Submitted by Jim Haselmaier
Counterintuitive situations fascinate me. It's surprising when conventional wisdom is proven wrong or something that seems obvious turns out differently than expected.
The majority of parents I know are deeply committed to the well-being and success of their children. Many put a lot of thought into various aspects of parenting and ask themselves questions like, "Am I being supportive enough?", "Am I being tough enough?" and "Am I being flexible enough?"
Many years into parenting, I learned that I needed to add asking myself, "Am I letting go enough?” Here's why …
One summer when our daughter was about three-years-old, we spent time with my in-laws at their cottage on a river. One afternoon, the five of us decided to take the canoes out. The river was calm and shallow. My wife, daughter and I were in one canoe and my in-laws were in another one. I’ll be the first to admit I am not an accomplished canoeist, and unfortunately that contributed to the fact that, and don't ask me how, at one point we became broadside to the current. My in-laws, who were upstream, were in total control of their canoe. In order to be sure they didn't hit us, my mother-in-law stepped out of their canoe. And let's just say that both she and my father-in-law ended up very wet very fast. There was splashing and rapid chatter as the adults attempted to convince our daughter we were all having great fun.
Through four sets of adult eyes this was a relatively minor event, although my wet in-laws might have a little more to say about it. (And I have to say, as the son-in-law, I felt pretty stupid for helping to cause the flap.) But through the eyes of a three-year-old little girl, the scene was very traumatic! From that point forward, our daughter was afraid of boats. And we knew why. Thankfully she'd get in them, but there was usually a fair amount of discussion beforehand.
About seven years later our daughter was at Girl Scout summer camp. When I arrived to pick her up at the end of the week, the girls were out on the lake – swamping canoes. Ugh … I knew this was going to be tough for her.
As I watched from shore it was apparent that she was in distress. Not in danger, but distress. After a while one of the leaders came up to me and said “She was doing a lot better before you arrived. I think if you leave it might go better for her.” So I made myself scarce for a few hours.
Sure enough, it helped. She got through the canoe swamping exercise. The leader reported my daughter’s distress lessened considerably after I left. It turned out my presence, which I figured would be helpful and supportive, was actually hurting her. It was interfering with her ability to do what needed to be done. By eliminating the distraction of my presence, she accomplished the challenging task.
That event influenced how I parented from that point forward. I tried to be more mindful of situations where it was best to let my children handle situations on their own so that they could increase their confidence in their own capabilities. I often asked myself, "Am I letting go enough?"