It's been a tricky week.
I dread the day every year when my daughter goes to visit her father, who lives in Stockholm, for half of the school holidays. I have brought her up on my own since she was a baby, and we have an incredible bond, so I miss her terribly when she goes away for more than a few days.
She normally sees her father every month, and they too have a good relationship despite the distance. This year, due to the pandemic, he hadn’t seen her since February. Therefore, I agreed she would visit him as soon as it was safe for her to fly, and she would return at the end of August. Yikes.
So, I took her to Heathrow on Sunday, knowing I won’t see her again for 5 long weeks. I will also miss out on her 15th birthday celebrations plus our own holiday together. It was the first time she would ever fly alone.
She was excited and I was petrified…..
We had only booked the flight a few days prior, and on the lead up to Sunday we discussed how she needed to know where her passport, boarding pass, phone and credit card were at all times, don’t leave her bags unattended and don’t talk to strangers etc. etc. She just rolled her eyes at me when I reminded her for the 6th time. I also questioned if she really needed two huge suitcases and a large carry on bag, as this could be tricky getting them up and down escalators. She humoured me, then politely told me she would be fine. She reminded me she has flown hundreds of times before, so she knows what she is doing. OMG, that is so not the point!
I held her tight at the airport and tried to put on a brave face. It felt like her first day at school, and I didn’t want to let her out of my sight. I wanted her to promise me she will be careful and call me every day. She looked at me very patiently, gave me a massive hug and said “You realise this is a YOU problem don’t you? This is YOU worrying because you don’t want anything bad to happen to me. This is YOU scared because you don’t really want me to leave you. This is YOU nervous because you wouldn’t have wanted to do this yourself, and this is a YOU problem because you don’t want to think I can do it on my own. But I can and I’m OK with it”. Wow! She was right! Ouch!
I was putting my own anxiety onto her. The first time I flew alone was when I was 22 and I had to go on a business trip to New York. I was petrified, so I wrongly assumed she would be scared too.
I had a very protected childhood and didn’t have any confidence or belief in myself. When my daughter was born, I made a conscious effort to try my best not to wrap her up in cotton wool. I wanted to give her as many life experiences as possible so she could develop her confidence and resiliency. She learnt to ski at 3 and horse ride at 5. We climbed Snowdon together when she was 9 and we have been rock climbing and abseiled ever since she could fit in a harness, but despite all that, I still struggle to let her climb a tree or poke the fire. It was drummed into me at such a young age that tree climbing is VERY dangerous, in fact I was led to believe the whole world is very dangerous…..
I can’t say it’s been easy letting go over the years, and I definitely don’t always get the right balance, but when I see how she has grown, I know it has been necessary and worth it.
As I waved her off through security, I had that anxious sickening feeling in my tummy and a lump in my throat. But she turned around with a big smile on her face and blew me one last kiss. Then off she went, without a care in the world, to find the make up counter in duty free! She had complete confidence in her own ability, and I have to do the same. No matter how scary that is.
How I wish I had been like that at 14!!
It got me thinking on the way home. She was right, as is often the case, and my anxiety about her safety is my problem. Children are like sponges, and it is so easy for us to transfer our own fears on to our nearest and dearest. I realised that I was judging everything about her trip on my own perception of the world, which is not the same as hers. I was reacting to how I felt at her age and what I was capable of back then, which was really not a lot, to be honest. I avoided challenges, while she embraces them.
Childhood anxiety is now an epidemic with 1 in every 6 children experiencing anxiety, and a 70% increase in the last 25 years. There are many contributing factors but researchers have also found a link between anxiety and the overprotection of our children.
According to a study published in Evolutionary Psychology, some risky play is actually good for our children. Risky play is defined as “a set of motivated behaviours that both provide the child with an exhilarating positive emotion and expose the child to the stimuli they previously have feared”.
So lighting campfires and climbing trees teaches them how to cope with potentially dangerous situations and proves to them how capable they are, thus increasing confidence and resiliency. By repeating such risky play, it has an anti-phobic effect which results in lower level of anxiety overall. The study does point out there is of course the risk of injury, but according to the study, these injuries are typically minor and the researchers believe the long-term benefits of confidence, resiliency and self belief out way the risks.
I’m not suggesting we should stop protecting our little angels, but maybe some of us could benefit from taking a few more risks .... us adults included.
I am just so proud of my daughter and grateful she no longer wants to climb trees!!