Julia has reached the age where she’s beginning to try risky things. Predictably, she’s gotten hurt from time to time when things didn’t go as planned. I find it challenging to watch this happen sometimes, but I also realize that she needs to learn her own limits without my being there to shield her from the consequences of mistakes.
As the father of a 19-month-old, of course, I don’t advocate anything close to a fully hands-off approach. Parenting requires an ever-changing amount of interference in a child’s life. Julia needs a proverbial safety net under her for much of what she does right now, especially as her mobility, curiosity, and bravery improve simultaneously. Even so, I constantly look for ways to let her learn by experience rather than hand-holding as long as the potential danger isn’t too high. I even verbally coach her through some riskier activities, while staying close enough to effect a daring rescue but letting her think she’s on her own.
In practice, this means I let her run, climb, jump, and swing on things, even though I’d feel much safer with her feet firmly on the ground right beside me. As a kid, I always wanted to climb anything and everything I could, so I can’t blame her. Watching from the other side of the generation gap, I can hardly imagine what I must have put my parents through. Julia still has years to go before she reaches the age of bicycles, inline skates, snowboards, and giant trampolines. We have a long, steep driveway that ends in a tight turn right into the street. But I needn’t worry because the street is easily avoidable by staying in a straight line on the driveway…into a block wall.
I take comfort in the fact that I survived my own risk-prone lifestyle in one piece. My only broken bone in all 31 years was actually just a fracture, a toe injury stemming from my lack of foresight to wear shoes while performing antics on a rope swing. I hope Julia ends up with the same overall safety record, wherever her sense of daring takes her. I’ll keep her as safe as I dare, but I’m no helicopter parent. At least for now, I can still make everything all better with daddy kisses. I’m in no hurry to leave that phase.