I’m not a helicopter parent by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not neglectful or anything, but I’m not usually a big hover-er, especially the older the kids get. I let my kids roughhouse and run around. I’ve let my kids play in dirt in clean clothes, get wet when it’s cold out, climb on the top of a tall swingset, and go headfirst down the slide. As I’ve raised 5 kids through the toddler years I’ve had my share of strangers informing me that my kid was about to pinch his fingers, get hit by a car, fall down, or get hurt (Don’t worry, every single time they were just fine). When my oldest was in kindergarten and broke his arm falling off the monkey bars, I was eager for him to get back on them once he was healed. I didn’t want him to develop a phobia of monkey bars for the rest of his life. I want to raise kids who can be independent and take care of themselves as much as possible. And I really try not to hover too much.
But toddler #5 is giving me a run for my money.
I want to keep him safe.
He’s only a year and a half. Not even two yet! Technically he’s 20 months, but being born a month early, it’s more like he’s 19 months. He’s still so young. And because he doesn’t really talk much yet, he seems really young. Just a baby.
But this kid is huge.
He’s in the 97th percentile for height, weight AND head circumference. He’s a beast. Oh yeah, and he’s the single most energetic kid I’ve ever had. Ever. By far. I mean, this kid is on the move constantly.
He’s also brave.
Like, no fear. Like, he regularly slithers down the stairs head-first, no fear. I literally can’t prevent him from climbing and adventuring and slithering all the day long.
I try to take him to the park as often as I can so he can make good use of that energy outside on the play equipment instead of inside on the tables and counters. The problem is, he scares the crap out of me. The other day I took him and his sisters to the park and he was climbing up the twisty slide on the big-kid playground. At first I wasn’t concerned. There were no kids trying to go down, and I didn’t think he’d make it up very far anyway.
Boy, was I wrong.
He made it all the way to the top. When he as about halfway up, I started to freak out a little bit and hover. He was right on the edge of the slide, climbing higher and higher and I knew if he decided to take a dive (which he easily could have), he would have gotten hurt.
But here’s the thing. It was really hard for me to hover over him as he navigated that slide. And the next. And the next. And ran across the bridge at full speed. And climbed up and down the ladder with big gaps between the rungs. And went right up to the edge of the platform where there was no protection from falling.
I realized that it was pretty much impossible for me to prevent him from getting hurt. If he was going to play and get out his energy, I had to let him actually play and climb and slide head first down the steep slide. I had to know that yes, he might get hurt. And I had to be OK with that.
The good news is that he has amazing motor skills and doesn’t get hurt easily.
With those exceptional motor skills, he navigates the big-kid equipment with ease.
And the kid can take a hit. When other kids went down the slide after him and landed on him, he didn’t even care.
So I nervously sat back down on the bench and tried to calm down. And I just watched.
Guess what? He didn’t get hurt. The only time he even fell was when he tripped in the wood chips. And he just got up, brushed off his hands, and ran off again.
When I let go and decided I had to be OK with the possibility that he might get hurt, we both had more fun.
Of course the younger a kid is, and the less ability they have, the more you need to watch them carefully. But there comes a time in every mom’s life where we have to let go a little more than is comfortable. It’s hard to know when to let go and when to hold on, but at some point, we have to trust that they can handle whatever pain they’ll encounter. We’ll be there for them when they encounter it. But we have to know it will happen. If it isn’t falling off a slide, it’ll be falling off a bike, or getting their feelings hurt, or failing a test, or getting dumped.
The hurts in this life are endless and children are not immune.
The best we can do is help to pick them up, brush it off, and give them lots of love and kisses. They’ll be alright in the end. Thank goodness for insurance in the meantime.