A Gentle Grip

I have wonderful mornings with my son, who will be turning one this Friday. He wakes up around 7:30am (a miracle for most nearly-one-year olds), and I get him from his crib and bring him back to our king-sized bed. After nursing and cuddling for a little while, he invariably pops his head up and wants to explore.  He starts to crawl around and usually gets very close to the edge. I have learned that if I grab him and pull him back, he gets frustrated and rushes right back to the edge. And, if I hold on tightly to his ankle, he pulls against me and strains harder to go over the edge. However, if I barely keep my hand on him, so he doesn’t even feel me, he carefully peers over and evaluates the edge. And then, he inches closer and closer until the top of his body is too far and his little body plunges over.  That’s when my hand closes around his chubby little leg and I slowly let him down to the floor.  

I pay attention to two things here. First, I want him to feel the lurch as he goes over. I make sure that he knows that feeling of falling and that he flails a little bit. I want him to learn about being careful on beds (or couches), without him having to actually fly head-first off of one — especially since we have wooden floors. Second, instead of pulling him away after the lurch, back into the middle of the bed, I make sure to ease him down to the floor, like a slower version of the fall he would have experienced.

The reason I am telling you about our morning ritual is that, as you may have guessed, it strikes me as a metaphor for a parent’s role in their child’s exploration of life.  Too many parents see themselves as gatekeepers or controllers of what their child experiences. But, these methods always lead to frustration, confusion, and rebellion on the part of the child. Conversely, we aren’t supposed to just step away and let our children do as they wish, allowing them to go feral or risking their own safey. We are still their protectors and providers. We still need to provide gentle nudges. Our hands should be lightly placed and ready to help ease the transition into a new experience, not pull them back from it.

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