Recently at a soccer field, the younger brothers and sisters of the players, including my Alex, decided to climb on top of a two-metre concrete tank to play at a height. Perfect, I thought to myself, now I can watch Zac play while Alex remains in view and occupied. The odd nervous parent stood guard at the foot of the tank, watching the situation, but suddenly one mother turned up and ordered her son down. Her son refused – he did not want to be the only one excluded. A great scene blew up with the mother and father shouting and ordering him down. Other parents felt nervous: Should they too call their children down in support?
When the boy finally climbed down he was wailing and was immediately smacked. I felt dreadful for the boy, and I also felt guilty that maybe I should have hauled my son down from this potentially dangerous height as well. Had I been selfish and slack in wanting to watch Zacs game in peace, willing to risk Alexs safety to do so? Had I been too lazy to face an argument with Alex? With hindsight, however, I am glad I allowed Alex to stay on the tank. While providing any necessary protection or boundaries, I would like to rebel again the ??extreme-caution movement that poses a threat to what many would argue are the basic rights of childhood. After all I spent many hours of my childhood high up in tree-tops, way further than two metres from the ground. Once I fell and broke my wrist but, in retrospect, that injury was worth all those carefree hours.
The challenge is to use our intuition to find the point of balance between protecting our children and allowing them enough freedom to explore their world. Children may suffer the occasional injury, or mishap, but we can challenge ourselves to see this as a normal part of childhood rather than a disaster to beat ourselves up about. Do we have unconscious belief that such things must not happen, that any pain is somehow wrong or unnatural? Do we believe that we can remove from life anything we do not like? If we do, then we will be unable to bring any tolerance to those numerous parts of our lives that are not perfect. A significant proportion of life is beyond our control, and as long as we insist this be otherwise we create stress for ourselves. It pays to remember the Buddhas First Noble Truth: ??There is suffering and unsatisfactoriness.
Manu of us need to acknowledge our tendency towards being overprotective, and practise restraint so that we rise neither nervous wrecks nor frustrated rebels.
A client in his seventies for whom I was writing a biography reminded me of how much childhood has changed. He reported that a ??riderless horse would often turn up at his farmhouse. Half an hour later he would arrive home on foot, dirty and grazed. His mothers reaction? Every time she just smiled and tole her son, ??You have to fall off a horse nine times before you can call yourself a rider.