Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trust, Responsibility & the Hazards of Life & Nature

I think parenting should be easy. I guess it's really common for parents to worry about their children. People seem surprised by how much I trust Cedar when he's exploring new aspects of his physical world by testing his boundaries in new ways... "oh, be careful! He could fall! He could choke on that!" etc. How can a child learn anything about life if their parents are constantly projecting their fear of possible failure on them all the time? Of course they're going to make mistakes... that's completely essential to learning. Knowing something for oneself, through experience, is completely essential for wisdom and mastery of life. If you're taking someone else's word for everything, you aren't living at all... you don't even know for sure if what other people say is even true, unless you know it to be true through your experience or inner knowing (which is based on wisdom from past experiences).

Cedar is nearly one year. He recently started walking, and neither required nor asked for any assistance from me... so he progressed VERY quickly in his proficiency. He is exploring his physical world full-on. He climbs stairs, and does all sorts of stunts to test and improve his balance. He sometimes looks like he's going to fall. Sometimes he does have a minor fall, and he may cry for a minute, then is totally over it and ready for the next thing. I am with him nearly all of the time, so in general, I am aware of his current capabilities, and also of the things that might be just outside of his current capabilities. I am also aware of the relative danger of what he is doing in every moment, and how what "could" happen may affect him. For example, when he was at the top of the 6-step concrete staircase in my parents' pool room today, I was sitting next to him... feeling totally relaxed and trusting, yet simultaneously alert and ready to step in, just in case in the process of testing his boundaries, he oversteps them a little. I feel like he is the stuntman and I am his spotter!

So what it comes down to, I believe, is trust and responsibility. I can trust Cedar to be responsible for himself and his actions when he's doing something I know he can do, that I know he already understands and has the capability to take responsibility for. Some children never have the opportunity to learn how to handle having small objects in their mouths, because their parents are afraid that they'll choke, so they always take those things away (what a lot of work!). At what point can a child learn how to maneuver small objects in their mouths, if they're never given the opportunity? Nature is smart: gagging isn't choking. Gagging is a natural mechanism that helps a child move an object that's gone a little too far back, up into the front part of their mouth, and is essential for oral development. It isn't something to be alarmed about; just something to be aware of. For me, when Cedar started putting small things into his mouth, I watched him very, very closely, observing how he handled it. Yet, I felt relaxed. He developed proficiency... I can tell that he knows innately what things are small enough to swallow, and what things are too big. Because I trusted him enough to allow him to master this quite a while ago, now when he has a mouthful of pebbles or cucumber chunks, it is no longer even a blip on my radar screen. Some parents would be worried about this for years... what a lot of unnecessary stress!

I am aware of many things that Cedar isn't ready to take responsibility for. These are things that I am committed to being responsible for, until he is mature enough to be capable of it himself. For example, at this stage in his development, he would be unable to comprehend that poison ivy looks a specific way, and that it causes a horrible rash a day or two after you come into contact with it. He will be able to understand this at some point, and until then, it is my responsibility to keep him away from poison ivy, or even better and easier, eliminate all the poison ivy from his normal environment. When I sense he is at the stage where he's able to understand this concept, I will offer him this responsibility, and when I notice that he has fully accepted it, I will no longer have to pay any attention to any poison ivy that may show up in his environment. This will also apply to insects and animals that sting or bite (bees, spiders, snakes, etc), electrical plugs and outlets, and all the other "hazards" of everyday life.

My friend Quinn says it well: "to raise a strong and capable child, give him/her responsibility". We develop confidence in ourselves by understanding how to operate masterfully in our world. I believe this empowerment is the greatest gift we can give our children.

I love being a relaxed parent with a capable child. If at any point I notice I am tense or fearful of something Cedar is doing, I check in with myself: why am I feeling this way? And I adjust my actions accordingly: either Cedar isn't ready for this responsibility and it is up to me to alter our environment or activity; or I just require being a little bit closer so I can "spot" him while he's exploring something new; or I just require relaxing and trusting his inner guidance at that moment. I even realized that when I say "be careful" to him, which sounds so conscious, it was usually based in a feeling of fear! When I thought about it, I realized that of course he's being careful... he's fully alert and immersed in the thing he's exploring. "Be careful" just means that *I* was afraid for him, and it has nothing to do with him!

I am glad I'm realizing all this now... exploring, testing boundaries and mastering new realms is what childhood and teendom is all about, so I'm in this game for quite a while! I choose to have a fun, delightful experience with it :)

1 comment:

  1. I love this post! You did an amazing job of explaining trust and freedom with mothering babies and toddlers!