We spent the Christmas after Little Person turned 2 in South Africa visiting family. Little Person has fair English skin, and she has spent her life wearing shoes and socks when outdoors. In SA, a little foot-hardening goes a long way, so the family chuckled as we put socks and shoes on her to go to the beach (we never put them back on her to come back from the beach, though.) I could’ve spent the 3 weeks teaching her that socks were not a necessity for wearing shoes, but I didn’t, because back home, socks pretty much always go with shoes (apart from the one weekend of summer).
“It’s so funny to see her running around in shoes and socks like that,” my aunt (a very nice, if somewhat outspoken, lady. It’s in the genes. The outspoken bit, that is.) commented on the day we visited her friends and watched Little Person playing with the farmer’s (barefoot) children.
“She’s English, not South African,” I replied. (The Dude will tell you that’s wrong – she’s British. But people across the waters don’t really make that distinction.)
The point is, I had a purpose behind all that sock wearing. These days, putting shoes and socks on are not a bother at all.
Parenthood is a long-haul project. We raise our children, we don’t just care for them. We should be motivate as much by their purpose as we are by our own. Parenting decisions motivated by purpose generally play out better than those motivated by fear. But they can feel a lot more dangerous, because society tells us to “keep our children safe”.
I keep Little Person safe, because she knows it’s my job to keep her safe, and her job to listen to me. But that’s not my only job. My real job as her parent is to raise her to be a happy, healthy adult capable of making responsible decisions and following through on them. My job is to make sure she can find and fulfill her purpose. How can she ever do that if all I ever do is point out the dangers of life, and teach her how to be afraid? Or point out how she can’t do things?
There’s a little retaining wall next to the steps outside her nursery, and ever since she could reach, she’s been climbing up onto, clambering up the slope and jumping off the little pillar at the top. When she was smaller, and less confident on her feet, she would crawl up, and hold both my hands to jump off, but these days, she walks up on her own, only lightly holding my hand for the jump off. I see the looks of horror and dismay from other parents walking past to collect their children, and Little Person is the only child I have seen do this. But here’s the thing. She knows that the bricks get slippery in the wet, and so won’t even try it if its been raining; she has an extraordinary sense of balance and can self-correct when she makes a mistake; she knows to make sure each foot has a good grip before taking her next step. She’s learnt about physics, and gravity, and her own physicality. She’s learnt if you try to jump to far forward, you nearly land on your nose. And she’s learnt that her mum will be there to catch her if she needs me, but there’s always the opportunity to try.
The added bonus is, I never have to carry a screaming child up the steps and into the car.