What my kids have taught me about being brave
As parents, the safety of our children is paramount. But at the same time, we are consistently encouraging our children to take risks in the form of trying new experiences, learning new things and getting back up after they've fallen.
About a year ago, my son (who was four at the time) was at swimming lessons, and I watched him from the bleachers. I have had a life-long fear of deep water, and won't jump in to water or enter a body of water if my feet cannot comfortably touch the ground. I watched my son hesitate for a moment and then jump into the water with a mix of fear and pride bubbling up inside me. He quickly returned to the surface coughing a bit, grinning ear to ear anxious to get back up and do it again. A new feeling arose for me: embarrassment.
I went tobogganing with my husband and kids. Going down on the sled with my daughter between my legs, I became fearful that something would go wrong. In that fear, I overcompensated and as a result the entire sled flipped causing us to tumble and roll hard onto the icy ground. My daughter (age 2) began to cry. As she lifted her head, I saw that her face had some snow on it. As I wiped the snow away, I saw a small amount of blood and realized she had several minor cuts on her forehead. I hugged her close, and felt horrible. My husband came barreling down the hill to make sure we were OK and V just looked up at him, smiling and said "Again!".
And it’s not just in the physical realm that my children are taking risks. I’ve been watching my rather reserved son, come out of his shell and approach other children at the playground asking them if they want to play tag or have a race. I watch my daughter with a determined persistence to get her socks on by herself and celebrating the small victories of the sock hanging of the end of her big toe.
These moments are so special, it almost feels like my heart is going to explode. Children naturally have a curiosity and determination that is enviable. But instead of being jealous of my kids (LINK to jealousy post), why not be inspired by them?
Here are some of the biggest learnings I have tried to instill in my children, and in turn they have reminded me of:
Go for it! Try something new.
I know I’m not alone on this, but sometimes I simply get stuck in my own head. I have honed my skills of rationalization to the point that I can convince just about anyone (including myself), of why NOT to do something. It contradicts one of my core values of curiosity and fights against my natural growth mindset. I so often encourage my children to try something new, and I need to show them I’m trying something new, because they’re learning far more from my actions, than from my words.
It doesn’t have to be perfect
Here we go. My old “buddy” the perfectionism gremlin is rearing its ugly head saying if it isn’t perfect than walk away, or don’t bother starting at all. Who gets something perfect when their learning, and what would be the fun in that anyway? My son while naturally quite agile and quick, is unlikely to make it in the NHL if his ice-skating lessons are any indication, yet he is persistent and the progress is notable. He is enjoying being on the ice and comes home excited to tell me “I’m getting better every week”. He initially was measuring his progress by how many times he fell, but now is more focused on the fact that it feels a little bit easier each time he steps on the ice.
Don’t avoid something because it doesn’t come naturally to you
When I read Julia’s post about imposter syndrome, I realized I lean a lot toward the “natural genius” type (not as flattering as it sounds!). Basically, I tend to avoid tasks that I’m not naturally good at.
I have a fear of deep water and had pretty much resigned myself to “not being a strong swimmer”. Going to my son’s lessons week after week and watching his bravery and joy inspired me to take swimming lessons of my own. I went into it with low expectations of myself (just get in the pool, Beth!). The funny thing is as I looked in the mirror before my first lesson, I really looked like a swimmer. I have the body type and gear that fit the bill. I even noticed a look of surprise when I joined my fellow classmates in the pool and they looked at me like I must be in the wrong place. A few bobs of me coming up gasping with water stinging my nose, and they were convinced I belonged with them.
We supported and encouraged each other and our young teacher was so beautifully patient and kind. I admired my fellow classmates for facing a long-time fear, and with time was able to give myself some credit for stepping into a world where the natural genius was nowhere to be found. And after a few weeks of consistent lessons, I got to a point where I could tread water for two minutes, got the breathing rhythm and technique for a decent forward crawl, and even now can jump in the deep end without requiring ten minutes of a pep talk from the lifeguard. Don’t sign me up for the Olympics yet, but by taking a risk expanded me beyond just swimming skill, and that has been immensely freeing.
It’s the self-judgment that gets in our way more than the judgment BY others.
I like to differentiate between excuses and reasons. And when it comes to personally challenging yourself, the judgment of others firmly falls in the camp of an excuse. Do you think my 2 ½ year old daughter is worried about what people will think if she puts her rain boots on the wrong feet? Nope. When it’s pointed out she will either giggle and switch the boots or proudly stomp around with them on the wrong feet as if she meant to do it all along.
Sure, it’s easy to step into the thought pattern of “what will other people think?” and sometimes that has an important protective factor (like when you excuse yourself early from a company work party when you realize the alcohol has gone to your head). But more often than not, it is our self-judgment that keeps us from taking a risk toward moving forward.
In an additional embarrassing admission from my life, I never learned how to ride a bike. It has for years been a source of great shame and self-loathing. How did I avoid such a basic rite of passage? I had the privilege of having a bike, having people who were willing to teach me to bike and the space to bike. I suppose my perfection gremlin has been around since I was a young child, because it was my fear of failing (and the fear of hurting myself) that caused me to dig my heels in and refuse to take the chance.
I have feared and avoided bringing up this subject for years, because “what will other people think?”. As I’ve opened up to people in my life about this “shameful secret” (forgive the drama, but that’s honesty how it has felt to me), the worst reaction has been a chuckle of disbelief and at best people have been incredibly gentle and lovely about it. Even the worst of it didn’t compare to my brutal negative self-talk. So, my new goal is once again to take lessons, not be a natural genius, and get to a point where I can enjoy family bike rides (and maybe solo bike rides), by the end of this summer. I’ll keep you posted!
Mistakes and failures make us wiser
Once again an example of needing to practice what I preach. When reflecting on my life and the stumbles along the way, it is the failures and mistakes that are the periods of biggest learning.
I think of watching my children learn how to walk, they of course fell on their bums countless times and yet kept trying and learning and growing. Wisdom comes from experience and in order to experience something knew you have to take a risk. And when you take a risk you’ll often make mistakes. And those mistakes make us wiser.
So, I’ve been a parent for well less than a decade and I have already learned this and so much more from my children. Are you ready to learn from you children? These 5 tips will help you overcome your fears and take new risks – just like your amazing children!
1. Go for it! Try something new.
2. It doesn’t have to be perfect
3. Don’t avoid something because it doesn’t come naturally to you
4. It’s the self-judgment that gets in our way more than the judgment By others.
5. Mistakes and failures make us wiser
What have you learned from your little ones?