"Then why bother with it?" Suzy scowled.
"Because it's an act of love," Mother said.
A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle
When I was home during high school and college breaks, I'd go running with my dad. I'd be running along, trying not to pass out or potentially die, and he'd be prancing along beside me like a magical, middle aged unicorn making me look bad.
Sorry I compared you to a unicorn, Dad.
My dad loves to talk while he runs, and I have always welcomed the distraction. Plus, sometimes I learned really interesting things. I even learned a few things that are applicable now as a parent, including the Model Assist Watch Leave method.
Now, when my dad was talking with me about this, he was speaking in terms of discipleship, but something about it has lodged in my brain. I think about it a lot now as a parent.
This last month I dug deep and hit the assist phase with Tiny and potty training. I let Littles do most of the modeling for how to go potty although, unfortunately, I modeled for Littles the phrase, "Can you please let me pee in peace!" and he busted that out a few times along the way. He's handy like that. Anyways, after toilet usage was appropriately modeled, I assisted Tiny by reminding him of when to go and, occasionally, helping hold him on the toilet. I also assisted with a few clean ups, but that's beside the point. Now mostly I'm watching, making sure he's going when he needs to. But more and more, I can leave him alone and trust him to make it to the potty on his own. Model-assist-watch-leave. Easy.
That watch phase is important. When we skip it, our kids, having never done anything on their own, are left floundering, unsure of how to handle these incredible lives they've been given.
We don't trust that we can let our children play outside, unattended, because we don't know our neighbors and they may be creepers at worst or just not willing to keep an eye out at best. We don't trust that we can let our children play unsupervised with other kids because we don't know their parents and we don't know how they've been raised. We don't trust our schools any more or our police force or our hospitals. We don't trust our politicians. Sometimes we don't trust our spouses. And some of us barely trust ourselves.
We have lost our trust, and with it, we have lost that crucial "watch" phase.
I'm not talking about the watch phase that occurs when I teach Littles how to tie his shoe or Tiny to go potty. I'm talking about the watch phase necessary so that Littles and Tiny (and Bruiser and Bee) grow up to become decent human beings. How do I know who they're going to be as adults if I never give them the chance to discover who they are without Mom and Dad holding their hands but while they still have the safety net of home?
I get the concept behind free-range parenting. At the same time, I'm also married to a cop. If you've heard horror stories on the news, I've heard them from the Man when he gets home from work. There are evil people out there, and we know it. So how can we open our hands and let our children risk enough that they can learn and grow and blossom...without being hurt?
I'm not sure I know the answer to that completely. But I know that when we run our lives and the lives of our children based on what we're afraid of, we err greatly. So I think my new game plan is prayer. Seriously, I'm not joking about this.
When we learn to release our children from our sometimes smothering desire to keep them safe, when we love them enough to face our own fears and open our hands (wisely and in the right time and the right ways), we pray. We still watch from the sidelines for a while, and we pray.
And we hope that God is worth trusting with the most precious gifts He has ever given us.