To push or not to push (your kid), that is the question

I am on a friend’s boat, wind tangling my hair and splashes of water are pelting my face and my right arm. The bounce of the bow smacks the water to a beat all its own.  My daughter is driving a boat for the first time and she is fascinated by the power the wheel has in her small hands. Speed is her happy place, not unlike most 10-year-old kids.  

We finally slow down and approach the rock formations along Lake Champlain so we can watch humans of all ages cliff dive into the water.  Our friends on the boat begin to discuss jumping in the water and going off the cliff. It is 20 feet up, not terribly high. For an acrophobic, like myself, 20 feet could be 100 feet.  As I watch my friends go up and jump off and see my daughter get excited yet be too afraid to go herself, I had THAT moment. You know, the moment I’m talking about when the internal battle between angst-ridden human versus role model parent rages. 

I am nervous to jump off the cliff. Just to be clear, I am not the kind of person who calculates the likelihood of fall off or severing my spine.  Instead, I am the kind of person who fixates on my fear of heights and starts to think about what it will look and feel like when I am on the cliff, looking down 20 feet into the water. This is how worry shows up for me. 

My role model parent knows that not jumping off the cliff could be almost as scarring as something happening.  If I don’t jump, I am signaling to my already cautious daughter that there is danger involved with this activity. Not directly mind you, but instead, this piece of information will be stored in her subconscious mind and used as proof later on for being fearful of (insert anything here from heights to climbing rocks to lakes, whatever translates for her and supports her own story later in life).  I also knew that even IF I decided to jump off, my daughter may not anyway.  

We watched our friends jump off several times, squeals of delight as they flew in the air. I realized I didn’t want to miss out on the fun because I was nervous. 

I turned to my daughter and said, “I’m going off the cliff, wanna come? We will jump off the small one together first and go from there.”  

With that, we dove off the boat and swam toward the rocks. We easily managed the small jump, which was only about 6 feet off the water.  After that thrill, my daughter said, ‘Let’s go.” and ascended the 25-foot cliff. 

When we reached the top, my daughter looked at me with her gray eyes as wide and round as a pound puppy and said, “I can’t do it.” 

So I told her, “You don’t have to jump. I’m so proud you thought about trying it.  I am not going to force you to jump, but I am going to remind you that doing anything outside of what you’re comfortable with, will make memories.  It is where the magic happens in life and I would hate for you to miss out on this and look back and say you wish you did it.” 

SIDEBAR: I, unlike Tom Brady, wouldn’t pull my daughter unwillingly into the lake, it isn’t my relationship with her. I also don’t think my way (or his) is the right way to teach your children about challenging yourself.

We stood there, at the top of the cliff quietly as my daughter worked through the internal demons playing in her head. She told me she was ready, asked if we could jump together and then started the countdown from 7 (a number that references her grandfather).  Instantly, I quieted my mind, listened to the water splashing on the rocks and the motors from faraway boats. I didn’t want to think about her not jumping or focus on my own fear. Instead, I wanted to just BE in the moment. 

“ONE,” she screamed loudly and she jumped. Even before me as I hesitated not sure she would go. 

In the water, she bobbed back up and her smile was so wide, she was getting water in her mouth. Before I could ask how it was she yelled, “Again! Again!”

We proceeded to jump off the cliff seven more times, each one as exhilarating as the first and both of us basking in the spell cast on us from overcoming our doubts to create incredible memories.

Life is full of these challenges, where we come face to face with our demons. It is in these moments that we can choose to either exist in our fears or live our lives. 

Marissa Bishop