By Stephanie Borden
Web Exclusive May 7, 2007
My daughter never ceases to amaze me. I spend hours watching her as she explores the world around her, discovers the intricate and varied sights, sounds and textures that make up her world, and tries to make sense of them from her vantage point, close to the ground.
As a relatively new parent, as I am watching her, I also give a lot of thought to how on earth I am ever going to give her everything she needs and keep her safe. How can I foster her independence and still protect her as she ventures farther and farther on her own?
It is pretty easy now. As a toddler, her needs are simple and her world is fairly small. I can keep her away from danger—or danger away from her—with a few well-placed baby gates. But what happens when she climbs over those gates, and onto the school bus? When she wants to go to the mall with her friends, and then off to university or backpacking in Europe? As I think about this, the job of parenting this incredible little girl begins to look Herculean. I want to provide her with all of the physical, mental and emotional tools she needs to grow and to excel at whatever she chooses to do, but how do I do it?
In trying to answer this I think about my own childhood and what I liked and didn’t like; what worked and didn’t work; what I would have changed and what I would not change for the world. I think about my relationship with my parents and the relationship I want to have with my daughter.
I think about how that relationship will change as she grows from a toddler to a teenager and then to an adult. I think about the storms we will have to weather and the issues we will have to face—potty training, homework, puberty, cars, sex, alcohol. What can I do to ensure that our relationship can not only survive, but also thrive through all of these? Walking through a snow covered field early in the spring, I got my answer.
Myla was just over a year old and had been walking for only a few months. She was still a little wobbly, especially on the uneven, snow-covered ground. Nonetheless, she confidently made her way across the snow, walking on her own, but right beside me. When we reached a particularly rough patch she extended her hand up to me, without stopping and without ever taking her eyes off the ground. I realized that she wanted my help to get across. As soon as we made it over, she let go of my hand and continued on her own. And so this continued for our entire walk.
It was really pretty extraordinary. There were no words and there was no glance up to see if I was there—nothing, but a simple extension of her hand. She knew that I would be there for her to give her the help she needed. When the difficult ground made way for more even, manageable terrain, as it inevitably did (and always does), she let go, and continued on her own.
This, I realized, is my job as her mother. As she grows up and faces new challenges, whether it is a snowy field, potty training, a first day of school, or a broken heart, I must give her the space she needs to explore and navigate the world on her own. However, I have to be close by, watching, cheering and consoling so that when the ground is a little too rough, or the world is a little too big, all she has to do is reach out and know that I will hold her hand.