I’m that mean Mom. The one at the playground who sees that my kid is about to fall, but sits there and watches it happen. Before you pull out your pitchforks, hear me out.
I am an attentive mother, and I would run as fast as the mother wolf to save my child if she were truly in danger. I have even surprised myself at my ability to move quickly in a primal response to my child in danger, such as when she was heading toward a street. Maternal instincts are powerful! But when we are talking about things like bruises and skinned knees, I’m less concerned about them, and yes, I often do nothing to stop them from happening. That is because I believe it is important for the development of my children to allow them to experience failure and learn from their mistakes and natural consequences. As parents, it can be difficult to see our children upset from a skinned knee, a burned egg, a losing game, or a broken heart. But that is life, and we can’t live it for them. We can advise them when necessary, guide them, encourage them, wipe their tears, bandage them up, and be there for them, but we would not be doing them any favors by padding them from every one of life’s blows. Not if we want to raise independent, confident, capable people.
We practice safe bedsharing with our babies, as the majority of the world does where cribs do not exist. People often ask, “How do you keep your baby from falling off the bed.” The short answer is, you don’t. A wise friend of mine told me, when my first born was a toddler, that children have been climbing on the side of cliffs for thousands of years. That has been a really interesting thing to think about and read about. Knowing this information, I became less worried about my babies falling off the bed, but I’m not careless about it. We make sure there is nothing sharp or otherwise hazardous that they can fall on. We do try to prevent them from falling when we can. We do show and explain that this is the edge of the bed where you will fall down and get hurt. And when baby is capable of standing, we teach baby how to turn and get off the bed feet first. Our oldest was getting off the bed by herself when she was seven months old. The second, at nine months. And it usually takes just one fall for them to learn that they will fall if they are not careful. After that fall, they approach the edge more cautiously and look down, recognizing the distance. Babies are intelligent people.
I was on a woodland retreat with my oldest when she was 18 months old. At that time, I was still so new to mothering and had so much to learn (and still do. That never ends). My wise friend assured me that it would be okay to let my daughter wander. “There’s no one here. Just nature.” I thought about it long and hard. I was learning, on that retreat, to listen to my instincts. So when my little one began to walk across the meadow or into the woods by herself, at a distance further from me than I was used to, I observed, ready to run and scoop my child up if needed. Quietly, I watched and listened.
What I observed over the course of those days time and time again was incredible to me. My little one would run a certain distance, but then she would pause and look over her shoulder to make sure she could see me. Her instincts directed her to always know where her mother was. It’s such a simple concept, but I was truly in awe watching it in practice when the hustle and bustle of the modern world seemed lightyears away. I even gave this phenomenon a name. I call it the cub connection. My cub was directed by her instincts to explore and play, but to always know where her mother was. When she felt that she was too far from me, she stopped and came back to connect, always remaining within a certain radius.
That lesson was valuable for both of us, and it launched me deeper into the rewilding process to regain my instincts as a mother, which are often devalued and undermined at every turn in this culture we live in. And here’s the important part: Our children also have instincts. It is so important that we nurture them and do what we can to keep their instincts intact. This is how we raise deeply in tune people, confident and capable. Sometimes the other parents at the playground just have to witness the mean Mom calmly watching her kid fall down and then calmly offering comfort before letting them fly again.