As an imperfect person and parent who makes mistakes on a daily basis, I gravitate toward parenting educators who share wisdom and experience in loving and encouraging ways. I’ll never forget when I stumbled on Janet Lansbury’s site one night. I began soaking up everything she had to offer about understanding and connecting with children. Over time, Janet’s perspective and techniques enabled me to become a more present and relaxed parent. Janet made me feel hopeful that I had the ability to create strong, loving bonds with my children no matter how many times I stumbled along the way. Much to my delight, Janet became a fan of The Hands Free Revolution and offered her support. She wrote a powerful endorsement for my upcoming book, Hands Free Mama, and graciously asked me to guest post today. I am truly honored to share my story on Janet’s treasure of a site.
The Gift of a Child’s Uncomfortable Question
by Rachel Macy Stafford
The ocean water was barely 55 degrees, but yet my daughter ventured out each day of our vacation, willing to push aside her fear of sharks, jellyfish, and chattering teeth to ride the waves.
And she wanted me to watch her.
The girl who had packed her own suitcase, applied her own sunscreen, and made strawberry smoothies for the entire family that very morning still hungered for her mother’s eyes when she battled the waves. There was no denying this child had changed since our last trip to the beach, but there were still remnants of the little girl who needed her mom.
Later that evening, my daughter’s upper body ached from her innovative boogie board maneuvers so I gently rubbed her shoulders. That’s when she asked me the meaning of a specific profane word. It was a heavy, heavy word that opened doors into an adult world. I had anticipated this moment, but yet I stood there feeling dry-mouthed and ill-prepared.
As I slowly doled out bits of information, I envisioned each one as a piece of armor—each fact making her a little stronger, a bit more aware, a little more prepared to navigate a fast world that could be devastating, alarming, and cruel to young people trying to find their way.
And since the window was open, I offered more—more armor, more substance, and more wisdom to equip her.
I said, “I believe knowledge is power. I don’t want you to be the person sitting in the group who doesn’t know what other kids are talking about. I don’t want you to be unaware of the dangers that come with risky behaviors—because sometimes kids are misinformed. They might tell you something that they think is true, but it might not be. If there is something you don’t understand or a word someone says that is unfamiliar, you can come and ask me. I will tell you the truth. I will give you the facts. Because when you have the facts, you are more likely to make smart choices with your body and your life.”
I went on to describe some real life examples from both the news and my own personal experience when young people’s lives drastically changed because of the choices they made.
Smoothing a few flyaway hairs away from her face, I concluded our talk with the most important thing I could say to my child. “No matter what circumstance you find yourself in, know that your dad and I will always, always love you and we will face any problems together.”
With a mixture of relief and gratitude blanketing her lovely features, my child whispered, “Okay, Mama.” And then as if to tell me that was enough information for one night, she whispered, “I’m sleepy now.”
As I left my daughter’s room, I was never more certain of my role in my children’s lives. When they cross over from the child world to the adult world, I want to be there. I want to cross that line with them, or at least be there to accept the invitation when the window is open and they ask me to come in.
So I will watch her when she asks me to count how many waves she rides.
And I will talk to her while she makes her strawberry smoothies.
And I will rub her back when she has trouble falling asleep.
And I will give her truth when she asks questions that have no easy answers.
I will try my best to be a constant presence, an everyday parent, not one who shows up just for performances and holidays.
My child is going to have to brave the world whether I like it or not. I wouldn’t expect her to battle the ocean without proper skills, knowledge, and equipment – and I won’t expect her to navigate the world without them either.
Therefore, I vow to give her pieces of protective armor—armor that comes from daily offerings of parental presence, wisdom, and unconditional love. So that if one day she finds herself drowning, she’ll have the strength to call my name.