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growing up

Learning to Fight My Neurotic Instincts

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A friend and I watched my daughter playing in the playground, heaving herself up a ladder clearly meant for older children. “God, you’re calm,” my friend said. “Look at her climbing that equipment! If that were my child, I’d be so worried!”

I had to laugh. I’m not calm. I say things such as, “Be careful!” and “Watch out!” and “Look where you’re going!” and “That seems dangerous!” much more than I ever anticipated, and much more than I would like.

I’m not a physical specimen myself; I was late to learn to ride a bike, and I am not interested in scooters or skateboards, never mind more challenging things like mountain-climbing or parachutes or bungee jumping or surfing. Walking is a good pace for me.

Thankfully my wife is much more physically confident, and our daughter has taken after her. Our girl likes climbing trees and shooting down fast slides and when she falls, she always just jumps right back up and returns to whatever she was doing.

But I worry. Watching her wobble on her bike or run over a rope bridge or jump off a table sometimes makes me anxious. I’d hear myself calling to her, warning her. And while obviously it makes sense to be cautious, especially when you aren’t three yet, and you’re trying to do things that even much bigger people find frightening or difficult, I wondered if I was going to affect her negatively with my concern.

Was I going to shut down her adventurous and brave spirit with all my apprehension? Was she going to start believing that she couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing things?

So I’ve been learning to fight against my instincts. Instead of constantly warning our daughter, I’m trying to support her more. That means talking through things, rather than me telling her in anxiety-ridden tone what to do or not to do. She understands the concept of breaking bones and getting hurt, and hopefully that means she takes care—but I try not to talk in imperatives as much.

It also means that my wife and I are there to help her if she hurts herself or makes a mistake, but we don’t hover (or at least, she doesn’t hover, and I try not to). We comfort her when she needs it, but we don’t let it stop her from doing it again. Instead, it’s a learning experience.

It also means that I need to show our daughter that I can take risks too and I can try to challenge myself. OK, I’m never going to be in the Olympics (unless reading is a sport, which, frankly, it should be), but I have in the past year or so found myself high in the trees in an adventure park, bouncing on trampolines, and going down steep slides.

Recently, I even tried out our daughter’s new scooter. I wasn’t good, and I honestly didn’t enjoy it, but I showed her that I could try something new as well. And I’ll keep doing it, even though I’ll never get up to her sort of speed.

I want her to see her mothers dare, even if I also want her to see her mothers be careful at times too.

So when my friend said I was calm, I said, “Thank you. I’ve been working on it.” And then I went to help my daughter get on the zip wire. Because the zip wire is her favorite at the park, and you know what? I’ve learned to love them too. Watch us go!

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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