When Anna had a broken wrist, every time we went anywhere, I’d notice people noticing her cast. A mom would casually walk over, say hello, and then ask, “What happened to her arm?”
I tell the story and to their utter horror, it’s completely unsatisfying. Anna fell off a child-size chair onto a carpeted floor. We were at home, she was supervised. It was an unremarkable fall that resulted in a fracture.
One mom’s eyes widened, “I’m so worried that something like that is going to happen to my son.”
I could totally relate to what was happening — she wanted to hear something completely off the wall, so she could put it in the category “would never happen to my kid.”
Perhaps I should change the story — Anna injured it in a hang gliding accident! Wrestling a bear! Carpal tunnel from too much texting! Or, my personal favorite: Nothing happened. She just wears it for attention.
That way, that mom wouldn’t have to add this to the list of things that could potentially happen to their kid, in their living room, while they’re making dinner. A broken wrist isn’t the end of the world, of course, but parents already drag around bags of worries and anxieties. Adding one more might just tip the load.
In the weeks that I walked around with a baby in a cast I had more conversations about safety and injuries than any other time. I’ve heard about injuries and near-misses, and every story has the same underlying theme: we do our best, and we want our kids to be ok.
When it comes to safety, I’m like most caregivers — there are some things I’m strict about and other things I’m lenient about. I try to weigh risk-taking behavior by the consequences and the kid. But regardless of my intentions I know that I’m flawed; a lot of my decisions are based in anxiety, and my own experiences.
In fact, since Anna’s injury I’ve become newly worried about falls, and kids fall a lot. Anytime they trip and hold both hands out to catch themselves, I cringe and run to their rescue. I feel up and down their arms, performing my own, uneducated, anxiety-exam and then scoop them up, “Are you ok!?”
I am very aware that I look like an over-protective, helicopter mom. But I can’t help it. Even though Anna’s break was not a big deal, it opened up new possibilities for harm.
Get down from there, stop running, take that out of your mouth, slow down, stay close, watch where you’re going. Explore, create, be brave, take chances, trust yourself, figure it out, shake it off.
This is the refrain we tell our children. We want them to be bold and take risks, but be smart enough to not get into car with strangers or eat TidePods.
What are we supposed to do? Caregivers get equal criticism for hovering as they do for not hovering. The dad who lets his two-year old climb on top of the highest slide is praised for allowing independence, but if that same kid happens to fall off that slide, he’s criticized for not supervising. Whew! Having kids is a wild ride!
When it comes to safety, we probably shouldn’t make decisions based on fear, on what our friends and neighbors do, or what you remember doing as a kid. And you definitely shouldn’t make decisions based on some article that came across your Facebook feed.
I wish I could provide a well thought-out theology of worry and trust, but I know that I’ve only just begun this journey. My kid are still pretty young and insulated from a lot, yet learning when to let go and when to rein in, all while trusting that God is in control, is a common theme and struggle for me as a mom.
After all, it’s mom’s job to worry! Right!? Isn’t that what people say? Perhaps it’s also mom’s job to look away, to squeeze your eyes shut and trust your kid to self-regulate. Perhaps a mom’s more important job is to provide a safe space for her kids to return to.
When that worried mom approached me and asked me what happened to Anna, I wanted to tell her, “Your kid will fall. They’ll get bumps, scrapes, and one day they might even get a cast. But they’ll be ok.”
And I want to tell myself the same thing.