.
This particular situation kept popping into my head the rest of the afternoon. I thought of how, as much as we need to be alert and aware of keeping our children safe and secure, close and protected, we also need to allow, support and welcome their development and exploration of independence, of “no hands” in safe and loving situations.
When these opportunities present themselves, as parents we still have a job to do – to be on the alert, to be ever ready for a rescue, whether physically or emotionally, from a fall, untied shoes, a fright and receptive and open to welcoming the child back after an adventure.
I believe this dad was trying hard to be a responsible dad. After all, they were in a busy, crowded mall. And sometimes it’s just hard not to want to hold our child’s hand – for ourselves. But stepping back, observing the situation, staying attentive, enjoying watching his little one flaunt her freedom, safely, as he watched from behind was what his daughter needed from him that afternoon.
Independence – baby steps – for parents as well as our children.
Later on, I observed another situation. An older woman I took to be the grandma was walking along with a young girl of about ten. They were holding hands, (willingly) laughing, stopping to look in windows, totally engaged and enjoying themselves.
Different stages, different needs.
Sometimes the very best attention is from afar with an ever alert eye and sometimes it’s up close, personal and attuned as this lovely outting appeared.
I know I hear from many parents that what drives them crazy is their child one minute wants to be Mr. Independent – the next it seems he’s helpless. And I just shake my head and agree.
The road to independence and autonomy is paved with steps. These sometimes appear to be giant strides ahead followed by small ones retreating to what is comforting, secure and familiar.
As parents, it is our job to be the observers, the jugglers, providing this loving, secure base, guidance, encouragement and support, being ready with open arms when they need to reconnect while at the same time stepping back and presenting opportunities for uncharted exploration.
What a special gift it is, though, to witness this growth in our children, no matter how achingly tedious and unpredictable it may be.
Enjoy the journey.