You know how parenting experts go on and on about how you are supposed to back off and let your kid do stuff even though it might be dangerous/scary/stressful for them? I'm no expert and even I have expounded the virtues of 'grit' and letting your kid fall to learn from their own mistakes, blah blah blah, on this very blog. The benefits of kids learning things on their own (i.e. me do it!!), using the skills you have already helped them, develop and own, far outweigh letting them take the easy way out (i.e. let mama do it).
Sitting here, watching my son take a long piece of hard foam (a.k.a. a surf board) into pounding fierce waves of a swell, I realize how that might not be the most satisfactory advice I've ever heard (or handed out). In fact, it kind of bites and goes against every bit of parenting instinct I feel. How is it that if I sit on my butt and do nothing, it is best for my kid -- because he learns and grows and continues to develop these amazing surfing skills and his self-reliance -- but it causes me great pangs of stress and angst -- because I am having trouble not visualizing his impending doom by way of drowning or broken limbs.
What to do, what to do.
I've heard often that we, as parents, do our job well and as a result, our kids leave us, and prosper. 'We raise them to leave us.' Isn't that better than having your child couch-surf in your living room for the next 25 years? Don't we want them to do well? Don't we (I) want them to do well in the sports of their choosing, be it karate, fencing, or surfing? Don't we want them to ace every test and wow every judge? Yeah, we do. But at times like this, watching him struggle against such seemingly unbeatable odds, I feel like I'm setting him up to fail rather than develop skills. Over and over, the big waves push him back, flip his board, shove him over. The waves, the ocean are like the physical embodiment of everything I DON'T want for my kids. Challenges, sure, but this? Huh. A little over the top, if you ask me.
Still, though, I sit and watch him. I watch him try over and over, and not give up. I watch him take a small break on shore, laughing with his surf buddy and his instructor. I see him pick up the board again, and go back at it. And giggle as he catches a wave, and rides it to shore. So he did his job -- he kept trying and trying and doing his best -- and I did mine -- I sat on my butt and hoped for the best -- and it worked out. Perseverance, skill, practice ... it all paid off. It wasn't luck. It wasn't chance. It was a blossoming new ability. The look on his face was joy and pride. Really, there wasn't much I could have done to assist, but I think his accomplishing that ride all on his own was the ultimate pay off. (Even better that I got a pic and could show my hubby.) You know what, though? Even had he not caught that wave, he was so enjoying the process of learning -- developing the skills to read the waves, and to know when he should paddle, knowing what he needed to do to get his feet under him and find his balance on his feet, and what he had to do to get to shore -- it is his joy to know he is getting better at this sport he loves.
I'm lucky in that my kids are for the most part curious, self-motivated and pretty resilient. They are smart and try hard, even when they know it might not attain their goal; if it gets them closer, they will do it. They also are cooperative and good team-members. I love who they are. And I hope the next time I really am questioning my parenting decisions, watching one of my kids try at something that seems really really challenging, I hope I can let them win for themselves.
I guess I need to work on developing my sit-back-and-watch skills, too.