Recently our family headed out for our first kayaking experience. Everyone was on board and excited enough to agree to be roused from their beds earlier then their bodies would choose. The car was full of excited chatter and the singing of favorite tunes as we battled through unexpected traffic (that could be the theme of our life here in California).
We got to the dock a little late which didn’t seem to phase anyone, not even the folks holding the kayaks for us. We were gathering our gear when the kind fellow used words like “get wet and flip kayak”. I now had a terrified six year old buried in my lap. He was really not up for this sort of thing.
I am guessing that no where in his mind along the preparation for this journey had he ever considered such things as the kayak tipping or some of the ocean water being in the kayak with him. And these big ideas were just too much. He looked at me with frightened eyes and said “mom I really don’t wanna do this.”
Now I know there are several responses that could have been inserted here based on a wide range of parenting philosophies and ideals. Thankfully for me in that moment the only consideration was my child and his sense of safety. When we as humans are trying to meet our need for safety every thing else melts into the background. The primal kicks in and the need for safety takes priority over reason, logic and any other strategy I might have employed. So, he and I did not go kayaking.
We watched, we listened and we questioned. But we did not step foot in a kayak. His brother and dad cautiously headed out and returned 40 minutes in to their 4 hour rental. That was enough for a first timer. And when they returned they had stories of dolphins, pelicans and sea lions. The telling of tales over lunch left my six year old announcing “I totally want to do that next time.”
And that is why quitting is okay in this house. I could have forced the issue and potentially left my child hating kayaking or fearing kayaking for a long time, potentially the entirety of his life. Instead he was inspired by people he trusted who showed him this was a safe and super cool experience. Now he is motivated to give it another shot (and in case you are wondering if at the last minute he changes his mind again he will be supported just as he was here).
When we create space for our children to quit, stop, change directions or reconsider a sport, activity, choice the underlying message we send to them is that that they are in control. I mean that they are in control of their own boundaries. They are able and capable of pushing and stretching them when the moment is right. This in my humble opinion ups the chances that they will want to repeat this sort of behavior because it feels good. When the control lies outside of us and in the hands of someone else it can be terrifying, out of control and down right unpleasant. When the control comes from with in it feels right, connected and perhaps just as scary but in a whole different I really want to do this kind of way.
Having the freedom to walk away from an activity can also create the breathing room necessary to re-enter or see things from a slightly different angle. Sometimes that moment of pause where you know you have the freedom to just quit is the space where a whole new level of courage is able to bubble up. In the moment where you are walking away you might just feel that feeling of “wait I really want to do this” and that extra surge of certainty can be just what my child needs to meet their goal or intention. This is why this option is always available in our house.
Ultimately for me it comes down to this, I want my children to know the edges of their comfort zones and boundaries. I want them to know them so they can push them. I want them to know how they feel when they are standing at the edge ready to push and deciding if the time is right. I want them to know what it feels like to break through that edge, of their own choosing, and delight in the new space. I want them to feel confident in their own ability to manage the sorts of big feelings that come from being alive in the world. And this can’t happen if I am in charge of the what and the when of their risk taking. I can provide a host of opportunities for the boys and stand by with the kind of open arms that receive them whatever they choose to do.