Is it Time to Let Your Child Go?

She did it. She actually did it. My daughter rode a bike for the first time last weekend.

I figured it would take a while before she figured it out; but it was more like three minutes, and then she was off. I kept my hand on her back as she peddled, but then she started saying, “Daddy let me go! Daddy let me go!” She had no idea how hard that was for me to do.

She didn’t realize how much her little hands were wobbling or how bad it would hurt if she lost her balance and fell. But I resisted my fears, pulled my hands away, stayed close, and cheered her on as I ran alongside her.

Too Fast for Me

Up and down her little knees went, faster and faster around the track. And as she became more confident, I became more uncomfortable and had to restrain myself from taking control. I mean, she was certainly exceeding my expectations and hers, but she still didn’t know how to stop herself, much less how to crash well. And then she rode right into a bush.

The tears started flowing, so I picked her up, rubbed her back, and tried to help her think through it.

“Crashes are part of learning,” I said. “I know it hurt, but you crashed well. Just tell yourself, ‘I can do this.'”

“I can do this,” she sobbed, and then said, “I can’t stop crying, Daddy.” So I kept holding her tightly. And after she cried a little longer, I said, “You know what? You’re gonna get back on that bike soon, and you’re gonna go faster and faster, and your sister is going to look over at you, and she’s not going to believe it.”

Her face brightened up, and through her tears she said, “Yeah, she’s going to look over at me and say, ‘That’s crazy! You’ve got to be kidding me!'”

And with that, she got back on the bike and tried again and again and again, even after having a couple more crashes which, fortunately, involved a little less sobbing. And in that 30-minute span of bike riding, I felt like 12 months of growing up happened.

More Bikes to Come

As I ran alongside my daughter and forced myself to let her go, again and again, I knew it would be the first time of many.

High school, college, solo performances, romance, foreign travel, careers, marriage – with every push towards independence, I will want to intervene, to keep my hand on her back and hold her steady so she doesn’t get hurt. She won’t realize the risks she’s taking, the inherent danger of pressing forward without any help from me. So she’ll say, “Let me go, Daddy! Let me go!” And I will.

It will be exhilarating to watch her push past her limits and see what great things she’s capable of. At the same time, it will be heartbreaking to watch her crash, to let her feel the pain of miscalculation and inexperience. But if I don’t, I’ll be the one who’s actually riding the bike – and in doing so, I’ll be rescuing her from growing up, from maturing, from true confidence.

As my daughter grows into a young woman, it will not be my job to be her new set of training wheels. It will be my job to offer guidance from a safe enough distance that we both know she’s the one who’s actually figuring things out for herself. And when she crashes, it will be my job to comfort her as necessary and then encourage her to get back up and try again.

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