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Learning to fall

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The urge to protect our children can sometimes make us do stupid things. When I was running a martial arts school, at least once a week I had a parent complain to me how their child got injured during a sparring session. I would do my best to patiently listen, but a large part of my brain would be screaming because this parent brought their child into a martial arts studio, signed them up for sparring classes, signed waivers, and then are surprised when their kid takes a punch to the head. To me, this is a little like putting your kid in swimming classes, and then complaining when he gets wet.

I understand the urge, but it seems like we are becoming hyper-protective of our youth, almost to the point where it’s becoming harmful. When I was a child, playgrounds were made from asphalt and steel, not this rubber and wood chip thing on playgrounds today. It seems like children these days can’t take a poop without wearing a helmet and elbow pads.

I’m not without guilt in behaving in such an overly protective manner.

After my daughter Rowan had her stroke (she was 5 when it happened), she went through a rather clumsy period while she relearned to use her body. She fell down quite often, especially whenever she tried to run. One day we went hiking on a beautiful summer day, and Rowan felt the urge to run and play, like a normal five-year-old girl. Within no time I discovered a new mantra and soon was sounding like a broken record.

“Rowan, don’t run. You’re going to fall down.”

Within moments of my saying this, Rowan would be running and jumping on the uneven terrain, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated because she wasn’t listening to me.

“Rowan, stop running. Be careful sweetie. You’re going to fall. Rowan! Stop running!” I was becoming increasingly frustrated and angry because she was making me repeat myself, and not listening to me. I even thought of lying to her and saying that there were snakes around, because that she would listen to, but then I probably would have had to carry her off the mountain.

Then a moment of truly rare clarity, I was able to jump outside of myself and get a good look at what I was doing. There I was, telling a child not to play in the mountains. Not to have fun and be free. Not only was I telling a child not to do this, I was telling my child not to do this.

I very much do not want to be that type of parent.

I am a sucker for all those motivational talks and videos that tell us how we will miss 100% of the shots we never take, how it is better to fail than not to try at all, and how if we truly believe in ourselves, we can do more than we think we can. I’m a sucker for these things because I believe them to my very core.

I hope in some way I lead Rowan by example in this.

Needless to say I decided to keep my mouth shut and let Rowan run. Within seconds, she fell, and I repressed the urge to say ‘I told you so’ as I brushed the dirt from her skinned knees. She fell down a few more times on that hike, and several more times in the months to come, but the important thing is that she didn’t stop running.

All too often in life we have voices telling us in great detail about all the things we cannot do. Sometimes these voices come from external sources, but more often than not they come from somewhere inside. That doubting piece of our psyche is like a cancer, requiring very little to become malignant, and fester.

We all have a choice when someone is bold enough to share their dreams with us. We can be a voice of inspiration and encouragement for them, or a source of fear and doubt. Chances are they already have plenty of insecurities and reluctances within them, so why not give them a loving nudge out the nest they’ve built inside their comfort zone. Isn’t that what you would want?

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