Mommy lesson #42: Mama’s fear of letting go is far greater than baby’s fear of falling

Last weekend we visited my family in Broken Arrow, OK to celebrate my brother’s birthday. My parents’ house is two-story. Charlotte has never seen stairs before, that I know of. The last time we visited my parents Baby Girl had just learned to crawl, and had yet to start pulling up on the furniture, so the stairs were of little interest. This trip she discovered them. Fortunately I was with her, and I watched with amazement as she made short work of the first two steps, turned the corner on the landing, and proceeded to climb halfway up the staircase in about thirty seconds before she bobbled and fell backward. Of course I was right there to catch her, and after I put her back on the step she proceeded to pull herself all the way to the top. Amazing. She climbed the staircase like she’s been doing it all her life, without a moment’s fear or hesitation. She kept glancing back at me, like she was wondering what I was doing there.

Going back down was a whole other ballgame. I tried to get her to sit down on the step and squat down to the next one, but she couldn’t grasp the coordination of it. I tried turning her around to go backwards, but she kept wanting to turn back around. I had visions of her climbing to the top of the stairs, only to go pinwheeling to the bottom when she tried to go back down again.

My parents didn’t have a baby gate, so I was one nervous nelly, following Sweetums around until they figured out a way to improvise with a card table. It worked, sort of, but was also a rather effective barrier to us bigger people. Although we all have fairly long legs, only my 6′ 3″ brother was able to step over the table with ease. The rest of us had to risk tripping over it or pushing it out of the way while balanced on the stair above. Not easy people.

So a few things I learned from this whole stairs episode:

1. Baby has no fear. Or concept of falling.
I suppose the only way for Sweetums to learn the dangers of falling is through experience, but I certainly hope her first lesson doesn’t happen on the staircase.

2. Enforcing the “no touch” rule cannot protect Baby Girl from every danger.
Obviously we can’t teach her not to touch the stairs. Well I guess we could, but then she would never be able to go up or down stairs by herself…not super practical in the long run. I can just see her on her first day of high school, stalled by the staircase that leads to her first class as she looks around for someone to hold her hand…yikes.

3. There is a delicate balance between encouraging Sweetness to explore and take risks and keeping her from hurting herself catastrophically.
I don’t want to stifle my dear daughter’s need to explore, and surely climbing stairs is a useful skill to learn, but for now she needs me there behind her, acting as her spotter and safety net. The tricky part is knowing when to let go and trust that she is good enough at the skill of climbing to keep herself from toppling backward, and to catch herself when she falls. Pretty much sums up the central parenthood struggle, huh? 🙂

 I guess we get to learn the trust lesson slowly, right along with our children. Hopefully with practice I will get better at knowing when Charlotte is ready to climb all alone, without me there to catch her. What a terrifying thought. And yet the thought of always being there to catch her is equally terrifying, because I know such “helicopter parenting” leads to co-dependency, entitlement, disregard for authority, and a whole host of other ailments. It’s easy to theorize about, but as my child gets closer to taking her first steps I wonder, can I do it? Can I let go?


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