My 2.5-year-old loves -- *loves* -- to climb the rock walls at parks, all by herself.
"No Mommy, I do it."
Okay, hunny, but all I'm imagining is you plummeting and breaking your back.
"Mommy, urr siwwy."
No, I'm a realist.
Eventually you come to a happy medium with your kid, somewhere between making sure they don't plummet to their demise and making them think they're doing their ninja moves completely solo. It's nerve-wrecking and heart attack-inducing, but it's a necessary and universal tension for Western mothers.
Today at the park, AB did her rock wall climbing. She got to the wall and up four knobs before I could say YIKES. When I did get to her, I fought the urge to put my hand on her bottom, because I remembered what happened the last time I did that. See, the first time today that she went to climb, I did stand uber-nervous-mommy close, and put my hand on her butt to "guide" (catch) her. But you know what happened when I did that? She let go and suddenly it became me pushing her up the wall instead of her climbing the wall. For those of you who don't know me in person, I am not even five feet tall. So pushing my child up a rock wall, it doesn't go far.
I thought about parenting, and then I thought about my marriage and my friendships, and even some of my professional relationships, and I thought, there's a point when helping someone becomes a hindrance. Sure, I hope to always be there to catch my daughter, literally and figuratively. But as she grows out of needing my immediate assistance, my helping her, or the things I'm doing in the name of helping her, could actually be a hindrance to her growth and development.
In grown-up relationships, I think we sometimes say and do things in the name of helping that could actually be hindering others' growth and/or the situation, not to mention our relationships with them. We don't want someone to get hurt or we just want to get the job done, we gloss over others' gaffes or gaps or even needs because we're in a one-way state of mind. We don't have time or don't want to make the time to deal with the repercussions of drawing that line between the two.
Here's a hint for when that boundary between helping and hindering is crossed: you can feel it in your gut. Your mood generally goes south, your body tenses, your thinking is less clear.
It would be really great--and it would make this counselor heart so very happy--if we could have a universal, required-for-adulthood training on setting appropriate boundaries. Letting others know when helping them actually isn't helping them, and for this one, they're on their own. It would be really great if we could stand strong in who we are, not enable or coddle or pander. There are ways to be this way -- setting boundaries, standing firm in who you are -- without alienating others and without losing respect. In fact, I believe if you take stock of the three people in your life whom you most respect, they all share some version of boundary setting as a character strength.
I challenge you to set one boundary today. Just one. Start small. Don't say NO to your boss or your mother and tell them it's because of this great blog you just read. Do your gut check when you're about to help, and be okay with who you are and the choice you're making when the answer is "No". Then do another gut check and see how much stronger you feel. Ten-to-one: after the nervousness wears off, you kind of like it.
As I punctuated that last sentence, AB fell out of her bed. For the second night in a row.
I guess I won't catch her every time.