My son was just learning to walk. He learned to climb first, curious at eight months old what his little body could do. As he grew, he took more risks with his limbs, testing the limits, generally scaring me almost to death, and looking to me for what I would allow.
We always pushed the boundaries of what made us comfortable. When our son was learning to walk and crawl, we would supervise him closely, and we would also allow him to fall. We would let him to get frustrated when he assimilated new skills, knowing that frustration is often necessary for mastery. We never put him in harm’s way, but we also didn’t prevent every bump or fall.
We wanted to cultivate confidence in him, in his tiny body so that he could learn his limits without our fear.
This resulted in well-developed reflexes, excellent spatial awareness, and excellent large muscle motor control. My husband and I patted ourselves on the back. We were really nailing this parenting thing.
Of course, this practice got tricky as he grew older. Climbing up on a chair quickly escalated to climbing up on the kitchen table. His father and I grew ever more cautious and nervous as his skill set improved and he sought to push his limits much farther than we knew he could safely go. We became swooping helicopters of fear, and it felt as though we constantly told our tiny son “no.”
“No! Don’t climb that!”
“No, you're too high!”
“No, that’s not safe!”
So many no’s.
And we watched in frustration as the confidence we had worked so hard to help him gain turned into recklessness.
In short, we had created a tiny daredevil monster. No couch was too big, no kitchen counter too high, no playground equipment too advanced for his little body to potentially fall from and shatter his bones. Our toddler was oblivious to our anxiety (because toddlers). Or if he was aware, he only used it as more fuel to for his adrenaline-fueled feats. My anxiety reached new heights as I struggled not to let it take over my parenting entirely.
You Might Also Like: 9 Ways 'Lazy' Parenting Raises Great Kids
I knew I had to find another way. My son wanted to stretch his muscles, his legs and arms, his abilities. I wanted to be a responsible parent and keep him safe. Where was the line between my worst-case-scenario anxiety and his ultimate best interests? Hovering and saying no to everything didn't seem to be of service to anyone, least of all my developing son.
After combing the war zone that is Facebook mommy groups for resources and approaches, I landed on a question that made total sense to my helicopter mom-brain:
Does that feel safe in your body?
It was a lightbulb moment for me, and a way to empower my son to tune into his tiny being and make a choice that would ultimately help him to know himself. Asking him if what he was doing felt safe for him gave him some control as well. Instead of just blindly following his developing brain and its unreliable id-controlled impulses, he had an opportunity to pause for a brief moment and consider what he was about to do and amend it if necessary.
I see you are climbing on the back of the couch. Does that feel safe in your body?
You're really getting fast! That must be exciting. I see that you're wearing socks while you run on the wood floors. Does that feel safe in your body?
Wow! You are jumping so high! I notice you're getting close to the edge. Does that feel safe in your body?
Each time, I would tune into him tuning into his body, watching him begin to understand that he could determine what was so for his self. Each time, he learned a little bit more; I learned to say no only when it was clearly unsafe, and aided him in making the grey areas safe for him and comfortable-ish for me. He grew more confident every day, and so did I.
I also learned a valuable lesson about my young son. He is profoundly capable, and I can allow his capabilities to steer our journey with minimal redirection from his dad or me.
Of course, I always held (and continue to hold) veto power because I’m still the mama. But after a little trial and error on both of our parts, we found a happy continuum that allowed him to trust his body, gave me an opportunity to pull back on my helicopter mom throttle, and taught both of us about appropriate boundaries.
The most delightful unintended consequence of this safety experiment emerged, though. I began asking myself the same thing.
Does this feel safe in my body?
Does this feel good in my body?
What is my intuition saying to me right now?
How can I make this thing that I really want to do work?
What happens if I stretch a little more, trust myself a little more?
And this is the magic part of parenting: In the process of parenting our children, we have the opportunity to reparent the parts of ourselves that need the guidance of a loving and stable parent the most.
It all works in service to the greater good of love and family and feminism, which is always a worthy and sacred endeavor.
To that end, here is a great reference sheet for ways to help your kiddos (and yourself) tune in to the bigger picture, take a breath, and keep moving through life with awareness.