Falling Down But Not Falling Apart
By Rita Boersma, Youth Frontiers Retreat Specialist and Presentation Coach
“Falling really hurts sometimes. But we have to fall so we can learn to get back up.” I was really trying to be convincing to my daughter because I needed her to believe it. I rocked and soothed her as she wailed and clung to me, her bleeding lip resting on my shoulder. Lovingly, my mother-in-law called me out and said, “Well, that’s a nice philosophy, but not when it’s your kid.”
“Yes when it’s my kid,” I said. “Especially when it’s my kid.” This time I was really trying to be convincing because I needed myself to believe it.
It’s not difficult to come across this idea of “falling” in our current culture of mommy blogs and Facebook statuses. Everyone, at least in my circle of parent friends, loves to share these types of articles on social media. I’ve shared them myself! I love to see that headline on my page (Look at what a calm and cool mom I seem like!) but it’s an excruciating thing to practice.
I was so proud of myself when I let her climb up that playground equipment earlier that day. She worked so hard to pull her sweet little toddler legs over each stair. She made it to the top, high up and victorious. She stepped slowly but triumphantly across the wobbly bridge, giggled down the slide on her stomach right into my (trying to look super calm and unconcerned but couldn’t wait to scoop her up safely) arms. Success! And I stayed on the ground the whole time! Way to let her adventure on her own, mom!
Then she face-planted into a nearby balance bar while walking in the sand. Walking. In. The. Sand. COME ON!
So, it is no surprise to any parent out there that you can never really predict the times your kids are going to get hurt or fail or fall down. But knowing that certainly doesn’t make it any easier to let it happen in the first place. We cannot control that inevitability — and we’re robbing them of so much if we try to – but we can control how we deal with it. How we teach through it. How we walk beside them as they get through it.
At 17 months, I don’t expect my daughter to grasp the philosophical implications behind what I was saying to her, but to me, that didn’t make it any less important to say in the moment. I want to keep it as a mantra so that I am really ready for the conversation when she can understand the words I am saying. Until then, what she can understand is that I am there with her and for her. I did all the things you should do in that moment — I held her, rocked her, kissed her lip, talked to her calmly. But I think the most meaningful thing I did was in the aftermath. I put her back down in the sand again. I stood with her and encouraged her to keep walking.
Kids need to fall sometimes. That’s the truth of it. Our kids need to fall. And when they do, the best we can do is let them know that they can get through it so they can keep going and can be better next time. There is such a stigma around failure and mistakes these days that we’ve forgotten to give our young children a chance to make them. If they never make them, they have no idea how to learn from them. We render them ill equipped to deal with disappointment and hurt.
This brings me to the second part of the truth that we need to accept: Not only do kids need to fail but, like it or not, they will eventually fail. Our kids will fail. There is no stopping that. Try as we might to keep them off the high playground equipment for the first 18 years, at some point there will be something that will knock them down… even if we’ve tried to make their lives nothing but sand. It is impossible to insulate their lives from risk. But it is not impossible to teach them resilience.
I want my kid to be able to approach taking risks bravely, wisely and readily. I want her to understand that it might not turn out the way she wants but to try nonetheless. Please just try. And if things do go terribly for her, if she is heartbroken, if she is hurt, devastated or rocked to her core, I will be there for her. I will hold her until she is ready and, with any luck, asks to be put down so she can keep on walking.
So my mantra continues, “Sometimes we need to fall so we can learn to get back up again.” Let’s keep practicing.