As a child I remember standing in the ocean letting the waves wash over my feet. I was exhilarated by the power and strength of each wave. I would watch in anticipation, hopping from foot to foot, as the waves built up and came closer to shore. As they got closer, I would reach for my dad’s hand, making sure he was close. I wanted to stand on my own two feet, but I also wanted to make sure that he was near by if I needed him. As the waves washed over me, I was always surprised and sometimes overwhelmed. A mixture of fear and glee filled me. My tummy tickled and my heartbeat quickened. The cold water took my breath away and I could feel the tricky sand shifting under my feet. I wondered if it would sweep me out to sea. I felt proud, relieved and excited as I realized I was still standing strong as the wave retreated. I jumped up and down and pointed out, yelling up to my dad “Look!” as I waited for the next one.
Sometimes I managed the waves on my own. At the edge of the water I felt pretty confident in my ability to stay standing. I also knew that if I fell, I could easily get back up. I could toddle around in the easy waves on my own, my parents safe within my eyesight. I checked often to make sure they were there. But as I went deeper, I wanted them close. A little farther in and I needed my parents hand to keep myself steady. A little bit farther and I wanted to be safe in their arms. They were my pillar. I trusted that the waves wouldn’t wash them away and that I could use their strength (either in the arms, holding their hand, or just being near them) to brave the waves that would have otherwise been too big for me, the waves that would have washed me out to sea. They gave me the strength, power, and courage to learn how to play in the waves on my own.
If my parents had never let me out of their arms to feel the power of the waves myself, I never would have learned to play in the ocean. But if they never held me close, I wouldn’t have ventured out. And if I did, I might not have been ready. Likewise, if we never let the little ones experience the rush of life, the power of emotion, the trickiness of challenges they will never learn to live life to the fullest. The challenge then, for parents is to know when to stand close, when to lend a hand, when to hold them close, and when to back away.